I’m sure none of you are strangers to the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”. I don’t like to use the term because it is a widely used, grossly misunderstood and highly misleading sentence. As a lover of science, mathematics and grammar (I know, very random interests); as a chronic worrier, over thinker and generally anxious person, I never understood the phrase. I never understood because I literally could not stop myself from sweating the small stuff. I was obsessed with minor details, I felt as though I couldn’t make any mistakes. I was constantly worried that I would make even one wrong decision and that it would completely ruin my life.
If any of you have felt that way, you can understand how frustrating it is when someone tells you “Just don’t worry about it” or anything along those lines. I wish I could simply not worry, but it just isn’t possible for me. We cannot control how we feel and what we think, we can only respond to these emotions and find ways to cope with stress.
I would always wonder if there was something wrong with me, I would wonder why it seemed so easy for everyone else to just not care, when no matter how hard I tried, I still had a sinking feeling in my stomach whenever I had to make a decision.
For the longest time I kept trying to force myself not to get stressed out over small things, but I had trouble deciding what was small or big in my mind.
What I have realized after a lot of time self-reflecting and learning from experiences is that it is okay to sweat the small stuff. There is nothing wrong with the fact that I (or you) simply cannot help getting stressed out over what others view as insignificant problems. I started evaluating how I felt and then finding ways to cope with the stress instead of fighting it entirely.
Sometimes sweating the small stuff has hindered me. It has made me spend far longer doing some tasks than I should. It has made me feel anxious, stressed and disappointed in myself when I really shouldn’t have been. It has made me curse a 98%, and push some people away.
Sometimes sweating the small stuff has given me great opportunities. It has pushed me to pay attention to detail, to show dedication to tasks I am assigned, to listen better, to empathize better, to try my hardest no matter the situation. It has taught me to care, to really care, about all aspects of life. To give everything I do 100% which has helped me in friendships, relationships and in the pursuit of my goals.
Like everything else in life, sweating the small stuff has its positives and its negatives. It’s a part of who I am, and I’m no longer trying to eliminate it. I am simply learning to live with it, and embrace its good sides.
If you find yourself in the same situation as I have been many times, you can try a few steps to gain perspective on what feels like the end of the world.
When I find myself facing a situation that makes me extremely stressed out I evaluate it in a sequence of questions:
- How exactly do I feel?
- How will this affect me in the short term?
- How will this affect me in the long term?
- Will I still have the basic means of survival?
- Who do I have who can support me through this?
- What can I do right now to improve how I feel?
- What is something positive that can come out of this?
I use these questions to ground myself. I use them first to evaluate how I feel, and to assess how serious the situation truly is. I then use them to think of the implications in the short term, and the long term to see if it is something that will take a long time to resolve. I continue to think of how it will affect my situation, and if I will be able to continue to live a healthy life, to give myself a reality check into how much I will still have when it passes. I then remind myself of my friends, family and loved ones who will be there to support me, even if it is just to have a quick chat. I think of ways to improve how I feel in the moment, which can be anything from ice cream, a hug from a friend, or a phone call to my mom. I finish by thinking of at least one good thing that can come out of the situation. I think of something I will have learned, something I will now know that I didn’t before.
If you are someone who knows anyone who tends to sweat the small stuff, please, don’t encourage them to simply not feel how they feel. Take the opportunity to simply be there for them, and try to help them see that everything will be alright. Help them see that life goes on.
I want to leave you with a quote that I turn to in times of stress.
“In three words I can sum up everything I have leaned about life: it goes on”
– Robert Frost