First, Sarah Knight showed us “how to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do” with her self-help book The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck. In her new book, Calm the F*ck Down, she guides readers through figuring out what they can control versus what they can’t, and how to accept it. At the moment, the writer is trying not to, er, give a fudge about the deadline for her next book, but that’s looming; she’s trying not to worry about the dead insects she might find a day after spraying her kitchen; and she’s trying not to worry about all the cleaning she has to do before some guests arrive. Really, she’s trying not to be anxious about the things she can’t control.
The Globe and Mail spoke to Knight, who lives in the Dominican Republic, about the key to dealing with anxiety, why it is so hard to not care about so many things and if you can find joy without being a selfish jerk.
Were you always an anxious person?
I have been an anxious person since my littlest days. I didn’t necessarily know that until I was probably in my late 20s, early 30s when I had a real live panic attack and I got some actual medical help for it and somebody explained to me what anxiety is.
Did the explanation help?
I was like, oh, so all those times when I was a little kid and I missed out on things because I didn’t feel well and my tummy hurt and I had a headache, that was probably motivated by anxiety.
Do you feel like you have a better handle on it now?
Oh yes. Part of what motivates me to write about this stuff is so that other people won’t have to suffer in quite as much misinformation or lack of information as I did when I was younger.
A big part of your work seems to be about helping people find joy in one way or another. Why do you think joy is the thing we’re all chasing these days?
I actually tend toward talking about my stuff in the sense of “avoiding the annoy.” And that’s only because my very first book started out as a parody of Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up in which she exhorts people to spark joy in their life. I always kind of came at it from a different place, the opposite place, of like, get rid of the stuff that annoys you. These days, we’ve all had enough. We get it enough from the news, we get it from the world at large. But we get it from our in-laws. We get it from our bosses. So any part of your life that you can actually control and you can mentally declutter and get that annoying stuff off your plate and out of your brain space, then more power to you. So while Marie Kondo measures things in joy, I guess I measure things in “less annoy.”
Why do people have such a hard time not giving a, er, fudge? Why is it so hard to clear the things that annoy them away from their lives?
It’s a combination of things. Certainly guilt, obligation, these tenets that have been beaten into us since we were little kids about pleasing others and not being selfish.
But how can you be selfish without being a bad person? Is that possible?
You know, maybe we feel like we can’t let go. We feel like we can’t say no. We feel like we have to keep all these balls in the air and absorb everybody else’s worries and fears and anxieties, but actually it’s not good for us, and being a little bit selfish is good for us. Obviously you have to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt other people. That’s again a message that I try to get across. I’m not out here trying to build an army of sociopaths.
What are you out here trying to do?
I’m out here trying to help people be just emotionally healthier for their own good and the benefit of those around them. I take an extremely logical, rational approach to all of this stuff. For example, in Calm the F*ck Down, I very clearly say if you are super anxious, if you are freaking out over all kinds of things, if you’re overthinking, if you’re plagued by the what-ifs, that’s understandable. Many of us are. But if you can, look at this stuff rationally and logically and say, Can I control it? I call it the one question to rule them all: Can I control it? If the answer is no, you need to let it go.
Can you please include a chapter in your next book on how to say no to going to friends’ kids’ birthday parties?
Oh, for sure. I’m a pro at that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.