Learning How to Calm the F*ck Down

I cannot go on living with chronic anxiety. It affects every aspect of my life: parenting, relationships and my profession. As a chronic worrier, consumed by anxiety, I decided that I needed help! My anxiety is so bad, that even with medication, my heart races, I break into a sweat, and feel overwhelmed and defeated most of the time. So when I watched Sarah Knights Ted Talk, “How I Magically Stopped Giving a F**K”, I knew I had to read her book! I would like to share part of it with you, in the hopes that we can all learn how to calm the f*ck down!

The Four Faces of Freaking Out

In Sarah Knights’ book, Calm the F*ck Down, she acknowledges that not everyone freaks out in the same way. Instead of placing everyone in one tidy package, she came up with four categories of how people handle their anxiety and offers suggestions on how to turn them around. According to the author, ” These are the Four Faces of Freaking Out-the masks we wear when we worry obsessively. Your job is to learn how to recognize them, so you can fight back” The Four Faces of Freaking Out are: Anxiety, Sadness, Anger and Avoidance.


What it looks like: Knight states that anxiety comes in many forms, but if you react to your problems in your life with anxiety, it generally has the following indicators: nervousness, headaches, hot flashes, shortness of breathe, insomnia and indecision.

Why it is bad? The author explains that one of the most toxic and insidious side effects of being anxious is OVERTHINKING. Knight compares overthinking to “that buzzy black housefly that keeps dipping and swooping in and out of your line of vision, and every time you think you know where it’s going to land, it changes direction. Now it is hovering three feet above your head, vibrating like the physical manifestation of your brain about to explode!”. Basically stating that we need to make up our minds on what exactly we are going to focus on.

Overthinking then becomes the antithesis of productivity.

The flip side: The flip side to anxiety and overthinking is FOCUS. Ask yourself the following questions: Which of these worries takes priority? Which can you actually control? Then focus only on what you can control, and put the rest aside.


What it looks like? Weeping, moping, rumpled clothes, crying, and shallow breathing. There have been times at work that my anxiety reduces me to tears, even in front of my boss.

Why it is bad? There is nothing wrong with a good cry, but when you let sadness overtake you for long periods of time-you will even have bigger problems.

Ongoing sadness is Exhausting!

As your energy drains, so does your motivation to get anything done. You get less productive, which leads to feeling more depressed and deciding to give up on dealing with your problems all together.

The Flip Side: Be patient with yourself. Be kind and repair yourself with self-care. Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend who is sad.


What it looks like: Knight states, “Those in the throes of anger experience unhealthy side effects such as rising blood pressure and body temperature, the desire to inflict physical violence and the injuries sustained upon doing so, splotchy faces, clenched jaws, and unsightly bulging neck tendons.”

The result of an angry freak-out impedes good judgement and IT MAKES THINGS WORSE!

Why it’s bad? Chances are that you are going to say or do something that you will later regret and in the process make everything worse. Getting angry is never going to help you solve your problems. And gosh forbid someone films your angry freak out and posts it on social media!

The Flip Side: Knight advises that instead of getting angry, “calm the f*ck down by redirecting that time and energy into more peaceful pursuits.” Exercise can be a healthy way to release your anger and produce Serotonin, also known as “the happiness hormone”. She also advises that the next time you feel an angry freak out coming, visualize the consequences and adjust your attitude accordingly.

Avoidance (aka Ostrich Mode)

What it looks like: Basically, when you are in Ostrich mode, you’re just ignoring or dismissing warnings and pretending that nothing is wrong. This is my go freak out face. Ignorance is bliss as far as I am concerned. But by pretending that you don’t have any problems by firmly sticking your head in the sand, only has negative repercussions for when you eventually have to deal with them.


Why it’s bad: First of all, un dealt with problems only brings you more problems. Knight gives the following example, “Ignoring a jury summons can lead to fines, a bench warrant, and a misdemeanor on your permanent record.” It’s not like staying in ostrich mode will make your problems go away-they will be waiting for you when you stop hiding.

The Flip Side: Knight advises avoiders to take one step, no matter how small, toward acknowledging your problem. Say it out loud. Write it down. She concludes by stating, “If you can do that, you’re on the way to calming the f*ck down!”

So there you have it: a simple framework for acknowledging your worries, recognizing your unhealthy reactions, and beginning to reverse them! I have found all of the lessons taught in this book to be extremely valuable and am starting to calm the f*ck down. I have a long journey ahead of me, but feel like I have some very useful tools I can apply to my anxiety.

Do you recognize what your Face of Fear is? Please leave a comment!


I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years working in Community mental Health. I currently Supervise the Behavioral Health Benefit for an insurance company. I speak publicly on issues that affect mental health in the workplace.


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