I’ll be the first to admit it—I’m a total worrier. No matter how many cleansing breaths I take, meditation routines I try, or stress balls I squeeze, I still worry.
When people immediately stop talking the minute I walk into a room, I stress that they were just gossiping about me. When I receive a new, challenging assignment from a client, I freak out that I don’t have the smarts to pull it off. When I meet new people at a networking event, I’m concerned that I have something stuck in my teeth and everybody’s too afraid to tell me. And, yes, I’m one of those obnoxious people who gets a headache and immediately assumes it’s a brain tumor.
Often in my states of obsessive anxiety and concern, people are pretty quick to jump in with what they perceive to be a soothing, “Don’t worry!” Of course, I recognize that their intentions are good and that they’re only trying to squelch my unproductive behavior—and probably shut me up.
Nonetheless, I find the phrase “Don’t worry” to be unhelpful. Not only does it lead me to believe that people are just brushing me off, but it also makes me feel as if I’m not at all justified in being worked up about something that legitimately concerns me.
OK, so perhaps you could blame that perception on my constant state of nervous distress. But, I think it has more to do with the fact that simply telling someone not to worry about something is pretty ineffective.
So, in the interest of helping out all of my fellow worriers, I’ve pulled together three phrases that are way more effective than the standard, “Don’t worry.”
1. “How Can I Help?”
Know what’s even better than haphazardly trying to comfort someone? Volunteering to help out in his or her time of crisis.
Yes, there’s a good chance that there’s nothing you can do to fix the situation your co-worker is worked up about. But, simply offering to pitch in shows that you not only recognize and understand his or her predicament, but also that you’re a team player, willing to assist if needed.
Even if there’s nothing you can help with, the worrier will undoubtedly take great comfort in knowing that there’s someone in his or her corner to fall back on.
2. “I Know What You’re Going Through”
Think back on a time when you found yourself in an anxiety-inducing situation that made your stomach jump into your throat. Maybe you accidentally sent an email to the entire office, instead of just one co-worker. Perhaps you received a less than stellar performance review. Or, maybe you were incredibly nervous for a big meeting. Regardless of what the situation was—or whether or not it was any fault of your own—I’m willing to bet that you felt pretty isolated.
When you’re worked up about something, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only person who has ever wound up in that sticky situation. So, assuring your colleague that you’ve been in his or her shoes before definitely offers a little bit of comfort
Plus, if you can offer any advice as to how you saw yourself out of that situation? Well, that’s even better!
3. “That Really Sucks”
No matter how badly you want to, you simply can’t fix everything for everyone. But, sometimes it’s nice to have someone to vent to and commiserate with.
So, if you can’t offer any help or advice from a similar situation, just acknowledging the fact that your co-worker is trapped in a crappy situation is sometimes the best you can do.
How is this any better than just saying, “Don’t worry?” Well, there’s one big thing that makes this phrase the superior option. Quite simply, you’re acknowledging this person’s emotions and making him feel justified in those feelings—rather than trying to dismiss him. Tack on a quick, “I’m here if you need me,” and suddenly you’re the nicest, most sympathetic employee in the whole office.
When your colleague’s hanging around your workspace obsessively chattering about a situation that has her worked into a tizzy, it’s all too easy to let a nonchalant, “Don’t worry about it” fall out of your mouth. But, that phrase really isn’t helpful or comforting. Give one of these alternatives a try and you might actually help the person worry a little bit less.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author