Don’t sweat the small stuff: words and phrases connected with keeping calm

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by Liz Walter

I’ve written quite a bit recently about arguing and fighting, so I thought it would be nice to turn to something more pleasant: staying calm and relaxed. This can be difficult in the modern world, where many people report feeling stress or pressure (the anxious feeling you have when you have too much to do or difficult things to do): I couldn’t stand the stress of that job. We were under pressure to work harder. The related adjectives are stressful and pressurized: The situation was very stressful. She works in a pressurized environment.

If someone is working too hard, we might advise them to pace themselves (do things at a reasonable speed): You can’t continue like this – you need to pace yourself. We might also remind them of the proverb More haste, less speed, which means that when we try to do things quickly, we often make mistakes and they end up taking longer. We sometimes describe a person who puts too much pressure on themselves as their own worst enemy: I know teaching is a tough job, but Carla’s her own worst enemy – she never gives herself a break.

We often describe someone with a calm, relaxed personality as laid-back: I enjoyed sharing an apartment with Josh – he’s a laid-back kind of guy. If someone is calm at a particular time or about a particular situation, we often used the informal adjectives chilled or chilled-out: We’d eaten all her food, but she was chilled about it. If someone appears to have no worries at all, we say they don’t have a care in the world: He was laughing and joking as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

It is of course important to keep things in perspective/proportion (understand when something is not as serious as we think): Sales are down slightly, but you need to keep it in perspective – the business is still doing very well. Some people make themselves anxious because they take things too seriously (think that things are more important than they really are): You shouldn’t take her criticism too seriously – she’s like that with everyone. A useful phrase that has recently moved from US English into UK English is Don’t sweat the small stuff. This means that it isn’t worth getting upset or stressed about minor issues. A similar idiom (with very nice imagery!) is Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. This means that you should not let a small difficulty seem like a major problem – a ‘molehill’ is a small pile of earth made by a small animal (a mole) digging underneath the surface.

Do you have any similar idioms in your own language?

31 thoughts on “Don’t sweat the small stuff: words and phrases connected with keeping calm

  1. Mujahed Jadallah

    Great and illuminating!
    Arabic has expressions and idioms very similar to most of those you reviewed in this post. The almost exactly similar meaning of “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, or ” Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” is often expressed by a common informal idiom in Arabic which goes “Don’t make a dome out of a little grain (of something).”

  2. Traduprof

    Hello, in Romanian the equivalent idiom to “make a mountain out of a molehill” is “a face din țânțar armăsar” (literally “make a stallion out of a mosquito”, but reversed so it rhymes). Regards, Traduprof

  3. Musalayya

    Really nice post, I enjoy reading this type of writings which are not tough to understand with new things to learn. Thanks

  4. Maryem Salama

    In my language, we have a very similar idiom to (make a mountain from a molehill (a dome from a grain): A local journal made a dome from a grain about an ordinary home accident for its own benefits” I hope the example is clear and correct. Thank you, Liz.

  5. Tomo

    Don’t make a really big ship out of a micro machine,or don’t make Robo cop out of Nemo.Dont make Fat Albert out of a stick figure.Or don’t make bubbles in a swimming pool when there’s the kitchen sink.

  6. Hinarj

    In Urdu language also there is a similar proverb “rai ka pahaar banana” which translates to ‘making a mountain out of a mustard seed’. ‘Pahaar’ means mountain and ‘rai’ is a tiny black mustard seed . It is used when when a small issue is turned into a big problem.

  7. Andrew

    “More haste, less speed” There is similar idioma in Russian language: “Hurry up without hasting”. Looks like tautology, but this means: “Do everything in their time”.

  8. Mia

    There is a similar saying in Taiwanese as “More haste, less idiom”, it literally translate to English is “(don’t) Eat too fast (or you might) break the bowl ”.

  9. Cat

    In German, they say “to make an elephant out of a mosquito”. Like in Russian, only a different insect, though equally tiny. 🙂

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