Everything Isn't Terrible

By Jim LaDoux
The book by Kathleen Smith, Everything Isn't Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down, provides a wealth of insights on how to live a less anxious and more fulfilling life that’s guided by principles that reflect our true self.  Using Bowen Theories, it reflects an approach for managing anxiety by looking at our relational systems where we recognize that if anxiety is generated in our relationships, then it can also be fixed through our relationships. The author suggests that we focus on ourselves rather than external realities, and that we develop a rhythm embedding three essential practices into the relational systems we are part of:

  1. Observing. Before we can change your anxious behaviors, we need to know what they are. By observing ourselves, we’re already using the part of our brain that helps us calm down. 
  2. Evaluating. We have to take a hard look at what we do to manage our anxiety, asking ourselves, “Is this who I really want to be?”
  3. Interrupting. We have to interrupt what’s automatic. Once we’ve observed our automatic behaviors, and decided how we really want to live, we have to start looking for opportunities to interrupt our previously trained responses. This implies becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Key Points and Questions from the Book

Focus on Yourself. The first step in calming down is simply to begin to think about ourself.
We can fight, flee, freeze or fret to others about scary things in our life.  We end up worrying too much about hypothetical threats and not the reality-based problems of today. When we focusing on others rather than ourselves, we give others excessive advice, try to motivate them, worry about them, complain about them, avoid them, or do things for them they can do themselves. When we begin to focus on our part in a relationship or a problem, we start to calm down because now we're focused on the one thing we can control - ourselves.

Use self-focused questions to evaluate situations based on what we can control.
We can ask ourselves questions that reinforce what we can manage.
  • How do I currently manage my anxiety, and how effective is it?
  • What part do I play in my family's dysfunction?
  • Where am I overfunctioning or underfunctioning? 
  • What do I do for others that they can do for themselves?

Focus on self-differentiation. Differentiation is the ability to separate our thoughts from our feelings along with our ability to separate our thoughts and feelings from other people’s thoughts and feelings. How might we learn to remain in community yet be true to ourselves and still honor what matters most to us.

Learn to respond rather than react. Reacting shows up when we do things like answering nonemergency phone calls and emails after normal work hours and being overly accommodating to other people  A responding mindset shows up when we:
  •  Share our thinking without focusing on the reaction.
  •  View rejection as normal and manageable.
  • Establish realistic deadlines and boundaries.
  • Saying no to tasks not in line with our values and interests
  • Refraining from managing other people’s emotions or behaviors. 

Define yourself - respond in ways that reflect your principles. When we're clear about who we are and what matters most to us, it's much easier to avoid allowing others to define us and dictate what we should do or not do. Take time to know yourself. Craft a rule of life. Make a list of your non-negotiables. Note what's life-giving and what's life draining. List the situations where you tend to over-function or under-function, and decide how you intent to respond differently in the future.

Create guiding principles that define specific behaviors for managing yourself, your work, your marriage, your friendships, and your future plans. Sample principles include:
  • Self: I will extend grace to myself as I also extend grace to others.
  • Self: I will speak my truth without seeking to change others.
  • Family: I will be honest when I’m having a bad day.
  • Friendship: I will tell friends I like them and want to spend time with them.
  • Friendship: I will talk about what genuinely excites me. 
  • Work: I will ask for help and accept help when I need it. 

List your default responses to everyday encounters. Consider ways we can interrupt or disrupt the encounters we face everyday. Find was to re-engage and reframe conversations that allow us stay connected yet be self-differentiated, and allow us to honor the principles that guide us. Find ways to practice using the cycle of ongoing disruption (observe, evaluate, and interrupt) to reinvent our relational systems.


  1. Where do you see anxiety showing up in your relationships?
  2. What prevents you from being less anxious? 
  3. With whom, or in what settings, would you like to be more calm and self-regulated?
  4. How has anxiety kept you from experiencing genuine community?
  5. What anxious behaviors keep you from building better friendships?
  6. Do you have guiding principle that shape your interactions with others?
  7. If you've established guiding principles for relationships, when do you review them?
  8. If you've read this book, which concepts and practices did you find most helpful?

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