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Book Review: How not to worry by Paul McGee


‘How not to worry – The remarkable truth of how a small change can help you stress less and enjoy life more’ – a long title, but a good one.

A lot of people in my circle seem worried – about major issues such as the economy, their weight/health, job security, the spread of war zones as well as any number of more minor, everyday concerns.
But there does seem to be quite a bit of anxiety about. So any book that can help people reduce their unease would seem a good idea in these troubled times.
However, this work is aimed at “normal worriers”, as author Paul McGee describes them, rather than major worriers or people with seriously high stress levels. Stress trainers should also derive some benefit from this book to help them get their message across though – although it doesn’t contain much that’s really new.
The author is a speaker on topics such as change, motivation, workplace relationships and self-confidence, and has written seven books to date. He is also the creator of SUMO (Shut Up, Move On) and has a website – – that I certainly hadn’t come across before.
The book itself, meanwhile, is divided into two sections, one entitled ‘Stop, Understand’ and the other, ‘Move On’. Chapter headings include ‘the big deal about worry’, ‘why do we worry’, ‘let’s get rational’ and ‘manage your imagination’.
Section 1: ‘Stop, Understand’ provides the context for starting to consider and challenge your worries in order to reduce your anxiety levels. McGee says that people make a ‘big deal about worry’ and he is concerned that our mental well-being has never been as fragile as it is now.
He paraphrases Macmillan’s famous ‘you’ve never had it so good’ quote by adding – ‘and yet, we’ve never felt so bad’, despite being the healthiest and wealthiest generation yet.
His key point here is that worry can become an ingrained way of thinking that manifests as our default setting – and it can be either constructive or destructive. He distinguishes between ‘worth it worry’ (leads to action) and ‘worthless worry’ (doesn’t deal with our concerns) that can create a Worry – Anxiety – Stress cycle.
McGee also highlights the potential impact of worry, however: it can weaken us, drain us of energy and cause physical reactions and tiredness. He cites the ‘stress makes you stupid’, but adds his own “and sick”.
But getting the balance right between Challenge, Pressure and Stretch, he believes, can generate positive stress, while a sense of purpose provides people with meaning and the energy to meet their challenges in a less stressful way.
His key aim in this section is to raise our awareness and understanding of what worry and stress are and do so that they don’t rob us of a meaningful and worthwhile life.
Section 2: Why do we worry? focuses on a range of factors that many of us would recognise such as feeling unable to influence and control pressures and change, our tendency to wallow in our own concerns, being overexposed to ‘bad news’ and the like.
In the following chapters, McGee draws from existing research and models to amplify his key points. Experienced readers will recognise many of them such as our primitive, emotive and rational brain leading us to interpret situations and often act irrationally, Covey’s Circle of Influence as well as ‘scripts’ from Transactional Analysis.
These offerings are mostly well-selected but don’t necessarily add anything fresh and new to the wider debate. The author does make some helpful suggestions, however.
These include making your environment friendly by recognising when change is creeping up on you; managing your mental diet; exercising often; avoiding people who ‘escalate’ bad news and ‘cutting the clutter’ as means of achieving well-being.
McGee also keeps the reader focused on every day, simple changes that we can all make. An example of this is to ‘set aside seven minutes to start de-cluttering in the next 24 hours’ – something that is do-able by all of us and the results are actually quite satisfying (I’ve tried it).
Reviewers rating
‘How Not to Worry’ makes a helpful rather than a revolutionary addition to the bookshelf for those concerned about their own anxiety levels. By his own admission, the author says that this is not a “how to” book or a set of quick-fix solutions.
Instead it offers ways to help you think about and manage your more minor worries in order to prevent your anxiety levels from escalating.
McGee urges us to make small-scale changes based on our increased awareness, and to take heart from Maria Robinson’s quote: “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending”.
The author focuses on stories based on his own experience and that of others and they are generally helpful as a device. He cites a range of current thinking and contemporary models to support his points, without resorting to dry academic musings or regurgitating scary statistics about stress.
I also liked the short quotes that are dotted around each chapter to help get his message across such as ’when you’re worrying about the future, you’re missing out on the joys of the present’. 
The ‘hammock time’ panel per chapter is likewise useful to help readers reflect and it encourages further exploration by providing us with a short exercise or tip to try out as we go along.
As to who it is likely to appeal to, this book may be of interest to line managers who are concerned about the increase in work-related stress and absenteeism. It may also pique the interest of HR and training specialists keen to support their people and encourage the creation of a well-being culture in their organisations.
A key advantage of this work is its easy-to-read, conversational and humorous style, which provides insights into why we worry so much and how we can start to take more control over our anxious brains.
Value for money? Yes, a good resource for around £11.
  • Our reviewer this time was Peter Welch, director of coaching, supervision and training services provider, Peter Welch Coaching.
  • If you’d like to see a film, TV or book review of your own in print, please either send it to the editor at [email protected] or post it directly to our blogs section based on the format above.
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