What Does the Saying "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" Mean?

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What Does It Mean?

"Don't sweat the small stuff" is a phrase someone may have told you when you were angry, annoyed, or worried about something. You may have wondered what it meant and what you’re supposed to do about it.

“Don't sweat the small stuff” essentially means to not focus your energy on things that don’t hold significant importance in your life, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University.

These are some examples of little things that may upset you:

  • Your dog may have peed on the bed.
  • You may have forgotten to add an attachment to an email. 
  • Your toilet may have gotten clogged. 
  • You may have gotten a run in your tights while you were at a party.

While these things can be upsetting, the phrase “Don't sweat the small stuff” encourages you to let them go and move on, rather than letting them bother you. The idea is that the time and energy spent worrying about minor things is usually disproportionate to the importance of those things in your life, explains Dr. Romanoff.

This article explores the pros and cons of following this strategy, as well as some steps that can help you practice it.

Benefits of This Strategy

Below, Dr. Romanoff outlines some of the benefits of following this strategy.

Helps You Regulate Your Reaction to Stressors

The reality is that life is full of minor stressors and there are countless times in your day when you could be triggered by them. It is far more effective to take control of these situations by regulating your emotions, rather than letting these situations get to you.

Reduces Stress Levels

Following this strategy can be good for your health and stress levels.

When you experience stress, there are biological changes in your body. For example, your levels of a stress hormone known as cortisol spike. Over time, this repeated stress reaction can lead to adverse health effects including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, among many other health difficulties.

Keeps Your Focus on the Big Picture

We waste a significant amount of time and valuable energy feeling stressed, angry, or disappointed over annoyances that are inconsequential in the grand scheme of our lives. 

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

If we were to put our minor annoyances into perspective, we would see how those reactions take away from being present with the important people in our lives, focusing on the things we value, and feeling grateful for all that we do have.

— Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

Drawbacks of This Strategy

However, sometimes this strategy can have drawbacks to it as well. Dr. Romanoff outlines them below.

Suppressing Your Feelings

Sometimes people commit themselves too far in the opposite direction by adapting an extremely easygoing philosophy to the way they live their lives. This strategy can appear to be helpful on the surface.

However, the person may suppress their natural frustrations, needs, and preferences in the moment, in order to appear flexible and carefree. They may not set or enforce any personal boundaries, which can be detrimental to them.

Ignoring Important Issues

When you look closely at something minor that’s stressing you out, you may realize that that’s not really what’s bothering you.

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

Sometimes, the minor things that trigger us are representative of bigger insecurities, issues, or wounds.

— Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

When we find ourselves considerably overreacting to a situation, it’s rarely about the small inconvenience, and is actually about a deeper issue or wound that it is rubbing up against. 

Upon closer examination, we may find that our reactions are caused by issues related to feeling disrespected or unappreciated, scared or insecure, or like we’re losing control. For instance, a friend’s offhand comment about your cake being dry can trigger feelings of insecurity about not being good enough to be part of that group.

How to Avoid Sweating the Small Stuff

Dr. Romanoff suggests some steps you can take to let go of little things that may bother you:

  • Throw it away: According to a 2012 study, writing down negative thoughts on a piece of paper, tearing it up, and throwing it into the trash can help get rid of the thought from your mind as well.
  • Put the issue into perspective: Try to gain perspective on the situation by imagining the impact of the issue one week, one month, or one year in the future. Chances are that it won’t matter at all.
  • Shift your focus to gratitude: Compare your situation to a time in your past when you weren’t as fortunate, to a friend in a difficult situation, or to a person who would be grateful to be in your situation. Practice shifting your focus to all that you can be grateful for.
  • React mindfully: If you do react to an annoying or upsetting situation, remember your values and be sure to have your reactions guided by what is most important to you, instead of reacting instinctively to stressors in the moment.
  • Don’t ignore larger issues: While reacting in the moment is not helpful, it’s important to ensure that you’re not suppressing or ignoring larger issues. When faced with minor stressors, it can be helpful to reflect on why they’re bothering you to understand how your unresolved conflicts arise in moments or situations like these. Becoming aware of these conflicts is the first step toward resolving them.

A Word From Verywell

The phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff” encourages you to let go of things that aren’t important in the grand scheme of your life. Dr. Romanoff recommends this strategy because otherwise you may spend a lot of time and energy stressing over unimportant things. Instead, it can be helpful to appreciate the things you have going for you.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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