Long Reads

8 brilliant comebacks for anyone who tells you “not to stress”

Because there are very few sentences in the English language more annoying than ‘calm down’ and ‘don’t stress’.

There are very few sentences in the English language more annoying than ‘calm down’ and ‘don’t stress’. Sure, ‘Oooh, SOMEONE’S on their period!’ and ‘We’re out of wine’ aren’t great either, but when you’ve had a crap day at work, the tube journey home was so rammed you essentially stood inside another person and you walk through the front door to find the fuse has blown/the dog has shat everywhere/there’s an email from your boss helpfully reminding you of the extra prep you’ve got to do for tomorrow’s meeting, being told to ‘calm down’ is going to provoke a nuclear meltdown like no other. I once threw a potato at an ex for saying it when I lost my job. Yes, it was covered in melted cheese and yes, I’d do it again.

Why? Because it makes me feel stupid. It’s patronising. We spend so much of our time pretending to have everything under control, occasionally we deserve to crumble without remonstration. Bonus points if you panic-cry, because having a wail is scientifically proven to reduce stress. Take that, ‘calm down’-ers. If you want to help someone drowning in panic, stop yelling ‘don’t stress’ and maybe try listening. Or asking how you can help. Or getting them a glass of water. Perhaps even waiting until the initial storm has blown out and suggest breaking things down into smaller tasks, you know?

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Essentially, the best thing for a panicking brain is distraction, whether that comes in the form of a hug, a flapjack, or writing a big list in fun coloured pens (I find this disconcertingly effective). Why? Because it offers perspective

So, if you’re the owner of said panicking brain, here are some genius comebacks you can use to a) shut those who tell you to ‘calm down’ the hell up, and b) get them to do something that’s actually… well, actually bloody helpful.

“Shut the hell up”

It’s direct. It’s aggressive. It’s Nineties retro, which is very in right now. But remember: only go for this antagonist approach when certain the other person isn’t going to (continuing the Nineties phrases) sock you one. 


It’s at least worth a shot. 

“I need space to work this out”

Firstly, this removes the unhelpful person from the situation and secondly, it gives you the perspective you need to de-escalate the panic. It’s a statement of intent. It’s what I imagine Beyoncé would say. 


To be screamed while sticking your fingers in your ears. Beyoncé wouldn’t do this.  

“Saying ‘calm down’ isn’t helping. Just let me have this reaction for a moment and THEN I’ll be logical”

My therapist (what, you’re surprised? After the baked potato thing?) told me to learn a rote response when too stressed to speak so I can communicate effectively. That way, the other person is more likely to accept my reaction rather than tell me to stop doing it. Thank you, therapist. 

“Can you make me a cup of tea?”

People often just want to help but don’t know how, so this gives them something to do that’s vaguely useful. Provided you’re not allergic to tea. 

“Saying that has only made me MORE stressed”

This will stop them from repeating it because the only thing worse than someone saying ‘calm down’ is someone saying it twice. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what it feels like to hear it a third time because I usually see red and do something regrettable. 

“I’m only human, after all”

This line (which should be sung) is also known as The Rag’n’Bone Man Approach. Only to be used in emergencies. Plus side: it could make them (and yourself) laugh, which is an instant de-stresser. Downside: you may appear delirious. 

The evidence of stress in our lives is everywhere, from bad sleep to increased anxiety. So in January 2019, stylist.co.uk is dedicated to creating a life less frazzled. We’ll be focusing on uplifting news, feelgood features and recommendations for fun things to do, with the goal of making you feel calmer and more positive about the coming year.

Image: Getty


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