What's Really Going On When You Say 'No Worries If Not'

Your needs are valid – for once, try opting out of giving others an opt out.

“No worries if not.”

If those four little words are a regular part of your vocabulary, you’re not alone. “No worries if not” has crept into our work emails, WhatsApp chats and face-to-face conversations. We tend to end the phrase with an exclamation mark, just to hammer home that we’re all super chill. Everything’s fine! Honestly!

The phrase even began trending on Twitter this week, as people joked about their inability to make a basic request, without adding the go-to get-out clause.

While men aren’t immune from the “no worries” epidemic – Love Island’s Hugo used it in an awkward exchange with Chloe, it’s been widely noted that the phrase is most commonly used by women. Even culinary queen Nigella Lawson is at it.

Among friends and family, “no worries if not” may be preventing us from properly expressing our needs, but in the workplace, it could be undermining our authority and reinforcing outdated stereotypes. So why can’t we stop saying it?

″‘No worries if not’ is something we say for many reasons,” says counselling psychologist Dr Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell. “Sometimes to ensure we give people an opt out, to avoid feeling like we are making unwelcome demands, and out of worry that our needs may be a burden on those we make requests of.”

Many of us suffer from a deep sense that expressing our emotional or practical needs will be a ‘burden’ to others, says Dr Paidoussis-Mitchell. ”‘No worries if not’ gives us a caveat, a way to avoid carrying responsibility for what we hope others may willingly and lovingly give us.”

In the workplace there’s another layer to consider. Some have suggested that “no worries if not” may be a consequence of internalised misogyny – a way for women to avoid being called “bossy,” or “impolite,” even if they’re simply making the same request as a man who’s seen as a “leader”. But as Guardian columnist Emma Brockes put it, “Kamala Harris didn’t become vice-president-elect by saying ’no worries if not,’” so it’s probably a good habit to break.

Women are also more inclined to use this phrase in the home, says, Dr Paidoussis-Mitchell – and the pandemic may have upped the ante.

“Women are such providers and through the last couple of years, during the pandemic, women have carried the nations families through deep uncertainty and huge daily challenges,” she says. “Women are often sandwiched between generations and are very good at being self-reliant and independent multitaskers. Often this means they don’t ask for help, which leads to burnout and stress.”

How can we resist the temptation to use the phrase? Firstly, you need to recognise and accept your own request as legitimate, says Dr Paidoussis-Mitchell. “Often people judge their needs and are so hard on themselves,” she says, but “we are social creatures and everyone needs a core group of people who turn up and look out for our welfare.”

Next, you can try some positive affirmations that open you to receiving care, or showing authority. Some examples include “I matter and I am open to receiving the help of others” or “I am the manager and it’s my job to instruct my team.”

And if you’re worried about appearing bossy or being a burden, remember that, as Dr Paidoussis-Mitchell adds, “people feel valued when they can offer help and it is validating for them too”.

In a work context, remember to thank your team for stepping up and getting the job done. Among friends and family, be sure to express your gratitude and that their support means the world to you.

It’s going to take time to break the habit. It would be great if you can achieve it in a week, but...no worries if not, you’ll get there eventually.