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A positive attitude to swear by

IT'S 1am and my mind is racing.

As my husband sleeps next to me, I fight the urge to pick up my mobile phone and once again scroll through the email inbox open on the screen.

A rammy of jumbled thoughts swim in my brain: Did I confirm that appointment? Double-check those statistics in a story? Have I transferred money to pay the gas bill? Did I accidently leave my knickers on the gym changing room floor? Is that vague acquaintance bad-mouthing me after I blocked her on Facebook? Did I make a fool of myself after one glass of wine too many the other night?

Previously, I would have tossed and turned all night but instead I utter a simple phrase: "F*** it". Almost immediately comes a sense of perspective and calm. I shut down my phone and go to sleep. In the morning, when I wake up, the world is still turning – and I've had a decent night's rest into the bargain.

Far from suddenly developing a hefty dose of potty mouth, I'm trying out a technique devised by John C Parkin, a former advertising copywriter turned author, who this week publishes his second book, F*** It Therapy: The Profane Way To Profound Happiness.

Parkin believes these two small yet powerful words hold the key to us all becoming less stressed, calmer and happier. For him it proved an epiphany that, a decade ago, led to he and his wife Gaia packing in their jobs, buying a camper van and embarking on a new life in Italy with their children.

Setting up a retreat, the couple have since shared their philosophy with thousands of stressed-out individuals for whom the pressures of everyday life – spiralling debts, mounting deadlines and relationships woes – have them on brink of burn-out.

According to the results of a new poll published this week, two in three British people, some 67%, regularly suffer from stress, with busy work, family and social lives all adding to the strain. The study found women typically suffer more bouts of anxiety than men – on average five times each week – and a quarter reporting feeling over-burdened on an almost daily basis.

Parkin's book centres on alleviating these feelings by using an eight-part process of identifying and breaking down a series of self-created "prisons" including fear, seriousness, self-doubt and perfectionism.

Part of this is acknowledging that when unpleasant things happen, it's simply part of life – and obsessively fretting about matters beyond our control won't change anything.

Similarly, says Parkin, many of us fail to live in the moment. Instead of relishing the sense of achievement that comes from fulfilling our goals, we forever bypass this in favour of fruitlessly seeking contentment from the next big thing – which in turn breeds more stress.

Some years ago, Parkin decided he wanted to write a film script. Barely was it completed, he says, when he began casting around for another project. "I finally realised what I actually wanted was to be relaxed and happy in my own skin," he says.

While it may sound a tad hippy dippy – verging on raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens territory – I'm drawn to the essence of what he is advocating: to stop caring so much about the things that don't matter and focus on those which do. Simple, huh?

Parkin certainly seems to think so. Constantly over-analysing our lives, carrying the burden of other people's expectations and almost buckling under the pressure of trying to maintain a facade of having it all eventually takes its toll, he says. While for Parkin, it was about ditching the rat race for a simpler, more spiritual way of life, the rest of us don't need to take things to such an extreme.

When asked about the power of the F-word, he refers to a Keele University School of Psychology study that found swearing can provide effective short-term relief from pain. He describes using the phrase – be it as a direct response to something that's stressing you out or as a daily mantra – as akin to "a massage for the mind".

So why those two words? "The F-word has an inherent power," he says. "Saying it points at the problem which many of us face: that we take many things in life too seriously. If we are chasing after something that, despite all our hard work, we can't quite get, by saying F*** it, what that implies is: 'If it's causing me this much pain, I should let go.' If you say it calmly, it helps you do that and relax."

My "prison", as identified by Parkin, is perfectionism. I have a tendency to always strive for being the best at everything – and when I don't live up to my own impossibly high standards I can feel deflated.

"Perfectionism is something I can relate very presently and personally to," he says. "The first thing is to look at cutting down on all the stuff you are doing – in short, trying to reduce the things we apply our perfectionism to.

"There is an expression that perfectionists have invented: 'Good enough is not good enough', which makes you feel even worse. The idea that 'I can't just do it well, I need to do it perfectly.' You need to reduce the amount of things you apply perfectionism to and also learn to delegate. Instead focus on doing things well enough, rather than always trying to be perfect."

As well as allowing us to let go of that which doesn't matter, Parkin suggests his technique can equally be used to empower and galvanise, seizing the bull by the horns without being held back by those lingering what-ifs.

"It goes two ways: like yin and yang," he explains. "The yin is calming and relaxing energy, whereas the yang is an out there, go-getting energy. For a lot of people, yes, they are stressed out, working too hard, chasing after the next thing, thinking happiness lies behind the next job, relationship, being fitter or whatever. So for them it's about saying: 'Look, that doesn't matter so much' in order to achieve balance, being calmer and slowing down.

"By the same token there are people out there who are naturally more relaxed, and sometimes they can go too far in that direction so that they aren't motivated or getting things done in life. Perhaps they lack self-confidence to go out and get the job or life they want. So they can use it too. Essentially the idea is: 'Life is short, f*** it, let's grab it, go out and get what I want.'

Interestingly, Parkin asks in his book: "What is the worst thing that could happen?". While on paper it sounds impressively cavalier, the reality is perhaps less so. People could lose their jobs, home, relationships, even their civil liberties if they take the philosophy a tad too far, I say – something Parkin acknowledges.

"If you suddenly went 'F*** it' in a relatively random and strong way whenever something didn't quite suit you, things could soon go pear-shaped," he admits. "It's about getting balance. If, for example, you said: 'Oh, I can eat anything I want', that is extreme. It doesn't work. Instead it's about telling yourself that certain things don't matter, which works in a lot of the difficult situations we face.

"That said, there are things in our lives which are important – and we can't avoid that. If you lose someone close to you, you aren't going to say: 'F*** it, it doesn't matter' in that situation. It does matter. But what does happen when you lose someone close to you is that you get a sense of perspective.

"In fact, it does the same job as saying ' F*** it' in that you realise how much you been worrying about that simply doesn't matter. What is important is the people that you love, and appreciating being alive – not the little things."

As for me, I've found saying it to be a liberating tool, from no longer worrying about turning down invitations for fear of causing offence to allowing myself to switch off from the soul-sapping white noise of gossip.

The fact that I skipped the gym, ignored a few emails and forgot to water the plants for a second day? It matters not a jot. I'd recommend giving it a whirl.

F*** It Therapy: The Profane Way To Profound Happiness by John C. Parkin is published by Hay House, priced £10.99

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