I caught sight of a book at the library: The Opposite of Worry. “What IS the opposite of worry?” I asked myself. “Serenity? Peace of mind?” (Not exactly, I would later discover.)
Needless to say, I checked out the book to find the answer to author Lawrence J. Cohen’s thought-provoking riddle. In the process, I learned a few techniques to take the edge off excessive worry for both children and adults. You’ll find some of these specific techniques in an upcoming blog post. But for now, join me in my search for "the opposite of worry."
Like all emotions, worry and anxiety serve many positive purposes, at least with the right doses. (I’m using “worry” and “anxiety” synonymously here.) For example, our anxiety warns us of danger, keys us up to perform at our peak, and motivates us to take protective actions. But excessive anxiety can be overwhelming, even paralyzing, and panic attacks can be terrifying.
What could help us cope with persistent worry and anxiety? Here are a few things that don’t work:
- Denial: “There’s really nothing to worry about.”
- Avoidance: “I don’t have to face my fears. I’ll just avoid the situations that make me fearful!”
- Repression: “I’ll suppress my true emotions because they don’t make sense anyway.”
- Obsession: “Maybe if I keep thinking about this problem, I can magically solve it.”
Instead, Cohen offers three powerful antidotes to worry:
1. Being held in loving arms. When anxiety is at its highest, words may be inadequate, especially for children. They need a strong sense of internal safety that they cannot yet provide for themselves. This sense of inner safety comes from “being held in safe, loving arms” of caring adults. Adults, too, sometimes need loving arms to alleviate anxiety. Recent research suggests that just holding a loved one’s hand can lessen both physical and emotional pain.
2. Cultivating a soothing inner voice. This voice, instead of adding fuel to the flames of anxiety, can cool down your anxiety with comforting self-talk, such as, “This is just a temporary mood. You’ll feel better soon” or “Just do the best you can.”
3. Befriending all of your emotions. The opposite of worry is learning to welcome and accept every emotion as it arises. As Cohen writes, “When you watch your own emotional flow with no effort to change it, you realize you can endure it.” You also can make way for the next emotion that comes along—whether joy, sadness, or anger—and express it freely and responsibly. Cohen calls this process “healthy emotional flow.”
The answer. So, “peace of mind” or “serenity” is not the answer to the riddle. The opposite of worry is not a still and unchanging state; rather it’s a flow of emotions that enables us to acknowledge whatever we are feeling, to express those feelings when necessary, to take action if possible, and then to welcome the next feeling that emerges. To sum it up in a word, the opposite of worry is “mindfulness.”
© Meg Selig, 2014
Meg Selig is the author of Changepower: 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success.
For the difference between normal worry and generalized anxiety disorder, click here.
Cohen, L.J. (2013). The Opposite of Worry (New York: Balantine).I highly recommend this book for parents of anxious children and for anyone who was an anxious child at one time.
“When you watch your own emotional flow…” The Opposite of Worry, p. 142
“Being loved and held...” The Opposite of Worry, p. 129
“Recent research suggests...” Carey, B. "Holding Loved One's Hand Can Calm Jittery Neurons."