In this post I am going to talk about stoicism and anxiety. I think the biggest lesson that coronavirus can teach us is to really be humble about how little we really do control in our lives and the world.
Enter the stoicism philosophy (what is stoicism philosophy?) and the stoicism practice known as the dichotomy of control – essentially what is up to you and what is not up to you. It is based on the idea that you take responsibility and control of what is up to you and let go of everything that is not, to the best of your abilities of course.
We spend so much time in life focusing on the things that we have little or no control over and it creates so much of our suffering. Because we get so wrapped up in these things, we then spend little or no time focusing on the things that we really do control such as our actions and responses to our emotions or certain events.
Stoicism encourages us to shift our focus onto the things that we do control to take action on.
So what do we actually have control over during these uncertain times?
We have control over:
- Our mental approach and emotional response coronavirus
- The precautions we can take everyday to protect ourselves and everyone around us such as frequent handwashing, not touching our faces, social distancing, and staying home
- How we treat the ones we love around us when we are stressed and frustrated over everything that is happening in the world
- The foods we choose to eat that nourish our bodies, boost our immune systems and improve our well-being and long-term health outcomes (if you want to eat to boost your immune system, grab my free 7 day immune boosting meal plan!)
- Prioritizing self-care such as getting enough sleep, practicing self compassion, forgiveness of ourselves and others, taking down time, meditating, and taking a hot bath
- Taking supplements that boost our immune system such as zinc, vitamin C, probiotics, vitamin D, and antioxidants
We do not have control over (at least not full control):
- If we get coronavirus
- If someone we love gets coronavirus
- To some degree, our thoughts – science tells us we actually do not have total control over the thoughts have
- The world economy and and financial impacts resulting from coronavirus
- How other people will react to coronavirus – such as whether people take social distancing seriously
What we do control and what we don’t control is not always black-and-white of course. There are of course situations where we have partial control. The point here is not to make you feel out of control or helpless, it is simply to get you to shift perspective over to the things you do control and to take action on those things. And of course to understand that the things that we do not control do not have to run our lives.
Know that you have what it takes to get through this
We just have to remind ourselves that there is pain and suffering in life and that is normal, but that we do have within us the strength to face and get through adversity and come out the other side a better person.
Please self compassionate with yourself through this time. Even despite our best efforts to eat healthy and practice self-care, it’s very easy and common right now to feel a bit off track with our general healthy habits.
If you are off-track, practice compassion and forgiveness to yourself and keep reframing and refocusing yourself. Even small efforts are better than no efforts.
Every new challenge is a chance to practice everything that you’ve learned up until now with dealing with adversity. In other words, all of those self-help books have just been preparing you for this moment. Don’t throw everything you’ve learned out the window!
If you want to try a Stoicism practice each day, at night before bed sit down and score yourself on how you did that day. This is not an exercise to beat yourself up but more an exercise of forgiveness and self compassion and setting intentions to try better each day.
Try to minimize social media and media during this time because most of the news is all negative and not actually actionable or relevant and can just exacerbate stress and anxiety. Stay informed but just enough to know what’s going on and what you need to do should you start developing symptoms.
Stay focused on the things you do control and try your best to let go of the rest. Know that you have what it takes to face anything. You have been through lots already and you have what it takes to get through even more.
Stoicism and anxiety
I have dealt with pretty severe anxiety my entire life. I’ve tried everything from counselling, medication, food changes, meditation, self-help books – and they’ve all been incredibly helpful, but it wasn’t until I found stoicism that my anxiety really began to shift.
I discovered that cognitive behavioural therapy actually has a basis in stoicism. The only reason I know this is because I was reading a book about CBT by Lawrence Wallace and there was a whole section on stoicism.
In fact it resonated with me so much that I opened up a Google doc and wrote these notes from the book that resonated with me the most, and then afterwards referenced them on a regular basis –
- Once a thought has been identified, evaluate whether it relates to something that is under your control, and if it’s not, it should be let go. Tranquility can be achieved by developing a clear understanding of what is under our control, our minds, and what is not – everything else. And then fully accepting the reality and what results from it.
- We cannot change what happens to us, but we can change how we respond.
- Rather than waste energy on trying to control outside circumstances, we should spend that time controlling our responses to those circumstances.
- Loss is a part of life and can prepare us for it so that we can eventually be okay. Perhaps life won’t ever be the same, perhaps it will be harder, and perhaps it will be even better after a while. But we will find a way to continue.
- If you can solve your problem then what is the need of worrying? If you can’t solve your problem, what is the use of worrying?
I couldn’t believe how much of a profound difference just these few paragraphs could make on my mental health.
I knew I had to learn more about Stoicism.
Stoicism books that can help with anxiety
Throughout the next year and to this day, I continue to read all the books on stoicism that I can find. Below Is a list of all the stoicism books that I’ve read and highly recommend.
Click on the images to check them out or grab them on amazon!
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
William B. Irvine
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living
How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life
The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
Stoicism: A Stoic Approach to Modern Life
Tara Klippert is a Registered Health and Nutrition Counselor and holds a diploma in Holistic Nutrition and Health Coaching. Tara helps people clear up cystic acne, balance hormones and blood sugar + improve anxiety and gut health NATURALLY with food.