“You’ve got this,” “Hold your head up,” “You’ll be alright” — these things never truly help. And gazillion anti-anxiety videos and social media care emojis don’t seem to sprinkle any fairy dust either.
Sometimes it feels as though modern life is powerfully and tragically geared to cause and perpetuate anxiety.
Yet we hardly talk about this issue. Because, for many of us, talking about anxiety makes us even more anxious. Some people go as far as to indulge in drugs and pornography to escape from anxiety.
Anxiety is a preventable, treatable and curable mental health issue. And the Ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism can actually help you get a grip on your overthinking mind and remain calm in the face of a turbulent world.
Change the things you can control
“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” — Epictetus, Greek Philosopher
Understanding the difference between what we can control and what we can’t is the first step we can take towards removing anxiety from our life.
Many of us waste a great lot of time obsessing over what we did, what we didn’t do, or what we should’ve done.
It may be some past failure, a bad interview, a public embarrassment, or worse. And sometimes we worry ourselves out by fearing and hoping for the future.
But we must recognise that past and future lie within the realm of things we can’t control—things not in our power. We can either learn a lesson and move on or dwell on those things and suffer perpetually.
We should simply stay within the present, doing what we can do with what we have, right now. Because it’s the only thing we can control.
Things such as money, fame and recognition are also not under our total control. There’s nothing wrong in preferring these things over poverty, obscurity or disregard.
But when we start thinking that we can’t be happy without these, we become anxious because we know that we may not get them.
When we tie our happiness to things we can’t control, we’re designing our mind for unhappiness and letting circumstances dictate our peace of mind.
Think about the worst that can happen
Oftentimes we spend too much time worrying about how bad things could get that the experience of worrying in itself is extremely stressful. The Stoics advise doing just that — but on purpose.
Thinking about your boss firing you or your business going bankrupt may sound daunting. But when we think about the worst that may happen, we’ll realise that we can and we’ll endure all of those.
Because although we may not be aware, we have the resilience to take the blow on the chin and say, “Yep, l can deal with this.”
We may even find that the situation is not as bad as we think it is and there is no reason to feel anxious. Because we have a tendency to exaggerate and exacerbate sorrow by anticipating suffering.
Meditate on your mortality
“True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” — Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher
The Stoics were fond of a practice they called ‘Memento Mori’ or ‘Remember that you will die.’
While it sounds dark, it’s not meant to make us anxious about how few days we may have left. Its purpose is the opposite.
It is to free us and empower us. Thinking about not being alive forces us to consider what is truly important in our lives and how we can prioritise everything we’re doing while being alive.
When we’re aimlessly scrolling social media newsfeed, Memento Mori makes us consider if we could make better use of our finite time. When we’re stressed before giving that big talk or making that big business move, Memento Mori gives us the courage to take the leap and live it up — without being stressed or indolent, deferring nothing and doing nothing superfluous.