How Stoic Philosophy Helps You In The Fight Against Anxiety

Stoic philosophy

Most people today suffer from suffocating anxiety.

Anxiety is a relatively modern ailment that creeps up on you, and ends up causing immense damage while it does so. The illness’ existence is defined by worries and fears that seem irrational. 

Its nature dwells in uncertainty which robs one of their present moment contentment. Physically it can incapacitate you by causing stomach aches, racing thoughts and shortness of breath, among many other symptoms.

In its essence though, anxiety is irrational. Therefore, one could combat the ailment with the opposite of irrationality, which is rational thought. This is of course easier said than done, as it can be quite difficult to combat this beast because it lurks in the shadows of our unconscious state of mind.

However we can learn to recognize the enemy when it appears. This way we Stop it in its tracks before it robs us of our peace. The Stoics thought about how anxiety impacts our daily lives, and dedicated a great amount of their time and reason to solving the dilemma.

Below is a guide on how one can deal with anxiety, by understanding how our minds think about the future, the past and the present.

Let Go of The Future

 Let’s start with Seneca:

“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. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

– Seneca

It’s well known that Stoics didn’t value things that were beyond their control, which relates to everything outside of themselves, this is why they were adamant in defining that the only things they had control over were their own actions and perceptions.

Essentially, anxiety occurs when you worry about things that are beyond your control. For example during a panic attack, you’re conscious of the fact that you’re suffering from the attack, but the enemy is invisible to the muddy mind. The solution to this would be to focus on deep breathing, which can help you relax and feel better.

The focus on the present moment helps you calm yourself, because anxiety is generated from thoughts about the future or the past. So it’s always best to make decisions from a mindful and present state.

The truth remains; the future does not exist. The only way to truly exist is to accept the given moment.

As Seneca said:

“True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future”.

Free Yourself From The Past

Anxious feelings can haunt us from the past as well.

For example, if you had an unpleasant event in the past like fainting in a public place, a harsh job interview, or a traumatic emotional breakup. Then you’ll probably have the feeling that it might happen again. And You’ll end up associating the former feeling with the place and it’ll certainly affect you in an undesirable manner.  

Before you succumb to anxiety, take a deep breath and ask yourself if the past is changeable. Can you affect it in any way? The Past is tainted with emotions. Yet emotions are something that you can control and change.

It’s okay to feel uncertain, everybody does, but how do you address this uncertainty? If you suffer from anxiety, it’s important for you to think about this problem.

Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all – the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet. – Marcus Aurelius

Reside In The Present

The present is the most valuable according to Stoics.

Even though the present is short and elusive, it’s the only state we can affect. In other words, you live only now. Don’t allow yourself to become an observer of your own life, by sitting in the theaters of the future or the past. 

It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in right now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself. – Epictetus  

All those worries about the future are reflections of your neglected present. Your future will look different if you stop neglecting the present moment. Think about what you can do now, and let the future unfold on its own. 

What we do now, echoes in eternity – Marcus Aurelius 

So breathe, relax, and go after what you find meaningful in this world. Because if you believe, like the stoics did, that the universe is organized chaos. And that organized chaos cannot exist without a sense of justice, then you must believe that the universe is just.

This logical deduction should put your mind at ease, because everything that happens beyond your control, ends up being for your own benefit.