We live in what modern philosophers would describe as "The Age Of Anxiety." The issues that what we are experiencing – pandemics, terror attacks, political and economic unrest, existential angst, and we could stop right there – is unique, unprecedented, unchartered. News headlines, tweets and emails and texts – you hear and see it everywhere – the world has never seen something quite like this... hope you're well during these unprecedented times... leaders facing unparalleled challenges... some feel like there's no playbook for this. I've got some good news for you; a playbook does exist and its called Stoicism. Stoicism is basically an ancient philosophy with some serious modern practicality. Sometimes the solution to your problem can be found by looking to the past.
Before we dive any deeper into stoicism lets talk about what Anxiety even is. Anxiety is often defined as being worried, uneasy, or afraid. It may be caused by something happening around you, or by something inside you. There is nothing worse than a sinking sensation in the pit of your belly. It’s a physical feeling, but it’s also psychological. You can literally feel something in your gut, tying up your insides. In the United States, nearly 1 out of every 5 adults suffers from some kind of anxiety. It affects men and women equally. The average person experiences symptoms of anxiety at least once a week, and almost everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their life.
Now its important to remember that there is nothing wrong with being anxious In fact, life without anxiety would be impossible. Evolution gave us anxiety as a survival tool. However you need to learn how to control your reaction to this emotion and not let it control you.
Name your fear
In an effort to make sense of the world around him, Marcus turned to philosophy. He understood that his perceptions—his thoughts, feelings, memories, and emotions—were not reality, but rather just illusions. And yet, despite the fact that these things seemed so real, Marcus knew that they were only constructs of his mind. So Marcus decided to focus on what was truly important. He focused on living life without attachment. He didn’t attach himself to money. He didn't attach himself to power. He didn't set himself to fame or fortune. He set himself free.
Anxiety is overwhelming and confusing. It can be so deep as to make us immobile. Doubts, uncertainties, fears, worries, pressures, nervousness—they whirl around inside us and we feel confused about how to deal with them. We don't know where they come from or when they'll end. The first step to overcoming something like this is to name it.
The simple act of labeling something can calm the emotional centers of our brains. When we're told what it is we're feeling, we show reduced activity in the brain regions responsible for triggering emotions, and increased activity in the brain areas responsible for thinking things through. In other words, telling someone what we feel helps us think about how to deal with those feelings.
Focus on the now.
We all feel pulled to do more. To go further. To achieve more. We are driven to push ourselves harder. To get ahead. To outdo our peers. And so we fall into the trap of comparing what we have done today, against what we can do tomorrow. Or what someone else has already achieved. Or how far we might have got if we had started earlier.
Happiness is an emotion. And emotions manifest physically. They can make your body feel light and relaxed, or heavy and tense. Emotions aren't always positive; they can bring out feelings of anger, sadness, jealousy, and so forth. But happiness is something else entirely. Happiness feels good because your brain is actually changing how you're thinking. When you experience happiness, your mind shifts into a state called flow. Flow is where you lose track of yourself and everything around you—you forget who you are and what you're doing. You start to zone out, and you're absorbed in whatever you're doing. Your focus narrows until nothing matters except the task at hand.
Marcus Aurelius was very clear about one thing: Don’t let your mind wander off into the past or the future, or wherever it might go. You should pay attention only to where you are right now. So he said ‘be here, and be here now’. He didn’t mean be here and then forget about being here later, but rather be here and remember to be here. Think of him as an example of how important it is to be aware of where we are in space and time. We can’t control whether the events of our lives happen today or tomorrow, so we should be mindful of where we are in relation to them.
Take a hard look at what you really want.
The anxious father, worrying about his children. What do they want? A world that's always safe.
A frantic traveler – what does she want? For weather to hold and for cars to part so she can get to her plane.
Anxious investors? That stocks will rise and that investments will pay off.
All of these examples share one thing in common. They're all out of your control. You can't force the world to work the way you'd like it to; nor should you try. When you feel anxious, take a step back and look at things rationally. Ask yourself: "Why am I feeling this way?" and then decide whether those feelings deserve your attention. Are they worth it?
Don't do nearly as much
Marcus Aurelius Explains it perfectly
“If you seek tranquility,” he said, “do less.”
He continues to write to himself with some added clarification "Not nothing, less. Do only what is essential." He proceeds to say "Which brings double satisfaction, to do less, better."
Today and every day I follow this advice and I get through my life without doing things that aren't essential. I do them because they're habitual, because they're instinctive, because they're comfortable. I do them out of laziness and I do them out of greed. And then I wonder why I'm so anxious or why my performance is suffering or why my heart isn't really in it. Of course it's not. I know deep down there's no point. But if I could do less unnecessary stuff, I'd be able to better do the essential stuff. I'd be able to experience that peace Marcus talked about. A double pleasure.
Enjoy a still moment.
Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher who led an entire empire. He was occupied with reading, writing, lawmaking, hearing cases, leading soldiers, and much else. He dealt with his affairs, just as we deal with ours. He was also constantly thinking and talking about what mattered most. At times, he spoke eloquently and movingly about taking small moments of tranquility and peace.
Have you ever experienced such an occasion? If so, you'll understand how precious those moments are. To live them fully means to concentrate on the present moment; only then can one spend the time in tranquility. In order to do so, however, we must learn to "let go" of our worries about the past and future. Letting go brings inner peace. This is why Marcus wrote that taking moments of stillness helps us live "what can be lived."
Take those moments, every opportunity they arrive. You deserve them more than you know.
Take A Different Approach With Money
Even in his own era, Seneca was criticized because he preached stoicism while accumulating an enormous fortune. Some historians think that major loans he made in what is now Britain caused an incredibly bloody uprising.
Seneca’ s answer to this criticism is pretty straightforward: he may not need money, but he certainly doesn’t mind having it. He’s not dependent on it or addicted to it. And, despite being rich, he hasn’t been branded as one of Rome’s biggest spenders and pleasure seekers.