The Stoic Way to Deal With Stress and Anger

2020 is an intense year. When it seems like we’re at a point where it can’t get worse we are faced with a new portion of bad news. The bushfires, coronavirus pandemic, George Floyd murder, explosion in Beirut, refugee crisis, and floods are just a few cases of this year’s catastrophes that have shaken the world.

It is hard to remain calm in the face of all of these disasters. Instead we grow anxious and worried which often leads us to turn to alcohol, binge eating, stress shopping, or oversleeping for comfort. But those are not reliable sources of reassurance. When depending on external factors for comfort – even if we succeed – it’s usually short term assuagement. What’s necessary is establishing peace within yourself.

I definitely struggle with that but what has helped me with facing my struggles, my anger, and the unknown is the most important rule of stoicism. There is an ancient quote that explains it very well:

“Happiness and freedom begins with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not”

Epictetus

If you can not do anything about an issue then why waste your energy worrying about it?

We can’t stop the pandemic, prevent explosions or revoke climate disasters. There’s no point in worrying about that and feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead, we should focus on trying to prevent the next catastrophes, on what we can control. If you’re anxious about the climate, try living a more sustainable lifestyle. If you’re worried about your grandparents coming down with COVID, buy groceries for them so they don’t have to enter the stores.

The power lies in realizing what we can and can not change. There is a famous prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr that anyone – Christian or not – would benefit from implementing in daily reflection.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and wisdom to know the difference.

Next time your heartbeat speeds up or you feel a wave of anger, ask yourself a simple question about whatever it is that troubles you: ”Can I do something about this?” If the answer is “yes” then great! Go and take responsibility for your own happiness or whoever’s that you’re concerned about. If the answer is “no” then I’m sure there are better things you can spend your energy on.

The same thing applies to managing personal insecurities. I recently decided that I’m only going to perceive as ”insecurities” things about myself that I can change. There is no point in wondering how would I look with blue eyes or how would my life look like if I was born in Switzerland. We’ll always have qualities that we don’t like about ourselves but in order to build confidence, we have to adjust what is possible and fell in love with what’s not.

Stoicism is a 2000-year-old philosophy that states that the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, not controlled by the fear of pain, and by using one’s mind to understand the world. The stoic premise is very appealing to me and I want to keep exploring different philosophers’ takes on the journey to “eudaimonia” which stoics called happiness or blessedness.

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