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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Whitaker

Stoicism and Anxiety

Stoicism has gained greatly in popularity in recent years, with famous names like Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss and Mark Manson writing and speaking outwardly about the benefits of a stoic-inspired life.

Stoicism is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination; it was a philosophy founded in Athens in around 300 BC, roughly 2,300 years ago. The name ‘stoicism’ comes from the ‘stoa poikile’ (painted porch), an open market in Athens where the original stoics used to meet and teach philosophy. Notable Greek stoics include Marcus Aurelius (who wrote the well-known book ‘Meditations’), Seneca the younger & Epictetus.

To the uninitiated, stoicism could be seen as a negative and pessimistic life-outlook, a gloomy way to see the world and a straight road to depression. Therefore, pairing stoicism with anxiety would surely lead to a negative spiral in thinking, and leave you with a ghastly frame of mind? Or would it?

A sculpture of the head of a Greek man
A stoic mindset can help us to see things differently in our lives.

Well, when we dig deeper into stoicism it is possible to see the bigger picture, and the reason for this logical, highly realistic, outlook on life. Consequently, a lot of people would argue that stoicism could indeed help you deal with high anxiety levels, as well as life in general.

The following stoic principle seems to apply today as much as (or maybe even more-so) than it would have 2,300 years ago.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This suggests that you cannot change things outside of your control, but you can change your attitude to them. By trying to only concentrate on things within your control, you avoid wasting time and energy on things that you cannot control.

This is a very simple thing to say but actually much harder to implement. How do we go about controlling everything that we can, and trying not to worry about the things that we cannot?

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that outside events will almost always affect us, whether on a grand, or miniscule scale, or somewhere in-between. But, by doing our best to reduce this as much as possible, we can have some power over our thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Methods that could help:

1. Mindfulness

The stoics loved mindfulness, they felt that practicing it regularly was a key way to achieving power over one’s mind. It helps teach the mind to attend to constructive thoughts and allows it to ignore unhelpful ones.

We can use mindfulness in everyday life, even doing something as monotonous as washing the dishes. For example, while washing, try to become aware of all of the sensations you are experiencing; the feeling of warm water, the smell of the soap, the weight of your arms, the feeling of your feet on the floor, the movement of the water and the feeling of the towel when drying your hands/ plates. Read my blog here for a simple breathing technique to help you become more mindful.

A woman sitting on a rock watching the sun rise
With practice, mindfulness can be very effective in helping us to become more present during any activity.

2. Only try to control what you can control

A simple example; you can control how much negative news you are taking in by limiting the amount you watch TV, check news apps and social media. On the contrary, you cannot control things like the news itself, the weather or how other people drive their cars! Read my blog here on dealing with news anxiety.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and I hope these ideas help in some way. If they don’t help you, try sharing with them with a friend or family member. Stoicism might not be for everyone, and you may not agree with everything stoic, but everyone can take some stoic principles and use them to make their lives better in one way or another.

More Resources

Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy -

The Daily Stoic –

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