Seven Techniques of Stoicism for Overcoming Stress
Many self-help books follow the trail of Stoicism. In fact, there’s something inherently attractive about this way of life created by Zeno de Citio and adhered to by Seneca and, of course, the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Moreover, a part of cognitive behavioral psychology is nourished by this philosophical approach.
Although it’s true that more than two thousand years have passed since Chrysippus of Solos or Epictetus left behind their work in this field, it seems that it’s now that we need it the most. That said, many warn that the trend of Stoicism is almost crazy. However, it has its raison d’etre. Especially bearing in mind that we live in times of great uncertainty, change, and confusion.
When your life trembles, your mind does too. You don’t know what to hold on to. This causes stress and anxiety to emerge. More than pleasure, you need security. While Epicureanism extolled hedonism, today we need coping skills and resilience. Stoicism can help.
“It does good also to take walks out of doors, that our spirits may be raised and refreshed by the open air and fresh breeze…”
Stoicism techniques to help you manage fear and worry
Stoicism teaches that we can all achieve well-being through mind control. It claims we can mitigate dimensions such as anguish by accepting that some things are beyond our ability to control. It’s also achieved by adopting an approach oriented to contemplation and a change in attitude.
You might be wondering if you can really achieve anything concrete and objective by dusting off this old philosophy. You find yourself asking if the Stoicism techniques are really valid and effective for managing stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. Researchers at the Birkbeck Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (UK) asked the same question.
They wanted to find out if this approach, which originated in the Hellenistic period, provides substantial benefit for those prone to excessive worry. They discovered that it’s a tool of great cognitive value worthy of current psychological treatments. So, why not put it into practice? Why not use the Stoics’ tools to deal with your own stress?
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
1. Rephrase: you’re not what you think
The Stoics claimed that temperance and serenity help you maintain control in adverse situations. They must dominate your mind and what happens there.
The substrate of stress and anxiety often lies in your obsession with giving value to everything you think. You tell yourself things like “I’m clumsy. Everything will go wrong. I’m worthless. It’s hopeless. I’m a failure” etc.
It’s time to understand that you’re not what you feel or think you are. You’re simply the vessel that contains these harmful ideas. You’re also the only one who has the power to change this adverse and exhausting dynamic. So, stop giving value to the inventions of your negative and cruel internal judge. It makes you a prisoner of fear and failure.
2. Get to work: if something worries you…take care
The Stoics claimed that, instead of falling into an infinite maze of worry, we should develop strategies to solve what’s worrying us. If you let it, your mind will be like a black hole, swallowing up all hope and worth and dragging you into the darkness.
Don’t get carried away by the inertia of that gravitational force, or you’ll get lost. Avoid feeding negativity and catastrophizing. Find original solutions to what’s worrying you.
3. Divide and conquer
Are you able to discriminate what’s important from what’s a priority? Do you know how to differentiate between what you can and can’t control? The Stoics defined the dichotomy of control as the main strategy for human well-being.
It consists of separating everything that’s under your control from that which isn’t and accepting the fact.
Also, to reduce any overwhelming burdens of stress, you must know how to prioritize. There are many tasks, supposed obligations, and even people who are surplus to your life and generate overload. It’s time to release those weights from your daily routine.
4. Dissect your mind
When it comes to eating an apple, a cherry, or a peach, you’re always aware that they contain an inedible part. Therefore, you open them up and dissect them to remove the stones or the pips. Metaphorically, you should do the same with your mind.
In fact, many of the things you’re worrying about aren’t useful and can even be hurtful, particularly when you repeatedly chew them over in your mind. You should dissect your thoughts and eliminate from them anything that’s not useful, anything that doesn’t nourish your attitude, hopes, or reason for being.
5. Cognitive distance
This is one of the most useful Stoicism techniques for regulating stress. As Epictetus once said, it’s not things that bother us, but our opinions about those things. Indeed, the way you interpret what happens to you is defined by your state of mind.
Marcus Aurelius spoke about the need to separate judgments from external events. This idea is now translated into a resource defined as cognitive distancing. It suggests that you try to look at your reality with less bias and from a greater emotional distance. It’s only when you look at your surroundings with more perspective that you discover that nothing is as threatening as it might seem.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
6. Hold on to the present
There’s another teaching that Marco Aurelius included in his work, Meditations. It refers to the importance of focusing your mind on the present to reduce your burden of worry. However, as humans, we have the unconscious tendency to inhabit the future almost persistently.
In such an uncertain world, it’s common to feed your fears, worries, and the most torturous ideas about what tomorrow will bring. Avoid it. Adopt a more Stoic perspective and focus on the here and now, the only thing you can control and where you can apply a more serene, confident, and secure attitude.
7. Find a hobby and stay active
Exercise your body and mind, get moving, conquer new hobbies and passions, and give your brain some motivation. For instance, something as simple as taking a daily walk can reduce endless loads of stress. A new friendship, discovering new knowledge, or enriching practices are also cathartic ways to feel better.
The Stoics left a life model that you can use to your advantage. Their objective in life was to achieve an adequate internal balance, in which they channeled their energy virtuously. To do this, they controlled their minds and regulated their emotions so they could accept everything that fate might bring them, whether it was good or bad.
Their ancestral wisdom is both useful and inspiring in today’s modern life. In fact, employing it could result in really huge changes in your life.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Brown, M.E.L., MacLellan, A., Laughey, W. et al. Can stoic training develop medical student empathy and resilience? A mixed-methods study. BMC Med Educ 22, 340 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-022-03391-x
- Maclellan, Alexander and Derakhshan, Nazanin (2021) The effects of Stoic training and Adaptive Cognitive Training on emotional vulnerability in high worriers. Cognitive Therapy and Research 45 , pp. 730-744. ISSN 0147-5916.
- Murray, Greg & Judd, Fiona & Jackson, Henry & Fraser, Caitlin & Komiti, Angela & Pattison, Pip & Wearing, Alex & Robins, Garry. (2008). Big boys don’t cry: An investigation of stoicism and its mental health outcomes. Personality and Individual Differences. 44. 1369-1381. 10.1016/j.paid.2007.12.005.