“When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken with anxiety?”EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.13.1
The source and cause of anxiety is wanting something that’s outside of your control. It’s that simple. That’s the guidance from today’s quote in The Daily Stoic book.
If stoicism is the practice of learning to focus only on what is within your control and letting go of everything that isn’t, then you could make the case that stoicism is a cure for anxiety. Anxiety comes from fretting about things outside your control, and stoicism teaches you to let that go entirely. Therefore… anxiety — poof! And just like that, you’re chillaxed, like a Roman.
Of course it’s not quite that simple, but you can use reason to end your troubles. By setting aside the situation, setting aside those things that you know are fully outside your control, you can set yourself free from the anxiety that comes from overthinking about them.
Perhaps most importantly, as author Ryan Holiday asks: “Is my anxiety doing me any good?” Is all the stress and hair-pulling worth it? Does it help the situation at all, or does it bring me peace of mind in some way?
You already know the answer.
Anxiety is thinking too much about the future
I once saw a video on Tik Tok, it was a snippet of an interview with a Buddhist monk, and he outlined the difference between depression and anxiety. The monk said (more or less) that depression is thinking too much about the past, and that anxiety is thinking too much about the future.
That has really stuck with me. It jives with the quote above from Epictetus, too. The future is definitely outside of our control, and we have very little ability to influence it. It’s best to not think too much about the future — and that will help us avoid anxious thoughts.