|Many of us are feeling a toxic mix of emotions right now—frustration, anger, grief, outrage, despair. That underlying feeling of unease from watching the news, which can result in stress and a feeling of helplessness. It’s not at all comfortable and quite distracting.
The anger combined with powerlessness can literally make us sick if we’re not careful. And is a huge time waster.
As a life-coach I’m always looking for solutions and reframes that can help people cope with stuff that happens. Turn it around and make it bearable, if not positive.
The best approach ever to stress
Without doubt the best teachings I have ever come across for coping with events that make us feel helpless comes from the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy called Stoicism.
I confess. I adore Stoicism and it is my go-to back-up support these days. It always has something supremely useful to give us. Practical lessons in everyday living.
Most of us have heard of Stoicism, or at least are familiar with the term to be stoical. It’s associated these days with a sort of calm, unemotional, austere type of behavior. Non-sentimental and with uncaring connotations.
This is not true to the original teachings, which I want to share.
Rather than urging us to be uncaring or unemotional, Stoicism teaches us to focus on what we can control. That which we cannot control, do not waste energy nor stress about. It’s a waste of time. Period.
Here are some quotes from the early Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus. You will be amazed how current they are.
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”
“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”
This is hardly unfeeling or austere. It’s dynamic, intelligent, and realistic. And above all, sublimely practical.
Anger and stress serve no one
Each of us has a mode of action—a way we are best suited for acting as decent, responsible human beings.
Some of us are activists and the first to be out on the streets demonstrating for justice. I have a friend in Mobile, Alabama, my home town, who is like this. I admire her immensely. She works tirelessly to help people vote and is always organizing events. (You know who you are Dianne Jones!) I would last about 5 minutes marching anywhere for anything, and my organizational skills are zilch, so I don’t think that’s my best way to serve. Plus she has tons of energy. I don’t.
But I can vote. I can write letters to people in power. I can donate money or give encouragement to people who are out there working on the line to make the world a better place.
So what can you do? What can you not do?
Always focus on where you do have some influence. Take appropriate action and then let the rest go. Do what you can and do not worry about what you cannot. We are all different.
Anxiety helps no one. And realize, the calmer and more detached you are in your action, the more effective it will be.
That’s it. Simple. Wise. Evergreen advice from first century Rome. We all know it, but we still find ourselves in a lather over events totally outside our control.
It’s so simple
So if you are feeling upset or angry or frustrated, STOP, and ask yourself—is this within my sphere of influence? If yes, then what positive steps can I take to make it better? If not, then give yourself permission to let it go.
You can still care without stress. You can be concerned without stress. The Stoics call it calm indifference. The Bhagavad Gita, the book that was the central influence on Gandhi during his one man confrontation with the British Empire, describes it as holy indifference. The only effective action is that taken with holy indifference.
Think about it. If each of us focused on what we could do, and took action in a positive, calm state, and then let go the negative emotions, would our lives and those around us improve?
The Stoics certainly thought so. Try it. It’s incredibly liberating.