Can a 2,400 year old philosophy help with stress management in today’s world?

Updated: Mar 21

Stoic Philosophy

According to Wikipedia “Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC.” It is a very complete, comprehensive philosophy widely used to develop a rewarding and worthy life.

Most modern day usage focusses on something like “if you can’t change it then don’t waste time worrying about it” (with apologies to Zeno and all others who know there is MUCH more to it) but the ultimate goal of Stoic philosophy is to become a "complete and virtuous person".

There are four "cardinal virtues"

  • Wisdom

  • Courage

  • Justice

  • Temperance

Most modern references describe Stoics as lacking or repressing emotions, which is actually NOT good for stress management. It's more correct to understand that Stoics embrace "freedom from passion by following reason". Replace "passion" with "stress" and you get the idea.

Maybe the most famous Stoic philosopher was Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor from 161 to 180. Remember now, he ran the biggest and most complex government of the day, and so maybe this philosophy can help you chill and deal in today’s world. I’ve read “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius (OK the English translation not the original written in Greek) and there is a lot there that is relevant today and very useful to sort out the stuff worth worrying about and not.

Stoic philosophy to manage stress

A key element of stress management is understanding that you actually control how you let the stress factors affect you and your emotions. Stoicism helps you recognise that not every event needs to actually stress you out.

Other new (earlier than Roman times) adaptations of Stoicism might be:

  • If you are thinking something is bad and therefore stressful think again. Is it REALLY bad or are you DECIDING it’s bad and therefore stressful? “….there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Shakespeare, “Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2”)

  • Just because everyone around is stressed out and noisy you might not actually have to let that affect yourself. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you” (Rudyard Kipling, “If”)

There is much more to Stoicism and other philosophies that can be useful to calm down and be healthy and happy. We will have much more at Pathfinders around stress management and mental health, and welcome your opinions and contributions so please reach out and let’s chat about how you can become involved.

Other great links on Stoicism (CBC podcast “Take it like a Stoic: coping in the time of coronavirus”)

…and many more out there.

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