Seek Courage Not Control
Are you powerless to prevent the things that bother you? Do you fret the future, worry about what may be?
Anxiety is mental conflict about things beyond our control.
Usually, anxiety is about a possible future, and we describe it as worrying. When something looms up ahead as a distasteful possibility, the anxious person dwells on being unable to control the outcome. It is the experience of a slave wondering what their master has in store for them. Anxiety is the experience of punishing yourself due to your powerlessness. It is suffering due to the inability to control an outcome.
Panic or a breakdown is what happens when you realize that things will turn out against your will, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Yes, anxiety can manifest in countless ways, such as feeling butterflies in the stomach or having difficulty concentrating. Some have headaches, while others have sweaty palms, shortness of breath, or an increased heart rate and blood pressure. It does not discriminate: children, adults, senior citizens — everyone is susceptible to stress, worrisome thoughts, and panic attacks.
You are not alone. The truth is that we are all powerless against circumstance, and there is precious little that we control. I may wave my arm in front of me, confident that I am controlling it, and yet my will cannot prevent skin cancer from forming on it. I certainly influence my arm to a great degree, but I lack complete control over my own body. Incomplete control is not control at all, but merely influence. And wherever you lack control, a great many undesirable things may happen.
Anxiety Is Not Cage-Free
Each bout of anxiety is like an animal that has just been captured. Trapped in its cage, the animal wants freedom. The beast hurls itself against the bars, but to no avail. Eventually, the animal becomes exhausted and settles down — the brute comes to accept that what it wants is impossible, and most animals stop trying to escape.
Anxiety works the same way. When Jo considers that she may lose her job tomorrow, she has just been put in a cage with the idea that she may lose it. She may kick and she may scream, but the outcome is out of her control. Her mind paces back and forth like a wild beast, bouncing between the bad possibility and her opposite desire. A worry wart would go back and forth for hours, unable to stop the mental pain, the pitched battle between these thoughts. This can be stopped, and as you can guess, there is a skill to be learned.
But back to the analogy of an animal in a cage: anyone anxious is not cage-free. Instead, they live in a zoo … and here is the awkward part. Anyone anxious lives in a zoo of their own design. And they may move from cage to cage, and even occasionally be cage-free. But the cage is mental, and it is one’s own making. These feelings of being trapped against your will, stressed out, scared and helpless, it all comes from within. This is your domain, and these are thing that you can control.
Do anxious thoughts leave you worked up and worn down, lonely and jittery, frightened and frustrated? Are you standing on the border of disorder? You are not alone. When someone becomes aware of anxiety, they may be weary of experiencing a lack of control or powerlessness in their life, of always being on edge, and may even worry about worrying. Enough of this frantic fear of the future leads you to seek relief and find a remedy. Rather than coping with anxiety or finding ways to deal with it, Stoic therapy is there to help you abolish anxiety, bid farewell to fears, break free from breakdowns, and wave good-bye to worrying.
Stoic therapy begins by exploring the concept of control in life. Only your judgments, your decisions, are within your control. You do not control your age, appearance, body, family, friends, income, or others, to name a few. Although this may seem obvious, its implications are often not so simple to internalize.
In Stoic literature, this is often translated as
control, which is not a bad translation, but as there are multiple meanings to many words, the concept of
responsibility is also key, and often overlooked. It is not just the certain things are beyond your control, it is that those things are beyond your responsibility. And you are responsible only for things you control: your judgments.
Anxiety is the mental conflict that results from oscillating back and forth between the way the world is or may be, and what one desires. For example, if Jo worries that tomorrow she may be fired, anxiety is the conflict between the possibility of being fired and her desire not to be fired.
The anxious person is troubled by the fact that they do not control the outcome. Jo desires strongly not to be fired, but ultimately, whether or not she will be fired is up to someone else. No matter how often the mind bounces back and forth between these opposites, a solution does not present itself. There is a very real possibility that the world does not go as Jo desires.
People spend a lot of time justifying their desires and decisions, but Stoic therapy is about questioning the reasonableness of those judgments.
Suffering is unreasonable. There is no good reason to suffer in the present moment due to an uncertain and possible future that is undesirable. Someone without anxiety, and who may lose their job tomorrow, would calmly consider if there is anything they can do about it, such as beginning to look for another job — but they would not suffer. The person who is heavily invested in keeping their job, and who declines anxious thoughts, is courageous.
Courage, or bravery, is knowledge about what is terrible what is not terrible. The lack of courage is cowardice. Today, we would soften this and say that the anxious person is simply worrying about losing their job tomorrow. But it is cowardly to fear the unknown, as if we were again children fearing a beast under the bed. In our example, perhaps Jo does lose her job tomorrow. Who is to say that does not lead to an even better job the next day, or perhaps that is how she meets Mr. Right? The point is, in any situation there are thousands of possible outcomes, many of which may seem undesirable, but to fear them is to spend a lot energy considering them, and then battling back and forth within yourself about each one.
And because a possibility seems undesirable is the very reason that one needs courage to resist the urge to engage in that mental conflict. Stoic therapy provides the way to evaluate those thoughts. It is empowering, not cowering.
Stoicism does not provide a pep-talk that one should be courageous. It is not some rah-rah coaching. That is really missing the point. Instead, Stoicism is a philosophy that values reason. We will apply deductive reasoning to specific thoughts about specific problems. Some thoughts will withstand reason, and others will not. You will learn a specific method to evaluate any thought. You will find that many judgments that seemed reasonable, such as worrying about this or that, turn out to be self-contradictory — to be unreasonable.
The beautiful thing is that Stoicism goes above and beyond treating anxiety. It is more than a set of methods to overcome a particular problem. Stoic therapy applies to every thought in your life, and orchestrates your life toward your highest goal — lasting happiness.
This Side Up
Half of the problem is that we do not learn in our culture how to apply reason to our lives. There is not a single class in school that makes it a point to teach us how to discover contradictions between our will and our understanding of the world. It is sobering that nobody has found value in designing a class that relates reason to life, yet anyone can take a class in social media, for example. In the end, reason orients every thought and decision of a Stoic toward their ultimate goal: lasting happiness. Without this orientation, this affinity toward truth, people flounder through their lives, chasing one thing after another, hoping it leads to the good life and being disappointed when it does not. Each of those judgments seems to make sense at the time, but was induced rather than deduced. Stoicism guides the way with the best and most reliable tool available: formal reason. If your life were a package, Stoicism tells you
This Side Up.
Notice, if you will, that there is a fundamental incompatibility between anxiety and your primary goal of pursuing lasting happiness. It is impossible to be both stressed out and experiencing a stable, inner peace. Since everyone agrees that lasting happiness is the goal, anxiety simply has to go. You can not only undo this thing, but end up in a better place than you ever have been.
Be Courageous and Call Now
Please call Ron at (860) 960-6711 for a free phone consultation. Let’s discuss the specifics of your situation, and let me answer any questions you may have about anxiety therapy. We can meet in my office in Farmington, talk by texting, or have voice chats such as with Duo or Skype. Welcome to Stoic therapy.