Staying Stoic During Coronavirus
Updated: Jul 12
Stoicism has greatly increased in popularity in recent years, with famous faces like Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss and Mark Manson writing and speaking outwardly about the benefits of a stoic-inspired life.
Stoicism is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination; it was a philosophy founded in Athens in around 300 BC, roughly 2,300 years ago. The name ‘stoicism’ comes from the ‘stoa poikile’ (painted porch), an open market in Athens where the original stoics used to meet and teach philosophy. Notable Greek stoics include Marcus Aurelius (who wrote the well-known book ‘Meditations’), Seneca the younger & Epictetus.
To the uninitiated, stoicism could be seen as a negative and pessimistic life-outlook, a gloomy way to see the world and a straight road to depression. Therefore, pairing stoicism with coronavirus would surely lead to a negative spiral in thinking, and leave you with a ghastly frame of mind? Or would it?
Well, when we dig deeper into stoicism it is possible to see the bigger picture, and the reason for this logical, highly realistic, outlook on life. Consequently, a lot of people would argue that stoicism could indeed help you through the current crisis, as well as life in general.
The following stoic principle seems to apply today as much as (or maybe even more-so) it would have 2,300 years ago.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
This suggests that you cannot change things outside of your control, but you can change your attitude towards them.
By trying to only concentrate on things within your control, you avoid wasting time and energy on things that you cannot control.
This is a very simple thing to say but actually much harder to do. How do we go about controlling everything that we can, and trying not to worry about the things that we cannot?
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that outside events will almost always affect us, whether on a grand, or minuscule scale, or somewhere in-between. But, by doing our best to reduce this as much as possible, we can have some power over our thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Let's see a couple of methods that could help:
1. Mindfulness - The stoics loved mindfulness, they felt that practicing it regularly was a key way to achieving power over one’s mind. It helps teach the mind to attend to constructive thoughts and allows it to ignore unhelpful ones. We can use mindfulness in everyday life, even when doing something as monotonous as washing our hands (which we are all doing a lot of at the moment!). For example, while washing, try to become aware of all of the sensations you are experiencing; the feeling of warm water, the smell of the soap, the weight of your arms, the feeling of your feet on the floor, the movement of the water and the feeling of the towel when drying your hands. If you do this regularly, it will become second-nature, and you'll be able to 'tap in' (excuse the pun) whenever you want to.
2. Only try to control what you can control - A simple example; you can control how much negative news you are taking in by limiting the amount of TV you watch, and checking news apps & social media less frequently. On the contrary, you cannot control things like whether the rest of your country are self-isolating or sticking to the rules, or the weather outside of your window. By only controlling what you can, you'll worry less about the things you can't.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and I hope these ideas help in some way.
Please share this with friends and family members to see if it can help them too.
Stoicism might not be for everyone and you may not agree with everything stoic, but everyone can take some stoic principles and use them to make their lives better in one way or another.
That leads us to the final question - How are you going to be more stoic today?
References/ More information:
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - https://www.iep.utm.edu/stoicism/
Pocket Stoic - https://medium.com/pocketstoic
The Daily Stoic – www.dailystoic.com