30 Stoic Quotes On Confronting And Discarding Anxiety

There is this constant feeling that there’s always something else we should be doing. We take a short vacation and there is this nagging guilt about the work we’re leaving undone. When we’re with our children, we think about our obligations and when we are busy with our obligations we think about how much we miss our children. We watch television and feel guilty that we should be reading. We’re reading and we feel guilty that we’re not off making money instead. Man is dogged by the constant worry that there is somewhere else, somewhere better that he should be if only he had planned better, disciplined himself better, worked harder. It’s the source of much misery.

More than twenty times Marcus Aurelius references “the present” and “the present moment” in his Meditations. We see it frequently in Seneca and Epictetus as well. Each time they’re saying, don’t worry about the past, don’t let anxiety about the future cripple you, embrace what is in front of you right now. Be here now, they’re saying. Don’t wish for things to be a certain way. Wish them to be as they are. Don’t be somewhere else. Be here, and be here well.

Here are 30 Stoic quotes to help us do just that—to confront and discard anxiety:

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“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself with are externals, not under my control, and which have to do with the choice I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” — Epictetus


“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 by anxiety?” — Epictetus


“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person or that person, this challenge, this deed. Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in right now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself.” — Epictetus


“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens” — Epictetus


“What upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgements about these things.” — Epictetus


“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” — Epictetus


“It’s ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain it’s own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest— by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things.” — Seneca


“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?…Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.” — Seneca


“For the only safe harbour in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.” — Seneca


“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” — Seneca


“The mind at times fashions for itself false shapes of evil when there are no signs that point to any evil; it twists into the worst construction some word of doubtful meaning; or it fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really is, considering not how angry the enemy is, but to what lengths he may go if he is angry. But life is not worth living, and there is no limit to our sorrows, if we indulge our fears to the greatest possible extent; in this matter, let prudence help you, and contemn with a resolute spirit even when it is in plain sight. If you cannot do this, counter one weakness with another, and temper your fear with hope.” — Seneca


“True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied, for he that is wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not” — Seneca


“Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.” — Seneca


“What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes…some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.” — Seneca


“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” — Seneca


“Hecato says, ‘cease to hope and you will cease to fear.’ . . . The primary cause of both these ills is that instead of adapting ourselves to present circumstances we send out thoughts too far ahead.” — Seneca


“Set aside a certain number of days during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while, ‘Is this the condition that I feared?” — Seneca


“The first step: Don’t be anxious. Nature controls it all. And before long you’ll be no one, nowhere—like Hadrian, like Augustus. The second step: Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.” ― Marcus Aurelius


“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.” — Marcus Aurelius


“Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfil itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” — Marcus Aurelius


“If then it’s not that the things you pursue or avoid are coming at you, but rather that you in a sense are seeking them out, at least try to keep your judgment of them steady, and they too will remain calm and you won’t be seen chasing after or fleeing from them.” — Marcus Aurelius


“Don’t let your reflection on the whole sweep of life crush you. Don’t fill your mind with all the bad things that might still happen. Stay focused on the present situation and ask yourself why it’s so unbearable and can’t be survived.” — Marcus Aurelius


“Leave the past behind, let the grand design take care of the future, and instead only rightly guide the present to reverence and justice. Reverence so that you’ll love what you’ve been allotted, for nature brought you both to each other. Justice so that you’ll speak the truth freely and without evasion, and so that you’ll act only as the law and value of things require.” — Marcus Aurelius


“Frame your thoughts like this— you are an old person, you won’t let yourself be enslaved by this any longer, no longer pulled like a puppet by every impulse, and you’ll stop complaining about your present fortune or dreading the future.” —Marcus Aurelius


“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.” — Marcus Aurelius


“You have power over your mind not outside events, realise this and you will find strength.” — Seneca


“If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable battle.” — The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman


“Today, notice how often you look for more. That is, wanting the past to be more than what it was (different, better, still here, etc.) or wanting the future to unfold exactly as you expect (with hardly a thought as to how that might affect other people). When you do this, you’re neglecting the present moment. Talk about ungrateful! There’s a saying— attributed to Bil Keane, the cartoonist— worth remembering: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” This present is in our possession— but it has an expiration date, a quickly approaching one. If you enjoy all of it, it will be enough. It can last a whole lifetime.” — The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman


“The pragmatist can’t worry about every possible outcome in advance. Think about it. Best case scenario— if the news turns out to be better than expected, all this time was wasted with needless fear. Worst case scenario— we were miserable for extra time, by choice. And what better use could you make of that time? A day that could be your last—you want to spend it in worry? In what other area could you make some progress while others might be sitting on the edges of their seat, passively awaiting some fate? Let the news come when it does. Be too busy to care.” — The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman


“What I would tell people who struggle with fear and anxiety is that it’s natural, just always try to be aware of the source of it. That’s why I believe in rational anxiety and irrational anxiety. Rational is when you know why you’re afraid and anxious. Irrational is when these thoughts just flood your mind and you don’t know where they are coming from, so you’re just scared and having a panic attack for no reason.” — Charlamagne Tha God