The thing about stress and struggle is that it hardens us. It makes us turn inward. With more than expected on our plate, we have less time, less patience, less sympathy for others. We’re dealing with our own problems, trying to keep those closest to us safe, just trying to get through it ourselves.
While this makes sense from a self-preservation standpoint, it’s also a bit self-defeating. Because the more we focus on our own problems, the larger they become. The more we think about ourselves, the more pain and anger and despair we can feel.
So one of the things you can do today is think about how you can be of use, how you can be of service. Imagine James Stockdale in that prison camp in Vietnam—that real world laboratory of Epictetus, as he called it—what was he doing to distract himself from the pain and worry? He was thinking about his men. He was trying to help. He united them in a common cause, together. “U.S,” he liked to say, “Unity Over Self.”
That’s what a Stoic does. That’s what you need to do. Mow your neighbor’s lawn. Call your elderly grandfather. Donate some money. Cheer your kids up. Pick up some trash you see in the park. Respond kindly to that person being negative or partisan on social media.
Wherever there is a person, Seneca said, there is an opportunity for kindness. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there is an opportunity to do good, to help others. It just so happens that that is also a wonderful way to help yourself. Especially right now.