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    Dealing With Stress: 12 Proven Strategies For Stress Relief From Stoicism

    Wisdom

    “It’s normal to feel pain in your hands and feet, if you’re using your feet as feet and your hands as hands. And for a human being to feel stress is normal—if he’s living a normal human life. And if it’s normal, how can it be bad?” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.33

    Stress is timeless. Because life has always been hard. 

    In the ancient world, there were parents. There were bills to pay. People got sick. They got tired. They had terrible bosses. They committed to too much. 

    Some of them were overwhelmed by this stress, but others managed to find not only relief, but a formula for being improved by it. 

    In this article, we’re going to give you 12 time-tested (and timeless) strategies for stress relief. Each strategy comes to us from the ancient Stoic philosophers, who developed, tested, and proved them in stressful circumstances, not unlike our own.

    This post is going to cover the high level ideas. If you really want to get serious about slaying the stress in your life, we suggest checking out our course:

    Daily Stoic’s Slay Your Stress. A 14-day challenge designed to help you reclaim your life from the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

    This is a long post. It should be saved and revisited. It can be read straight through or if you prefer, feel free to click the links below to navigate to a specific section:

    What Causes Stress?

    What Did The Stoics Think About Stress?

    What Are The Best Strategies For Dealing With Stress?

    Divide and Conquer
    Dissect The Source
    Use Cognitive Distancing
    Practice The Worst Case Scenario
    Get Active
    Find A Hobby
    Start Journaling
    Read A Book
    Stop Caring What Other People Think
    Take A Cold Shower
    Laughter Is The Best Medicine
    Meditate On Your Mortality

    What Are The Best Stoic Quotes On Dealing With Stress?

    What Are The Best Books For Stress Management?

    What Causes Stress?

    As we’ll detail more below, the Stoics believed stress is optional. More recently, psychologists and neuroscientists have confirmed what the Stoics knew intuitively: stress isn’t something that happens to you.

    As Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, a leader in the field of stress mastery, has put it

    “We have this concept in our minds that stress is something that happens to us. And this is that way it’s discussed in our world, the way we talk about stress in conversations quite often…Something is happening to us. But this is actually a myth.” 

    We say things like: Our boss is making us stressed. The project is making us stressed. The stack of dirty dishes is making us stressed. But no one, nothing, is making you stressed. Your boss, the project, the dirty dishes—Ackrill continues, “that’s a stressor. Your boss may be a stressor—somebody [or something] presenting a challenge to you.” 

    What is the real cause of stress? Perception. Here’s Ackrill once more:

    “Stress is your physical and mental reaction to what you perceive is happening. And that’s a really important part of the sentence: your reaction to what you perceive is happening…The majority of [stress] really does depend on perception. Whenever our perception doesn’t meet our expectations, we feel stressed.”

    Since stress is caused by perception, stopping your stress is really a matter of training your perceptions. Or mastering the discipline of perception, as the Stoics would put it.

    What Did The Stoics Think About Stress?

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

    The founder of Stoicism Zeno lost everything in a shipwreck. His successor Cleanthes arrived in Athens with empty pockets. The famous writer and powerbroker Seneca had health problems, was exiled, and then had to show up to work for years in Nero’s court—walking on eggshells around an unstable man with a penchant for bloodlust. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s reign included a plague, health problems, wars, flooding, bankruptcy, and family issues. Marcus’s favorite philosopher Epictetus survived thirty years of slavery.  

    That’s the definition of stress. The friction of conflicting obligations. Hardship. Uncertainty. Pain. Failure. They say hell is other people—well who isn’t surrounded by a lot of those?

    These were all inevitable parts of life, according to the Stoics. But suffering because of it? Actually being stressed because there was stress? No. Those are not the same thing. One does not have to follow the other. 

    When Marcus Aurelius said that he could choose not to feel harmed and then he wouldn’t be? That’s what he meant. When he talked about discarding his stress and anxiety, that’s what he meant. 

    Stress was a fact of life. Being stressed, feeling stressed, that was a choice.

    It was up to him; as it is up to us. We don’t have to stress. We don’t have to dread. We don’t have to be overwhelmed. 

    Indeed, you might argue that all of the Stoics’ teachings revolve around the idea of combating and avoiding the unnecessary pain of stress and anxiety and worry and frustration. The philosophy demanded the active life—it demanded that we participate in politics, be social, contribute to the common good, fight for what’s right—and so it was critical that Stoicism also teach us how to resist the temptation to succumb to the stresses that follow those activities. 

    That’s why the pages of Marcus Aurelius’s private journal are filled with notes to himself on how to “escape anxiety” and to not be controlled by his temper. 

    That’s why Epictetus talked to his students over and over again about focusing on what was in their control and nothing else.  

    And Seneca’s letters are constant reminders to not suffer before it is necessary. Not just reminders, but practical, actionable steps to overcoming both.

    Inspired by that, we have assembled 12 proven strategies for stress relief, rooted in the best Stoic wisdom:

    12 Proven Strategies For Stress Relief

    Divide and Conquer

    “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices 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

    The Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Albert Ellis openly credited Epictetus for his development of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), the foremost modality in counseling today.

    Ellis’ central doctrine held that emotions are a product of our thoughts or cognitions. He categorized thoughts as rational and irrational. The start of stifling the emotion of stress is to make that distinction. 

    The wonderful thing about “the dichotomy of control,” as the Stoics called it, about separating the things we can control from the things we can’t, is the resource allocation it promotes. When you stop worrying about what’s not in your control, you have more time and energy to put towards the things you can influence. That’s an advantage over other people. It’s also a gift to yourself.

    Think it through: Is your stress from an overwhelming workload? Could you put a better system in place? Could you do a better job prioritizing? 

    Struggling with something? Could you ask someone for help? Could you talk to your boss and explain how you’re feeling? Could you seek advice from a mentor? 

    Stress becomes chronic and debilitating when it lingers and festers atop of inaction. We are creative, intelligent and resourceful people. But we have only so many resources and so much creativity. We have to allocate and direct those forces properly. Stoicism is a philosophy of action. Take action. Eliminate the unnecessary stress and the frivolous action (i.e. worrying about what is not up to you). 

    And do exactly what Marcus Aurelius said he did: “Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”

    Dissect The Source

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

    We must come to the realization, Seneca said, that “there are more things…likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” 

    We spend so much time worried about how bad things are going to be. We torture ourselves more than the thing we’re worried about ever could…that is, if it happens at all. 

    So “what I advise you to do is,” Seneca continued, “do not be unhappy before the crisis comes…We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.”

    We interviewed The Breakfast Club host Charlamagne Tha God a little while back to talk about Stoicism and his new book Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me. His advice about stress and anxiety? You might think it the words of Seneca if we didn’t tell you beforehand,

    “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.”

    Next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, in other words, let that be a cue. Let that be a command to stop and analyze. Where is this coming from? Am I bringing this on myself? The cure to stress is often simply in dissecting the source. It’s natural for stress to creep in. Just don’t let it stick around for no good reason. Nip it. Don’t help it grow. 

    Use Cognitive Distancing

    “To live life in peace, immune to all compulsion. Let them scream whatever they want…How would any of that stop you from keeping your mind calm—reliably sizing up what’s around you—and ready to make good use of whatever happens? So that Judgment can look the event in the eye and say, ‘This is what you really are, regardless of what you may look like.’” — Marcus Aurelius

    In his wonderful new book How To Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist, historian, and Stoic Donald Robertson charts the fascinating development of Marcus as a person over the course of his life. He artfully weaves in his insight as a working psychotherapist into how we can draw from both the life and writings of Marcus to improve our own lives.

    In our interview with Robertson, he talked about some of the two-thousand-year-old Stoic concepts that inspired many psychological strategies practiced in the modern world. The central psychological strategy the Stoics employed, Robertson said, was what is now called cognitive distancing—summed up by what Epictetus famously said, “It’s not things that upset us but rather our opinions about things.”

    In practice, therapists ask clients to imagine that they’re wearing colored spectacles:

    If you believe the world is actually rose-tinted or dark and gloomy because of the lenses before your eyes that’s like fusing your beliefs with reality. Realizing that the world isn’t really that color – it’s just the glasses ‒ is like cognitive distancing. It’s the difference between telling yourself “Life sucks!” and “I’m just assuming that ‘life sucks.’

    The Stoics knew this over two thousand years ago, though…It took therapists decades to really wrap their heads around this idea….Marcus likes to refer to cognitive distancing as the “separation” of our judgements from external events. The goal of Stoicism is to suspend certain value judgments responsible for unhealthy passions in this way. 

    Give this a try next time you feel stressed. Remember that you have the power to change the lens in which you are looking through. You choose what glasses you look at things through. You don’t have to let it stress you out or give you anxiety. It’s just the glasses.

    Practice The Worst Case Scenario

    “You will understand that a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs.” — Seneca

    Seneca, who enjoyed great wealth as the adviser of Nero, must have been afraid of losing his job. He stressed about whether or not he’d be able to provide for his family. He stressed about the welfare of his family’s estates. He stressed about Fortune’s inherent unpredictability— he knew that everything could be snatched away by the “spearthrusts of Fortune.” 

    He also realized that underlying all these fears and anxieties was actually just one fear. He was afraid of poverty. He was scared of what he imagined life would be like without the comforts and luxuries he’d come to enjoy. With that realization, Seneca stopped imagining. He “established business relations with poverty.” He devised this practiced to slay his stress about his job and his wealth:

    “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?’” 

    When we interviewed Tim Ferriss, we asked him what tactical advice or practices he’d recommend to our readers who want to beat stress. “The first would be practicing poverty,” Tim said before mentioning the above quote and adding, “That is what I repeat to myself over and over again…The more you schedule and practice discomfort deliberately, the less unplanned discomfort will throw off your life and control your life.”

    It’s important to remember that this is an exercise and not a rhetorical device. Seneca didn’t say to “think about” the worst case scenario, he said to practice it, to live it. Because things like stress and anxiety and fear all have their roots in uncertainty and rarely in experience. The solution is to do something about that ignorance. Make yourself familiar with the things, the worst-case scenarios, that you’re stressed about or afraid of.

    Practice what you fear in real life. You’ll find yourself asking yourself what Seneca did: this is what I feared? This is what I was stressed about? 

    Get Active

    “If you have nothing to stir you up and rouse you to action, nothing which will test your resolution by its threats and hostilities; if you recline in unshaken comfort, it is not tranquillity; it is merely a flat calm.” — Seneca

    As we mentioned above, Epictetus said our chief task in life is discerning what’s inside our control and what isn’t, then focusing our energy on making the right choices in regards to what’s ours to decide. 

    That process can seem distinctly mental—something we must sit down, get inside our heads, deliberate over, and direct our mind’s eye’s full attention to. When we interviewed philosophical writer, performing musician, and Epictetus translator Sharon Lebell a little while back, we asked if she had any great strategies to help with that chief task Epictetus spoke of so often. Interestingly, her advice was actually to do something physical. 

    I get out of my head and into my body. I love Stoicism because it values logos, reason, the discerning mind. But I think our minds are often the wisest when we can settle them down to allow new unsought answers in. I trust the answers that surface during or as a result of my daily yoga practice…I think any daily practice that helps a person withdraw from the noise of everyday life so that wisdom’s voice can be heard is valuable. It’s different for different people.

    Philosophers of yesteryear were known for walking as much as reading, writing, or even talking. Aristotle, for example, conducted his lectures while walking around his school in Athens as his students followed him. Nietzsche reportedly walked up to eight hours a day. Charles Darwin took three 45-minute walks per day. 

    They all knew the benefit of getting out of their heads and into their bodies. In a beautiful letter to his sister-in-law, who struggled with depression, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard captured it perfectly. “Above all,” he told her in 1847, “do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being, and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

    Walking, wrestling, boxing, swimming, running, yoga—all of this is a way to move into a better headspace, into a better state of well-being. 

    Find A Hobby

    “You will see that the most powerful men, the ones who have reached a position of eminence, make chance remarks in which they long for leisure and praise it, preferring it to all their blessings.” — Seneca

    Winston Churchill was a man with so many responsibilities that on a piece of notepaper he once sketched himself a pig, loaded down with a twenty thousand-pound weight.

    Still, he’d not only survive the workload of two wars, five kids, 10 million written words and live into his 80s, but he did so without ever losing his trademark joie de vivre? How did Churchill manage? How did he not burn out and die early? 

    The answer is simple: The restorative power of a good hobby.

    At the age of 40, following the massive failures of several military campaigns, Winston Churchill was demoted and then he resigned from government. Stripped of power and consumed by stress and anxiety, he took up an unexpected new hobby: painting. His process was simple: go out in nature, take it all in, go back and paint from memory. “Painting came to my rescue in a most trying time,” Churchill would later write in essays that would become a small book, Painting as a Pastime. He further explained that, “The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is…a policy of first importance to a public man. To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.”

    A few centuries before Churchill, Seneca — himself a busy political advisor and writer — wrote On The Tranquility of the Mind, a letter to his friend Serenus with advice on curing his stress and anxiety. “It is,” Seneca writes, “the best course by far to mix leisure with employment.” Like the great orator Asinius Pollio putting a hard stop on his work day two hours before sunset, Seneca advises, “we should show kindness to the mind and from time to time grant it the leisure that serves it for sustenance and strength.”

    As Ryan Holiday writes about in Stillness Is the Key, elite performance is best when balanced out with hobbies and leisure. As Churchill found solace in painting, William Gladstone—prime minister of England in the generation before Churchill—found it in chopping down trees. For Seneca, it was writing philosophical letters to friends and family members. For Epictetus, we can infer it was lifting weights. For Marcus Aurelius, it was hunting and possibly wrestling. For John Cage, it was mushroom hunting. For David Sedaris, it’s walking back roads and picking up trash. For Herbert Hoover, it was fishing. 

    What do all those things have in common? What marks a good stress-relieving hobby? It’s a pursuit that simultaneously challenges and relaxes us, that simultaneously busies the body and opens the mind. Engaged in a good hobby, we are present. We are in control. No one is making us do this. No deadlines have to be met. No money is on the line. No validation or rewards are either.

    Painting, reading, boxing, puzzles, coding, collecting stamps—whatever it is, you need to have something, some hobby, that takes your mind off the stresses of work. 

    Start Journaling

    “When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by.” — Seneca 

    Instead of letting racing thoughts and outsized fears swirl around in your heads, Seneca said, you should “write whatever enters your head,” you should get all of those thoughts down on paper, you should cage the monkey mind in a journal. Seneca’s evening review was essential to calming down. It was essential to self-improvement and personal growth. This is how “to deal with one’s own ills,” he said, “this brings peace and freedom.”

    Seneca was not the only Stoic who was a big fan of journaling. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations consists of a collection of personal self-help notes, which he never intended to see the light of day. Epictetus encouraged his students to write down their thoughts and reflect upon their actions everyday. The Stoic “keeps watch over himself as over an enemy lying in ambush,” he said.

    But it’s not just an ancient philosophy like Stoicism that has recognized the fruits of journaling. Modern science has shown there are a host of benefits from journaling:

    [*] A study by Cambridge University found journaling helps improve well-being after traumatic and stressful events. Participants asked to write about such events for 15–20 minutes resulted in improvements in both physical and psychological health.

    [*] And a study by The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that writing “focused on positive outcomes in negative situations” decreases emotional distress.

    People tend to intimidate themselves about journaling: What’s the best way to do it? What’s the best journal? What time do you do it? For how long?

    Forget all that. There’s no right way to do it. Just do it.

    You can use The Daily Stoic Journal or The 5 Minute Journal or The Bullet Journal or Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist Journal or the One Line A Day Journal. Or a blank notebook or an Evernote file or an email on your iPhone. Or use a combination of these things.

    It doesn’t matter. Just start.

    Read A Book

    “And reading, I hold, is indispensable…Reading nourishes the mind and refreshes it when it is wearied.” — Seneca

    One of the best cures for stress is cheap if not free: reading. The great William Osler (founder of John Hopkins University and a fan of the Stoics) told his medical students it was important that they turn to literature as a way to nourish and relax their minds. “When chemistry distresses your soul,” he said, “seek peace in the great pacifier, Shakespeare, ten minutes with Montaigne will lighten the burden.” 

    We know that Seneca and Marcus were big readers. Their works are filled with quotes and allusions to plays and poets and the stories of history. They read to relax and to be at leisure. It kept their minds strong and clear. How could you not do the same? Why do you turn instead to the TV or to Twitter?

    Let us follow Osler’s advice,

    Start at once a bedside library and spend the last half-hour of the day in communion with the saints of humanity. There are great lessons to be learned from Job and from David, from Isaiah and St. Paul. Taught by Shakespeare you may take your intellectual and moral measure with singular precision. Learn to love Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Should you be so fortunate as to be born a Platonist, Jowett will introduce you to the great master through whom alone we can think in certain levels, and whose perpetual modernness startles and delights. Montaigne will teach you moderation in all things, and to be ‘sealed of his tribe’ is a special privilege.

    Reading is not just something you should do on vacation, or when you have free time. It should be, like all important things in your life, a daily practice. Seneca called it an indispensable part of one’s daily routine—particularly early in the day—because “reading nourishes the mind and refreshes it.” He’s right. Who doesn’t feel better after they’ve read? So next time you’re stressed, try slowing down, being deliberate, and finding the wisdom you need.

    Stop Caring What Other People Think

    “There is also this not inconsiderable cause of anxieties, namely, if you should worriedly assume a pose and not show yourself to any men frankly, like the many people whose lives are a sham, made up for display; for it is a torment to be watching oneself all the time, afraid of being detected outside one’s usual role.” — Seneca

    In Book Twelve, as Meditations is wrapping up, Marcus writes, 

    “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” 

    In another section, he writes, 

    “Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do…Sanity means tying it to your own actions.”

    The point is: your happiness and peace of mind is too important to be placed on somebody else’s whim. Life is too short to submit to other people’s opinions. Embrace who you really are, embrace what makes you unique. Let your freak flag fly—because chances are it’s special. And it’s easier—and therefore, less stressful—than trying to be someone or something you’re not. 

    Take A Cold Shower

    “The body should be treated more rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind.” — Seneca

    Cold exposure is a hot trend. Silicon Valley swears by starting the morning with cold showers for its effects on mitigating stress levels and boosting mental fortitude. Anti-aging researchers call it the secret weapon and most cost-effective “biohack” in the pursuit of ageless vitality. 

    But this is no groundbreaking innovation. Indeed, hydrotherapy is an ancient practice. The benefits of cold and ice were first realized thousands of years ago when the Egyptians treated inflammation and injuries with isolated cold application. In fact, papyrus scrolls have been found documenting the application of ice on a number of patients.

    Hippocrates, The Father of Medicine, also prescribed cold baths and bathing in spring water to ‘allay lassitude’ for many of his sick patients. The Romans built bathhouses, where health-conscious citizens would sit in a hot room for as long as it took to sweat, then dive into a frigidarium—an ice-cold swimming pool.

    And Seneca, in one of his letters, writes that he started every year by taking a cold plunge. He describes himself as the “cold-water enthusiast, who used to celebrate the new year by taking a plunge into the canal, who, just as naturally as I would set out to do some reading or writing, or to compose a speech, used to inaugurate the first of the year with a plunge into the Virgo aqueduct [present day Trevi Fountain].”

    Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this ancient stress-relief strategy is backed by some modern research: 

    [*] Reduces Stress and Boosts The Immune System — Short-term whole body cold exposure has been shown to promote tolerance to stress and drastically reduce the chance of disease. It does this by lowering levels of uric acid in the body during and after exposure to the cold water, along with boosting levels of the important antioxidant glutathione in the blood.

    [*] Improves Brain Function and Treats Depression — The Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine proved that exposure to cold activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which results in an anti-depressive effect.

    Laughter Is The Best Medicine

    “He who laughs has joy. The very soul must be happy and confident, lifted above every circumstance.” — Seneca

    One of the most influential and famous Stoics, Chrysippus, died laughing. Literally. He died from belly laughing at the sight of a donkey eating figs in his garden.

    The Stoics were of the mind that a sense of humor was necessary in a world often marked by pain and suffering and overwhelming emotions.

    As Seneca observes,

    “All things are cause for either laughter or weeping.”

    And since that is the case,

    “Heraclitus would shed tears whenever he went out in public—Democritus laughed. One saw the whole as a parade of miseries, the other of follies. And so, we should take a lighter view of things and bear them with an easy spirit, for it is more human to laugh at life than to lament it.” 

    On his podcast, comedian Pete Holmes talks about how laughing is something he consciously practices every day. On an episode with Dr. Joel Fuhrman, the two talked about a kind of fake-it-til-you-make-it approach to laughter. Holmes said “People tease me because I laugh a lot, and I say, ‘No, I’m happier than you and I’m working at it. It’s a choice. You think I can’t not laugh at a joke? Of course I can, but it’s better for everything to laugh.” Furhman confirmed, “I tell people that laughing makes you live longer even if the joke doesn’t work. If the joke isn’t funny but you laugh anyway, it still makes you live longer.” Eventually, you’ll see too that what they say about laughter is true: it is indeed the best (and cheapest) medicine.

    [*] It may be obvious that laughter reduces stress, but the reason? Laughter and humor trigger the brain’s emotional and reward centers through the release of endorphins. That feeling of euphoria you get after a great long run—that’s from the release of endorphins. The brain’s chemical response is exactly the same when you have a good laugh. 

    [*] Stressful experiences in everyday life, even from the simplest most mundane situations like car troubles, suppress the immune system, which increases the risk of infectious illness and heart disease. A good laugh can help prevent stress from accumulating and thus affecting the immune system, protecting you from disease.

    Try next time you’re stressed: Dial up one of your favorite funny movies that you haven’t watched in a while. Binge watch that series people have been telling you about? Search YouTube for classic bits from some of the great stand-up comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, Sarah Silverman, Pete Holmes, Ellen Degeneres, Dave Chappelle, or Robin Williams.

    When life feels really stressful, when the world makes you want to weep in despair or rage, consider what the Stoics said: you always have the choice to laugh about it. 

    Meditate On Your Mortality

    “Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?” — Marcus Aurelius

    More than a few people push back on memento mori as morbid or dark. But those people miss the point. It’s not about making you anxious about how few days you may have left. Its purpose is the opposite. It’s to free you. To inspire you. It is the key to happiness that unlocks empowerment, gratitude, charity, and a ‘bonus-round’ attitude every moment of every day. Memento mori is the jolt that keeps us in the present moment. 

    Marcus Aurelius said, Who on earth would think that thought—that they could have only a few minutes left on earth—and go, “Yeah, I should spend that time being upset or afraid or depressed.” 

    When you’re complaining over some tweet or some endlessly frustating and incompetent coworker, memento mori snaps you out of it. 

    When you’re scrolling and swiping, memento mori makes you consider if you could make better use of your time.

    When you’re stressed before giving that big talk or making that big phone call, memento mori gives you some perspective and asks, that’s what you’re stressed about?

    The phrase gets thrown around a lot: live today like it’s your last day on earth. The problem with that approach for many people is that they use it to promote and excuse reckless behavior. Seneca put it differently: live today like it’s your whole life. He said he “balanced the books of life each day.” Meaning, he lived fully every 24 hours, neither stressed nor indolent, deferring nothing and doing nothing superfluous or unnecessary either. He was taking it day by day.

    And so, we must do the same. Today is the most valuable thing you own. It is the only thing you have. Don’t waste a second of it stressed or anxious.

    What Are The Best Stoic Quotes On Dealing With Stress?

    “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices 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

    “We suffer more from imagination than from reality.” — Seneca

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

    “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

    “Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, ‘Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer.” — Marcus Aurelius

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

    “Frame your thoughts like this— you are an old person, you won’t let yourself be enslaved by this any longer.” — Marcus Aurelius

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

    “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 with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” — Seneca

    “A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” — Seneca

    What Are The Best Books For Stress Management?

    Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson

    10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story by Dan Harris

    Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

    The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

    Stillness Is The Key by Ryan Holiday

    Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me by Charlamagne tha God

    Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.

    Build Your Resilience: CBT, Mindfulness and Stress Management to Survive and Thrive in Any Situation by Donald Robertson

    Want To Slay Your Stress?

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