In part 1 of this thirteenth letter, Seneca describes anxiety and how it torments us. “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”. He then offers Lucilius a way to deal with it which is the focus on this second part.
How to deal with anxiety? Seneca said we need wisdom before it happens and courage when it does happen which are two of the four cardinal virtues of stoicism “Let prudence help you, and contemn with a resolute spirit even when it is in plain sight. “
Seneca said the key is really to recognize that anxiety is just a fear of a future event. It may or may not happen. Statistics tell us that 85% of the things we worry about do not happen. “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”. Wisdom gives us the ability to see anxiety for what it truly is – a virtual event that lives in the future but giving us real but nonsensical negative emotions in the present. A future event that modern science has proved to not happen that it’s likely to happen.
Suppose that it happens? We can learn from what Seneca said about obstacles in his twelfth letter. Challenges in our lives fortify us and provide us an opportunity to practice the virtue of courage. The Stoics have always encouraged us to look for an opportunity to practice virtues. Whatever obstacle comes to our lives when we face it will make us a better person.
One last consoling message he has in this letter is to understand that feeling anxious is perfectly normal. “… Cease to harass your soul, reflecting continually that most mortals, even when no troubles are actually at hand or are certainly to be expected in the future, become excited and disquieted”. We now learn from modern science that fear is part of our fight or flight response. Our brain’s main job is to protect ourselves and fear is just part of the alarm system. However, the moment we perceive that threat is not real, as most are, we have to switch that alarm off!
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