Stoicism and the Pandemic

The pandemic has certainly made our world crazy and uncertain. People are dying and the economy is suffering. Many of us have lost our jobs and even dear ones. It has in one way or the other but definitely affected our normal lives, be it wearing a mask, maintaining social distance or travelling sparsely. In face of such uncertainty, a Greco-Roman philosophy coined around 2000 years ago, commonly known as “Stoicism” seems applicable.

The ancient Greek philosophy was founded by Zeno of Citium and this article illustrates its 5 principles that can guide us in better handling the pandemic situation and maintaining our tranquillity. The five principles are:

Numbering for Five Principles of Stoicism (Dashain Vibes 😀 )

A. Dichotomy of control: is about devouring our energy only to the things that we can control. This principle is also well illustrated in Steven Covey’s, “7 habits of highly successful people” where he talks about the circle of influence and circle of concern. Our health, education, career, family, national economy, society’s perspectives and all can lie inside the circle of concern while the circle of influence being a subset of the circle of concern narrows on things that we have an influence upon. Proactive people focus on the circle of influence and reactive people focuses on the circle of concern. He also argues that when we focus more on the circle of influence, it actually grows.

For instance, rather than panicking about the number of increased daily cases which we have no control over, what we should be doing are the things that are in our control, taking precautionary measures like wearing masks, maintaining social distance and sanitizing. If we focus only on the things under our control, life becomes more stress-free, more enjoyable.

In fact, there are only two things that we can control, our thoughts and actions. Most of the things that preoccupy us during the time of uncertainty often result from external circumstances. So let’s be conscious onwards on what and where we pour our energy to and maybe that can help us to maintain our peace.

K. Premeditating adversity: Being aware of the potential negative things that can come up and being okay with it through premediating is one of the principles of Stoicism. One of the famous stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “As you kiss your son goodnight, whisper to yourself, he may be dead in the morning”. It’s not about fixating on the idea that your son might die rather on reminding yourself that what I’ve got right now is amazing and I don’t wanna squander it.

The application of this principle in the context of the pandemic can be to realize the fact that anyone of us can test corona positive and so our family members. We may lose our dear ones and even ourselves, so it’s important to feel gratitude for what we have and do things in our control to save them.

Q. Voluntary discomfort: “While all excesses are hurtful, excess of comfort is the most hurtful of all” a Stoic philosopher, Seneca, says it all. It’s not a new thing to say that to progress one needs to come out of their comfort shell. The famous magician David Blaine always tried to know his limits performing death-defying real-life stunts like freezing inside ice for 60+hrs, holding the breath for 20+ mins, flying holding a hydrogen/helium-filled balloon (the ascension) and many more. It’s definitely not necessary for us to risk our lives following on steps of David Blaine but a person who has gone through hardships in life will stay calm when similar difficulties befall upon them. Joe Rogan on keeping up his fitness mentioned that if he exercised only on days he felt like doing then he would be fat as fuck and went on to say, “Do what is difficult”.

In this pandemic, most of us are staying inside the home and it’s easy to get lost in the comfort zones (bed, TV, smartphones) of our home. Even staying at home we can definitely work out and keep our immunity level high. Besides keeping us healthy and safe, we can learn skills for which we have procrastinated for a long time and be able to use it when the right opportunity strikes.

J. A view from above: When things seem to get messier the Stoicism philosophy suggests us to imagine ourselves in the corner of the room and observe the situation. Having a view from above and asking ourselves that if it even matters in the next 10 minutes, 10 days or in the next 10 years helps us to quantify the mess we are dealing with. Most of the times the issue we are dealing with doesn’t matter even after 10 days, let alone 10 years. Asking such questions makes us have a bigger perspective and clear our mind from trivial issues.

10. Journaling: The fifth principle of Stoicism is about Journaling. There are many studies done on the benefits of journaling and I myself had tried it fewer times.

Whenever I felt that I was disoriented I began writing about what I wanted, where I was heading and broke down the steps necessary to get where I wanted. Doing so in a notebook immensely helped me to clear my mind and later when I reviewed it back, it kept a track if I had accomplished those things or not. If I had accomplished then it made me felt good and provided a sense of progress that I had made.

Likewise, taking the thoughts out of my mind and putting it down on a piece of paper made me realize that whatever negative emotions I was feeling were often inconsequential and this is what stoics say too. Besides, they also promote mindful journaling which is examining what you are feeling (anger, sad, happy, frustration) and for what reasons through writing. Amidst the pandemic, it can be a great tool to break down your thoughts and decide if it actually matters or not (following principle no. 4).

Let’s give a try to Stoicism. Shall we? What do you think about it’s five principles? Please feel free to comment.

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