Thoughts on Stress and Anxiety

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

It’s been a while since I’ve simply meditated on a subject and blogged about it in a very stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but I would like to get back to that sort of writing more often. Not only is it a great way for me to write but it can also help me to practice the art of philosophizing and examining the world around me. There is so much to write about in this world, and so much to think about, but often times it is my focus (or lack thereof) which distracts me. So, since I am someone who is very familiar with stress and anxiety, I thought it to be most natural that I start here first.

To start, my life has been stressful lately. For anyone who has followed my blog over the past few years, you might know that I have a daughter who is now almost 3 years old. She is absolutely not the stressful part of my life, but there is an uneasy legal dispute that I’m engaged in with her mother for equal rights and time share. It’s ugly and unpleasant and it didn’t need to be this way. There have been nights where I’ve not wanted to eat or sleep and it has distracted me from being the absolute best that I can be. However, I’ve been learning to be okay with this, because worrying about anything which is outside of our control is a wasted effort and never really helps anything at all. My time is much better spent focusing on being a good Dad, a decent human being, and on taking the steps necessary to settle these issues quickly and effectively.

In the end, we are much better off simply focusing on what we can control, like our actions and how we plan to tackle our challenges for maximum effect. We can also turn our attention towards our own judgments and challenge our own opinions in order to ensure that we are taking a somewhat objective perspective of everything that is happening. Because when we are burdened by strong emotions they can lead us down a path of poor decisions and then even greater difficulties. It is in our own best interests to focus on what is productive and cut the fat. Emotions are useful for many things in life, but when our well-being is dependent on our ability to focus and make sound decisions, then overly strong emotions can really cause a crisis.

Personally, the best way I’ve found to deal with strong emotions, stress, or anxiety, has been through regular journaling and meditation. I also like to work on building a virtuous character, as recommended by the Stoics and this requires a daily reflection. I don’t do this every day, and not even for a long time when I do, but a few sentences in the morning about which character trait I will work on and a reflection at night can help a lot. Some days, for example, I will focus on fostering greater patience in my daily life, or courage, or sociability, etc. At the end of the night I will often flip this on its head and record the progress that I’ve made toward this goal (what I’ve done well, and what I could do better). All of this is extremely important to foster healthier habits and strengthen your virtues while diminishing your vices – if that’s important to you.

When my emotions begin to catch me off guard in the short-term and I’m feeling more reactive than normal, I will try to find a quiet spot to just hang out in for 5 to 10 minutes, focus on my breathing and quiet my mind. I’m an overthinker and diagnosed ADHD, so in these moments I will just focus on my breath and forbid myself from any other train of thought. When I catch my mind wandering, I will simply bring it back to my breath in an effort to maintain tranquility. It really does work in a pinch and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Meditation or meditative activities (painting, journaling, stretching etc.) can bring so much value to an individuals life in the form of increased productivity and wellbeing that they are well-worth adopting. If you don’t think you have the time, just think of all the time you’ve wasted being stressed out and unproductive because of it. The time can be found, if you want to find it.

There are also those, like the Stoics, who believed that exposing ourselves to stress is kind of like inoculating ourselves against a contagious virus. We ought to build our tolerance to stress for when it really matters in our lives It doesn’t mean that we need to be make our lives miserable when it could be comfortable, but we can challenge ourselves regularly to do without luxuries when we otherwise could have them. This is also known as character building.

That’s my rant for today. Perhaps you’ve found it helpful or insightful, and perhaps not. But either way, I’m wishing you well, much love and courage when it comes to facing your own obstacles in this life.

Would you like to read more blog posts like this? Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Stress and Anxiety

  1. Sounds like you’re turning inward, to get rid of that stress in your life, and that’s good, but, sometimes, an external method might work together better, with the more quieter activities, I find that using both being more helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was sorry to read of these trials Life had placed on you. They come upon most of us in all sorts of shapes, sizes and durations.
    Your approach to this crisis and its challenges is constructive and positive. May it guide you through.
    I am sure many folk reading this will find your words insightful and helpful.
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

      1. OK thanks.
        Been a bit involved with ‘this and that’ and a fantasy trilogy of mine, so my WP time has been scattered.
        Wishing you well for the time ahead. Just racked up my 70th year…..Life is…well….Life.

        Sometimes I recite to myself a Chinese folk tale commentary on the ups and downs of Life. (well the English version which probably loses a lot in translation). It goes like this.
        One day a farmer find his horse has broken out of its paddock and gone. His neighbours commiserate on his loss of a valuable animal. He replies ‘Bad luck. Good luck. Who can say?’
        The next day the horse returns having gathered up five others and led them back. His neighbours congratulate at his bounty. He replies ‘Good luck. Bad luck. Who can say?’
        The next day while his only son is attempting to get one of the wild horses used to be ridden, it throws him, and he breaks his leg. The farmer’s neighbours commiserate at his son being crippled and now not as robust to help around the farm. The farmer replies ‘Bad luck. Good luck. Who can say?’
        The next day an imperial officer arrives and says all the young men are to be conscripted into the imperial army and marched off to a far away province. Of course his son is crippled and of no use in an army and is the only young man left in the village. The farmer’s neighbours say he was fortunate at least when he recovers his son can share some of the burden of farming. The farmer replies…’Good luck. Bad luck. Who can say?’
        I think it goes on a lot longer than that, probably is a great deal more subtle and maybe the original word was not ‘luck’, but you’ll get the general idea.
        Keep on keeping on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When making a decision about what action to take, I ask myself one simple question, “Does this accomplish what I am seeking to accomplish or does it just make me feel better?” If it does not fall into the former category, I avoid it like the plague. And, as you know Matt, I am a huge fan of meditation and your suggestion on how to start is perfect. It can be as simple as you have made it sound. You just have to start. I wish you greater peace and happiness in your continued journey!

    Liked by 1 person

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