From Vol. 4, Issue 5, May 2022
How to deal with our fears
Let another say, “Perhaps the worst will not happen.” You yourself must say, “Well, what if it does happen? Let us see who wins. Perhaps it happens for my best interests; it may be that such a death will shed credit upon my life.”
Most of our fears are groundless
More things are likely to frighten us than to crush us. We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. Some things trouble us more than they should; some trouble us before they should; and some trouble us when they ought not to trouble us at all. We exaggerate, or imagine, or anticipate, feel sorrow.
How to deal with our fears
You may retort with the question: “How am I to know whether my sufferings are real or imaginary?” Here is the rule for such matters:
We are tormented either by things present, or by things to come, or by both.
- As to things present, the decision is easy. Suppose you enjoy freedom and health, and that you do not suffer from any external injury.
- As to what may happen to it in the future, we shall see later on. Today there is nothing wrong.
“But,” you say, “something will happen.”
First, consider whether your proofs of future trouble are sure. For it is more often the case that we are troubled by our fears.
Put your fears to test
We do not put to the test those things which cause our fear; we do not examine them; we go pale and retreat just like soldiers who are forced to abandon their camp because of a dust-cloud raised by stampeding cattle, or are thrown into a panic by the spreading of some unauthenticated rumour. And somehow or other it is the idle report that disturbs us most. For truth has its own definite boundaries, but that which arises from uncertainty is delivered over to guesswork and the irresponsible license of a frightened mind. That is why no fear is so ruinous and so uncontrollable as panic. For other fears are groundless, but this fear is witless.
What you are afraid of may never happen
Let us, then, look carefully into the matter. 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? And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so, look forward meanwhile to better things.
What shall you gain by doing this? Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile which will serve to postpone, or end, or pass on to another person, the trials which are near or even in your very presence. A fire has opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime, it is not. So, look forward to better things.
You have the resources to cope with whatever happens
Life is not worth living, and there is no limit to our sorrows, if we indulge our fears to the greatest possible extent; In this matter, counter one weakness with another, and temper your fear with hope. There is nothing more certain among our fears than the certainty that things we dread sink into nothing, and that things we hope for mock us.
Don’t be frightened by uncertainties
We let ourselves drift with every breeze; we are frightened of uncertainties as though they were certain. We observe no moderation. The slightest thing turns the scales and throws us into a panic. Let another say, “Perhaps the worst will not happen.” You yourself must say, “Well, what if it does happen? Let us see who wins. Perhaps it happens for my best interests; it may be that such a death will shed credit upon my life.”
This is a plain English version of Letter 13 of Seneca’s Moral Letters. Reproduced from How to be a Stoic published by The Stoic Gym. (https://amzn.to/2PioGFc)