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From Vol. 4, Issue 9, September 2022

Telling worry to hit the road


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“What can we do to better understand our role in the world once we realize how illogical it is, and how little we can influence and shape events? How can we move forward while refusing to give up or give in?”

The logic behind my worry

I admit it – driving scares me. In fact, I’m terrified. I was never very thrilled with cars in general, and I was shocked when several classmates died in car accidents not long after we graduated from high school. This worry got worse when I was t-boned by a red-light-runner a number of years ago while on my way to pick up my daughter at school. This fear seems like a fairly logical worry to me, given the number of serious car accidents that my family and friends have experienced in the past few years.

When I drive, I am constantly on alert, trying to be ready for any evasive action I may have to take. I’m aware someone could come out of nowhere and hit me. And despite frequent requests not to do so, I still “backseat drive” when my husband – an experienced and excellent driver – is behind the wheel.

Patterns of anxiety

I know it’s a problem. The book The Worry Trick by David A. Carbonell has given me new insights. The author talks about how worry fools us into thinking that there is a tangible danger in front of us, and we enter “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. This causes stress hormones to flow through us, and yet doesn’t help actually prevent problems, because the object of worry isn’t literally preventable. We grow accustomed to worry, too. Our brains develop patterns of anxiety that are hard to break simply by distraction or trying to talk ourselves out of it.

Instead we can examine our thoughts as just that – thoughts. The famous saying “don’t believe everything you think” holds true here. Just by worrying about something, we aren’t improving our chances or our adaptability to circumstances in an unpredictable world.

Stoic thinking as the antidote

Fortunately, there is something very powerful that can help us adapt to a world outside our control: Stoic thinking.

For Epictetus, worrying about car trips would be wasted energy. It’s a case of a person (in this case, me) wanting something she cannot truly possess in our mortal world: The assurance that she will be perfectly safe when driving or riding in a car. That’s simply outside of my control. Epictetus pointedly asks

When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken by anxiety?

He goes on to say:

If then the things which are independent of the will are neither good nor bad, and all things which do depend on the will are within our power, and no person can either take them from us or give them to us, if we do not choose, where is room left for anxiety? But we are anxious about our poor body, our little property, about the will of Caesar; but not anxious about things internal. Epictetus, Discourses, 2.13

Refocus on what you control

In the above passages Epictetus is trying to get us to refocus on the things we can control: Our will, our decisions, our judgments. Those we should reflect on and refine. The rest we must leave up to the universe.

This is tough to accept. We all want to stay as safe as we can getting from point A to point B. But it could allow us to re-frame our worry into a more logical approach. For example, rather than stressing about the drive ahead, I’ll work on my own judgment – and maybe even have a cup of tea to increase my alertness. Rather than freaking out about driving in a rain shower, I’ll prepare my will to endure the conditions – and ensure my tires are in good condition. I’ll work to stay distraction-free; I’ll use my power of choice to avoid the hours with the most heavy traffic.

In this way, I see that I do have some control over how I act and my situation, though limited. I can do certain things to try to protect myself. But it’s worth remembering that if we focus only on those protective things all day, we will never get to the actual living part of life.

Using our impressions wisely

Of course, we can continue to take evasive action when we judge, using our impressions wisely, that others are acting recklessly on the road. Those are the drivers who make me wonder how they got a license in the first place.

just got her first driver’s license last week. I’ll be spending a lot of time practicing Stoic concepts on anxiety and control as my husband and I watch her drive off on her own – for the very first time. It won’t be easy.

Meredith Kunz is a Silicon Valley based writer. You can read her blogs at and her tweets at @meredithkunz.