A Stoic Exercise for Anxiety

Life, now more than ever, can feel like an endless tirade of ‘to-do lists’ and bad news. 

It can be suffocating. The emails don’t stop coming, and the “shit I should probably do’  list extends like a python slowly but surely unfurling, with no end in sight.

Pandemics, civil unrest, bombings, earthquakes - it can seem like when one crisis looks like it’s about to subside, another looms in the distance, just waiting to say hello and ruin your month.

And that’s only on a global level. In each of our lives, we all have our individual struggles. Relationship problems, insecurities, anxieties,

Sounds a bit grim doesn’t it?

Yep, and sometimes, life is a bit grim. I’d be bullshitting you if I said that it wasn’t. That being said, there are ways to make it a little bit more manageable. 

I want to share with you a tool I’ve found useful in getting some breathing room during these times. I’m not promising sunshine and rainbows, but this is something that’s got me through a lot of tough times.  

It’s an old Stoic exercise, often called the 'contemplation of the whole. (p.s - not the amazing new Vivo Life product, WHOLE, that you should definitely try out...sorry couldn’t help it).

I prefer to call it ‘the view from above’, as it seems a little less formal!

It involves looking down at the world as if you are miles above the ground. Try and imagine the entirety of the universe and your place within it. Think about how materials things fade, and only exist for a microscopic time in the grand scheme of things. 

Let me help you visualise! First, take a look at this image: 

palebluedot

You might have seen this one before, but let me explain anyway. This is a photograph taken in 1990, by NASA's Voyager 1. It's around 3.7 billion miles from the sun. 

In better words, than I could ever use, Carl Sagan once said, "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us."

On that little pale dot in the distance exists all of your problems. Pending bills, uncertain employment, relationship troubles, insecurity, anxieties - all on that one pixel in the middle of your screen.

To say that the universe is massive is an understatement. Imagine all the grains of sand in the world - (estimates are as much as around seven quintillion and five hundred quadrillion grains of sand, in case you're wondering!) 

Now consider that there are way more stars in the universe. Imagine zooming out billions of light-years from Earth, and seeing so much other existence. 

I don’t know about you, but it sure helps me put things into perspective. Whatever I’m worried about, it’s really not that big of a deal - no matter how much it might be in my mind.

Of course, the universe is so big that it almost seems pointless trying to understand it’s scale. So let’s take it to a smaller level.

Check this out: 

stoic exercise for anxiety fossil perspective

This is one of the oldest examples of cave art ever discovered. Scientists estimate that they were drawn over 44,000 years ago. 

Whoever drew this experienced joy, laughter, pleasure, as well as anxiety, fear, and anger. While the problems back in those days might have been different to now, there were still problems. 

But they passed, and life went on. One day, the greatest fears of your life will be a tiny speck of dust. No matter how tough things seem, it will pass. 

Control your perspective

Often, this exercise can go two ways for people. While many (like me) find it really comforting, others can find it a little depressing - if we are so insignificant, then what’s the point in trying in life? 

I’d invite you to try and challenge your perspective, and think about it differently. Remember that your perspective is entirely yours - and you can control it how you want. So choose what’s significant and important to you, and disregard what isn't serving you!

For example, how you practice your values are vital to living a good life. Being anxious about what your friends think about you? Not significant. 

The challenge

Try out this over the next week:

  • Next time you are anxious about something, close your eyes and think about the images above. 
  • Accept that it’s okay and natural to feel anxious, but remember how small our troubles are in the grand scheme of the universe.
  • Scan your environment and feel grateful for the simple things. A hot cup of tea, wrapping yourself up in bed, and watching some Netflix. You’re safe. 
  • Write down your anxieties in a journal, and answer the question - ‘is worth worrying about? Will I care in 10 years?’ 

Stay safe and speak soon,

Elliot