Stoic Mental Health: Is Being Stoic Actually Healthy?

Updated August 10, 2023

As the modern Stoicism movement grows, the content surrounding the benefits of Stoicism becomes more and more plentiful. Everywhere you look in the culture of Stoic philosophy, people are discussing the perks of a Stoic mental health approach.

In this article, we're going to take a serious look at the following question from both sides of the aisle: Is being Stoic healthy?

We find that how an individual incorporates Stoicism into their life is crucial information when trying to predict whether it will benefit their well-being. Stoicism is a tool that you can use rather than something that is inherently good or inherently bad.

If you apply it superficially to your life without having a firm grasp of the ancient wisdom the philosophy is built upon, it is possible you could accidentally suppress emotions or experience other negative consequences. If you are committed to personal growth and integrate some of the core concepts into your life, though, there's a good chance it's going to have seriously beneficial effects on your well-being.

Is Being Stoic Healthy?

The question of whether or not practicing Stoicism is healthy is a complex one. When you try to research this question online, you are typically met with one of two perspectives:

  • Stoicism will improve your health and mental well-being by reducing anxiety, depression, and other ailments
  • The naive interpretation and application of Stoicism can be detrimental to mental health

These conflicting concepts can leave you in a strange space-- are you helping or hurting yourself by practicing Stoicism? Will Stoic philosophy free you from your anxiety and other afflictions, or will it simply cause other problems due to the consequences of suppressed emotions?

Is Stoicism Going to Help or Hurt Your Mental Health?

Perhaps the best way to understand the answer to this question is through the application of the Stoic concept of good, bad, and indifferent. To the Stoics, virtue is good, vice is bad, and everything else is indifferent.

marcus aurelius image and quote about stoic mental health

"Find joy in simplicity, self-respect, and indifference to what lies between virtue and vice. Love the human race. Follow the divine."

- Marcus Aurelius

Indifferent things are tools that can be used for either good or evil. Just like a substance can be a medicine at one dosage and a poison at another, indifferent things are vehicles for virtue and vice depending on how they are used. In this way, one could say that Stoicism has the potential to improve your mental well-being or harm it depending on how you use it.

Naive Stoicism and Emotional Suppression

There are some potential risks of superficially applying Stoic concepts to one's life.

For example, if you simply read some bullet point summaries about Stoicism, you might walk away with the idea that you should never feel angry. After all, Marcus Aurelius says you have power over your mind, right?

"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."

- Marcus Aurelius

Not so fast. You can't simply flip a switch one day and decide not to be angry anymore. If you try to do this, you'll end up suppressing your emotions. Emotional suppression can lead to emotional stress, which can lead to mental and physical health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Headaches
  • Intestinal problems
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Insomnia

On the other hand, a person that starts studying Stoicism and digs into the wisdom of the ancient texts might arise with a much deeper understanding of the Stoic perspective on managing emotions. In this case, the philosophy could potentially have a significant and positive impact on their mental health and well-being.

Studies About Stoic Concepts and Mental Health

Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of scientific research looking specifically into the question of Stoic mental health. As the philosophy gains followers, however, this could potentially change down the road.

In the meantime, let's explore studies that look at the impact of specific Stoic concepts on mental health and well-being.


Discipline plays an important role in the Stoic's life. Without discipline, you simply can't be in the driver's seat of your experience. Instead, you're just floating through life, aimless and wandering.

epictetus image and quote about stoic mental health

"Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire."

- Epictetus

A study that was published in the Journal of Philosophy found that people that exercise self-discipline are happier than those that don't exert self-control. By looking at more than 400 middle-aged participants, researchers found that highly self-controlled individuals were better able to:

  • Avoid creating circumstances where they have conflicting goals
  • Avoid the need to choose between long-term pain and short-term pleasure

In short, the study found that people that practiced self-discipline had fewer negative emotions.

"No man is free who is not master of himself."

- Epictetus

Though discipline can get a bad rap as a stiff, uptight, and downright unfun way to live one's life, it is actually an essential tool on the path to happiness both in the moment and in the long run.


Striving to lead a virtuous life is another Stoic concept that can have a positive impact on your mental well-being.

epictetus image and quote about stoic mental health

"To live a life of virtue, you have to become consistent, even when it isn't convenient, comfortable, or easy."

- Epictetus

Some studies have found that people that engage in virtuous activities are associated with significantly higher well-being than hedonic behaviors. Examples of virtuous behaviors include:

  • Volunteering one's time
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Persevering to achieve a valued goal

Examples of hedonic behaviors include:

  • Fixating on obtaining material goods
  • Indulging in drugs and alcohol
  • Having sex with someone one doesn't love

Engaging in daily virtuous activities is correlated with higher meaning the following day and higher life satisfaction overall.

Embracing Fate

Applying the concept of "amor fati" (love of one's fate) to your life could also potentially have a positive impact on your mental well-being.

seneca image and quote about stoic mental health

"It's the great soul that surrenders itself to fate, but a puny degenerate thing that struggles."

- Seneca the Younger

Though this is not a topic that is widely studied, learning to accept both positive and negative events in one's life is thought to help with the following:

  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Increase resilience
  • Allow access to greater inner peace
  • Reduce attachments to specific outcomes
  • Encourage presence at the moment
  • Enhance gratitude
  • Increase self-acceptance

Accepting Death

Another important concept in Stoicism is memento mori-- essentially, remembering that you will die one day. Meditating on death is a useful Stoic exercise that can actually help you make the best use of your time and experience gratitude for the time you have in life.

seneca image and quote about stoic mental health

“It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and -what will perhaps make you wonder more - it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.”

- Seneca the Younger

According to a paper published in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, thinking about death "can lead to a good life."

A number of interesting points are brought up in this publication. For example, the proximity of a person to a cemetery has a noticeable impact on how willing they are to help a stranger. Those closer to the cemetery were much more likely to lend a hand.

Another study found that people that are reminded of their death more frequently are more likely to practice healthy habits.


One of the most frequently cited Stoic concepts in the realm of modern Stoicism is the idea of distinguishing between what you can and can't control. Also referred to as the dichotomy of control, the basic idea is that you can control internal events (thought, belief, action, reaction, speech), and you can't control external events (everything else).

We must concern ourselves absolutely  with the things that are under our control and entrust the things not in our control to the universe."

- Musonius Rufus

When you try to exert too much control over things you fundamentally don't have the power to change, you can experience a bunch of negative health effects, including:

  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Increased dissatisfaction in life
  • Increased criticism about the events in life
  • Increased neuroticism

There are a number of potential health benefits of practicing the Stoic concept of focusing on what you can control and accepting what you can't, including:

  • Increased inner peace and relaxation
  • Enhanced connection with oneself and others
  • Better ability to deal with the unexpected

Negative Visualization

Known to us modern people as "negative visualization," the Stoics practiced what they called "premeditatio malorum" (the premeditation of evils.)

"How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life."

- Marcus Aurelius

This exercise involves intentionally imagining what life would be like if you didn't have all of the things you have. One can practice negative visualization to prepare themselves for everything from small annoyances to major catastrophes.

Though it might sound like the fast lane to anxiety city, imagining what could go wrong can actually help you recognize how grateful you are for what you have now. Rather than fixating on what you wish you could have, it reorients your attention toward the things you might often take for granted.


Stoic philosophy also emphasizes the importance of living in the moment and focusing on the present.

“Every man's life lies within the present; for the past is spent and done with, and the future is uncertain.”

- Marcus Aurelius

As "mindfulness" has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, we also find that quite a few studies have been done on the potential benefits of keeping our attention on our current experience.

"It is not possible to live well today unless you treat it as your last day."

– Musonius Rufus

Studies suggest that there is a positive impact on health and well-being when one focuses on the present. Here's an overview of some of the findings:

  • Mindfulness-based treatments are associated with reduced depression and anxiety
  • Practicing mindfulness is potentially connected with improved sleep, lower blood pressure, and increased ability to cope with pain.
  • Practicing mindfulness can improve life satisfaction
  • Mindfulness techniques can improve physical health by relieving stress, alleviating gastrointestinal difficulties, and potentially treating heart disease, to name a few
  • Mindfulness techniques are potentially effective for treating a number of mental health conditions in addition to depression and anxiety, including obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse

Accepting Impermanence

Another important concept in Stoicism is the recognition that all things are impermanent. The universe is constantly in flux. Everywhere around us, there is both death and birth.

“Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever.”

– Marcus Aurelius

When we cling to the idea that the things we love will be around forever, we are causing unnecessary suffering for ourselves. When we are resistant to the fact that the world is constantly changing, we're essentially shaking our fists at the sky.

"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight."

– Marcus Aurelius

According to Psychology Today, embracing and accepting impermanence can have a lot of benefits for us, including:

  • The knowledge that all moments, both good and bad, will not last forever
  • The ability to appreciate the wonderful parts of life as they are happening
  • The awareness that emotional states do not last forever
  • The ability to accept that some days we will be more capable of working toward our goals than others
  • The knowledge that it is ok for us to change over time

Focusing on Personal Progress

Finally, the Stoic focus on continually making progress as a personality throughout one's life can also have health benefits.

This is one of those things that is hard to really quantify because focusing on yourself and working to improve yourself can have rippling, exponential effects throughout your life.

“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.”

- Epictetus

For example, if you commit to becoming physically healthier by starting a routine that includes weightlifting and eating healthy, you'll, in all likelihood, experience improvements in your physical health. However, this can also improve your mental well-being, your relationships, your habits, and much more.

“If you want to do something, make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead.”

- Epictetus

When you work to improve yourself over time, it can help you enhance your strengths, build new relationships, heal old relationships, improve your mental health, and so much more.

Studies About CBT and Mental Health

Another way we can try and answer the question regarding whether Stoicism is actually healthy is to take a look at one of the common psychotherapeutic techniques known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Why look at CBT when trying to figure out whether Stoicism is good for your mental health? How are these two seemingly disconnected concepts related?

The truth is, Stoicism was one of the major inspirations behind the development of CBT. Many will even acknowledge our old friend Epictetus as the primary philosophical father of this psychotherapeutic approach.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is the term used to describe a range of approaches and techniques that deal specifically with our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. These can include self-help practices as well as structured therapeutic techniques.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, in general, focuses on helping people learn how to identify disturbing or destructive thought patterns. Once these thought patterns are recognized, the individual can work to change these thought patterns to help reduce and treat the negative behavioral and emotional consequences.

Here are some of the specific types of therapeutic approaches that involve the techniques of CBT:

  • Cognitive therapy: Focuses on identifying distorted or inaccurate thought patterns, behaviors, and emotional responses in order to change them
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT): Involves pinpointing irrational beliefs and challenging them actively before changing irrational thought patterns
  • Multimodal therapy: Focuses on seven interconnected modalities to treat mental health issues, which are cognition, behavior, sensation, effect, drug/biological considerations, and interpersonal factors
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): Uses treatment strategies like mindfulness and emotional regulation and addresses disturbing or destructive behaviors and thoughts

CBT and Mental Health: What the Research Says

Let's take a look at some of the health benefits of CBT as suggested by various studies to help further our understanding of whether Stoicism can help improve psychological well-being.

  • CBT can help people develop healthier thought patterns by becoming self-aware of unrealistic and negative thoughts that can lead to negative moods and feelings
  • CBT has been found to be effective in the treatment of depression-- people who get CBT are half as likely to get depression again within a year than those that are only on medication
  • CBT has been found to be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders
  • CBT is used to treat a wide variety of other mental health disorders, including OCD, PTSD, ADHD, personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance use disorders
  • Some nonpsychological conditions can also be improved with CBT, according to some studies, including insomnia, migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome
  • CBT can help individuals work through life changes and everyday challenges, such as work problems, relationship issues, divorce, stress and coping difficulties, and more

Criticisms of Stoic Mental Health

While it's clear that adhering to many of the core concepts in Stoicism can provide a ton of benefits for your mental well-being, it's worth pointing out some of the criticism of Stoic philosophy in this regard.

This brings us back to the notion that utilizing Stoicism in your daily life is a tool that you can use for either virtuous or vicious purposes. If you take a superficial version of Stoicism and try to slap it on your life like a bandaid, there could certainly be some unappealing consequences.

Emotional Suppression

One of the most prominent criticisms of Stoicism in relation to mental health is the idea that it leads to emotional suppression. Some people understand the Stoic call to control one's emotions as synonymous with achieving numbness to emotions. It's not just that this isn't in line with what the ancient Stoics discussed, but dealing with emotions this way is also potentially very harmful to your health.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

- Marcus Aurelius

Instead, we should work to become self-aware of our emotions and acknowledge them. This gives us the critical distance we need to choose how we react to things rather than simply being puppets controlled by our emotions.

Unwillingness to Admit Vulnerability

Stoicism values discipline, perseverance, overcoming adversity, and courage. Marcus Aurelius reminds himself to "be tolerant with others and strict with" himself in his Meditations.

If you want something good, get it from yourself.”

- Epictetus

This focus on self-reliance and strength has led some to believe that Stoicism can be dangerous in that one might not ask for help when they need it.

"To things which you bear with impatience you should accustom yourself, and, by habit you will bear them well."

- Seneca the Younger

While this is a valid concern, it's a bit overblown. If one is able to truly be self-aware of their own emotions and state, they shouldn't be hindered by their Stoic beliefs to seek assistance when they need it. Similarly, Stoicism also embraces the idea that we are all connected as humans in an orderly universe, and ancient texts frequently touch upon the fact that we all rely on one another.


It's possible that trying to apply a Stoic mindset and lifestyle could problematically result in excessive perfectionism. Rather than using the tenets of Stoicism to produce more inner peace, an individual could end up feeling constantly inadequate.

“How long will you wait before you demand the best of yourself? … If you remain careless and lazy, making excuse after excuse, fixing one day after another when you will finally take yourself in hand, your lack of progress will go unnoticed, and in the end you will have lived and died unenlightened. Finally decide that you are an adult who is going to devote the rest of your life to making progress.”

-  Epictetus

If you check in with the ancient Stoics, though, they make it clear that making progress in life is a process, not an event. Though one is called to pursue a virtuous life, they also recognize that few will become true sages.

“He who seeks wisdom is a wise man; he who thinks he has found it is mad.”

- Seneca the Younger

All we can do is actively work to learn from our mistakes, apply what we've learned to try and be better than we were the day before and commit ourselves to the long but rewarding path of attempting to lead a virtuous life.

Avoidance of Pleasure

Finally, some might argue that Stoicism demands that we never engage in pleasurable activities. At the same time, it's worth noting that moderation is one of the Stoic virtues, not abstinence.

"So-called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments."

- Seneca the Younger

As an example, Seneca even advocates for getting drunk every once in a while. Though he wrote in "Moral Letters to Lucilius" that "drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness," he also argues for periodically drinking to intoxication:

“At times we ought to drink even to intoxication, not so as to drown, but merely to dip ourselves in wine, for wine washes away troubles and dislodges them from the depths of the mind and acts as a remedy to sorrow as it does to some diseases. The inventor of wine is called Liber, not from the license which he gives to our tongues but because he liberates the mind from the bondage of cares and emancipates it, animates it and renders it more daring in all that it attempts.”

- Seneca the Younger

Ever skilled in the art of the word, one way the Stoic can approach the notion of pleasure is found again in the writings of Seneca:

"Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones."

- Seneca the Younger

Stoicism isn't about never enjoying yourself. In fact, the whole goal of the philosophy is achieving a "smooth flow of life" and eudaimonia, which has been described as a combination of flourishing, happiness, and well-being. The point isn't to deny yourself the pleasures of life but to make sure that short-lived pleasures don't keep you from true joy and peace in life.

Modern Stoicism and Mental Well-Being

The topic of ancient Stoicism and belief in mental illness is a tricky one because the modern understanding of mental health disorders wasn't present during the time of the great Stoic philosophers. At the same time, many of the teachings of these thinkers offer a great deal of insight into how one can achieve a state of mental well-being.

Fast forward to the modern day, and you'll find many practitioners and enthusiasts that argue that Stoicism can help improve mental health problems.

One fascinating question about Stoicism and mental illness has to do with to what extent mental health problems are in our control or outside of our control.

Lots of interesting questions pop up on the Reddit Stoicism forum about to what extent one's mental health is within their control, like this one. Donald Robertson, one of the primary proponents of Stoicism in the modern age, has said that mental health is much like physical health. While there are many things you can do to maintain and improve your mental and physical health, you can't necessarily control the ailments or problems you are facing.

For example, if you break your leg there is nothing you can do to go back in time and un-break your leg. However, you can make choices in your outlook and actions that either aid your recovery or hinder it.

Stoic Practice as a Path to a Better Life

The question of whether Stoicism is healthy or not is a truly fascinating one. While major research institutions don't seem to be funding studies about the health benefits or potential consequences of Stoicism at this point, we can look at studies that touch upon the benefits of a number of core Stoic concepts, such as discipline, acceptance of death, mindfulness, and striving to live a virtuous life.

At the same time, we can also incorporate the health benefits suggested by studies surrounding cognitive behavioral therapy. Though CBT isn't by any means identical to Stoicism, it incorporates some key Stoic concepts regarding our ability to change our perception in order to improve mental well-being.

From this standpoint, it seems clear that practicing Stoicism can certainly provide psychological health benefits. At the same time, it's important to remember that Stoicism will only be as helpful as you let it be. If you apply the concepts superficially and end up suppressing your emotions, becoming an extreme perfectionist, or otherwise missing the mark, it could certainly end up doing far more harm than good.

Are you searching for more Stoic information and inspiration? Make sure you check out our Stoic Quotes blog!

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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