According to a new poll from the American Psychiatric Association, a large majority of people in the U.S. are reporting high levels of anxiety. If we consult some of our favorite philosophers and thinkers about the topic, we can find a lot of wisdom in the form of Stoic quotes on anxiety and worry to help us overcome these issues.
If you feel that you are constantly burning energy worrying about things that happened in the past or being anxious about things that could happen in the future, the Stoic school of philosophy is here to help.
One of the main principles of Stoicism is that there are only a handful of things in life that you can control, one of which is your attitude. This means that it's possible for you to completely change your life simply by changing the way that you look at it.
As one might imagine, there have been countless authors, philosophers, and public personalities that have been influenced by Stoicism whether they are conscious of it or not. For that reason, we've put together a giant list of Stoic quotes on anxiety and worry from both Stoic philosophers and the stoicism-inspired.
Whether you are plagued by chronic anxiety or you're only occasionally overcome by that terrible, anxious feeling in your gut, everyone knows that anxiety can totally derail your day. It seems that, somehow, it doesn't matter whether we're freaking out about something as large as the future of humanity or as small as whether or not our new neighbor doesn't like us, the intensity of anxiety isn't always necessarily rationally related to the seriousness of the topic at hand.
The Stoics and other Stoic-inspired figures have a lot of useful things to contribute regarding anxiety to help you get your energy back and focus on creating the good life you want to live.
“What upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgments about these things.” — Epictetus
If you could change your judgments about the things you're anxious about, can you stop being anxious? Epictetus responds with a resounding 'yes.'
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.” — Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius displays here the potential to literally just throw your anxiety away. It isn't something that's happening to you, it's something that's in your mind that you're in control of. If you can control your mind, you can get rid of your anxiety.
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? — Epictetus
We'll hear this sentiment repeated again and again in our list of quotes. If you're anxious about something you can control, then fix it. If it's out of your control, then being anxious won't change a thing.
“Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous… Expand into an ampler region, letting your thought sweep over the entire universe.” — Marcus Aurelius
It's easy in the modern world to get all bent out of shape about things that really don't matter that much in the grand scheme of things. Zoom out and look at things from a broader perspective and you might just feel your anxiety evaporate.
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality. — Seneca
Is it possible that most of the pain we experience is pain that we cause ourselves through fear and anxiety? Does most of our suffering occur due to our visions of what could go wrong rather than our experience of what's actually happening? In many cases, the answer is probably yes.
"The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it's your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can't package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking." — Wayne Dyer
Wayne Dyer is a self-development speaker and author who was influenced by Abraham Maslow (of the hierarchy of needs fame) and Swami Muktananda. Here he echoes the sentiment of Seneca in the earlier quote. Our stress and anxiety are things that we create and that we allow to injure ourselves. If we can change the way that we look at the world and work to have control over our own minds, we can eliminate unnecessary stress and anxiety from our lives.
"Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety." — Plato
What a lovely little quote from the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. Just like Marcus Aurelius mentioned in an earlier quote, many of the things that we worry about aren't of much great consequence in the grand scheme of things. If you can zoom out in your perspective, you can realize that the things that you are worried about likely aren't that big of a deal, both in your life and from a cosmic perspective.
When you're anxious or worried about something, it means that your mind is somewhere other than the present moment. Maybe you have a hard time sleeping at night because you find yourself going over the conversations you had during the day, worrying that you said something that made others dislike you. On the other hand, maybe you find yourself riddled with anxiety about whether you'll lose your job, whether the housing market is going to crash or head straight for the moon, or whether your kid will get into college.
When you fixate on the past or the future, though, you are neglecting something incredibly important: the present. The present is the only time when you can actually do things when you can make changes that fix problems you've had in the past or issues you anticipate in the future. The Stoics knew this, and they argued in favor of keeping your focus on the present moment.
“What is the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now, because you were miserable then?” — Seneca
Some of us could definitely stand to graffiti this on a wall in our house where we are confronted with it every day. Why is it that we feel some need to suffer over and over again for the pain we've felt in the past? Of course, sometimes it takes time to heal from difficult experiences or trauma. But there does seem to be a tendency in our culture that it somehow makes you a better person to wallow in the agony of the past.
Seneca the Younger puts it so succinctly here. Something made you miserable in a present moment in the past. What benefit would it give you to bring that upon yourself now?
“It is impossible that happiness, and yearning for what is not present, should ever be united.” — Epictetus
Epictetus is here to remind us that when you desire something you don't have at the moment, you simply can't be happy. If you can learn to be happy with what you have in the present, you can free yourself from worry and anxiety.
"People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on." — Eckhart Tolle
Why is it that we fixate on negative thoughts and memories rather than positive ones? When someone criticizes us, why is it emblazoned in our memory with so much more strength than when we are praised?
Let's say, for example, you are having a hard time sleeping at night because of anxiety about something that has occurred or could occur. In your mind, you are facing an extreme storm of chaos and pain. You see every potentially catastrophic thing that could result from this idea, and you imagine it as if it's already happening to you.
But in reality, if you could see yourself from the outside, you're just a person lying in a quiet, darkroom. That's all that's happening in the present moment. The negative thoughts you're experiencing are entirely in your head, and, luckily, what goes on in your head is one of the few things you have control over according to Epictetus. The next time you find yourself plagued with anxiety, try to call to mind good thoughts that you have swept aside in favor of the bad, and consider zooming out to realize what is actually occurring right now in reality rather than getting lost in your darkest imagination.
"If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath." — Amit Ray
Amit Ray is best known for his teachings on peace, compassion, yoga, and meditation. In this quote, he helps us remember in a simple sentence how to overcome anxiety once and for all. You have to stop putting your focus on the past and the future, and instead actually live in the only time that is real to us: the present.
"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." — Mark Twain
Leave it to Mark Twain to help us understand the Stoic view on anxiety in a way that really hits us where it hurts. We can spend our whole lives in anticipation of worst-case scenarios that never come to fruition. When you're worrying, you're getting all tied up in things that, with all likelihood, simply won't happen.
Worry and anxiety aren't free. They are costing you something very real-- your energy and your time. What if you could put your energy and time towards things that genuinely improved your life? Wouldn't that be better?
"I never think of the future - it comes soon enough." — Albert Einstein
Another reason to stop being anxious about the future-- it's not here yet but it will be shortly. When you fixate your thoughts on the future, you don't get to enjoy what's actually happening in your life. Even so, in the future, you'd probably just feel nostalgic for the past that you weren't even really present for. Quit this cycle and just focus on the moment that is at hand.
"If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you." — Calvin Coolidge
Here's another iteration of the idea Mark Twain proposed above. Sure, you see a bunch of things that could go wrong in your life. How many of those things really will go wrong, though? According to the president affectionately known as Silent Cal, the answer is at least nine out of ten.
"There are two days in the week about which and upon which I never worry... yesterday and tomorrow." — Robert Jones Burdette
Is it possible to not worry at all about yesterday and tomorrow? Can we really live one day at a time?
This isn't necessarily a prescription for selling all of your belongings and beginning a long journey as a train hopper. Focusing on the present can mean that you are making a plan for the future or learning from mistakes in the past. The point, though, is that your attention towards the future and the past isn't stuck in the realm of anxiety, but you are instead being action-oriented and thoughtful in the present.
"Don't hurry anything. Don't worry about the future. Don't worry about what progress you're making. Just be entirely content to be aware of what is." — Alan Watts
This might sound easier said than done, but if you can even move an inch towards the headspace that Alan Watts is describing here you might find that your life feels a lot more peaceful.
"Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday." — Dale Carnegie
Just like Einstein said, the future will come soon enough. Put your energy in the present rather in everything but the present.
"Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves - regret for the past and fear of the future." — Fulton Oursler
Are the past and the future stealing your energy? Probably. Don't let them.
"It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present." — Marion Woodman
Ain't it the truth. The future won't be what you want exactly if you're busy being afraid of it.
Are worry and anxiety the same thing? Opinions differ. Either way, lots of brilliant minds have offered their Stoic two cents on the topic of worry.
“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” –Epictetus
What if you only worried about the actual problems you had and not primarily imagined ones?
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” — Epictetus
Getting over a constant sense of worry about things we can't control is the path to happiness, according to Epictetus.
"He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded by worry, fret, and anxiety. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson chimes in to remind us that anxiety and worry rob us of our control. Don't let it.
"As a rule, men worry more about what they can't see than about what they can." — Julius Caesar
When things aren't right in front of us, the only way we can think of them is through our mind and imagination. Though imagination is a beautiful thing, it can also mean we blow things way out of proportion and waste time worrying about things that will never come to pass.
"Don't worry about anything. Worrying never solved anything. All it does is distort your mind." — Milton Garland
What if you really stopped worrying about things? What if you put your energy towards solving the problems you see rather than worrying about potential problems down the road? Most likely, it will change your life for the better.
"Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength." — Corrie Ten Boom
Having anxiety is kind of like having your car in park but pressing on the gas. It's rough on the vehicle, it uses a ton of energy, and in the end, you're in the same place that you started.
"What worries you, masters you. — John Locke
Are you in control of your thoughts or are they in control of you? According to the Stoics, your attitude is one of the only things you really have control over. Don't give your one possession over to anxiety.
"A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work." — John Lubbock
What could you be doing with your time and energy if you weren't using it to worry? Probably lots of things that would make your life better and solve real, tangible problems that you're facing.
"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream." — Lao Tzu
Choose your outlook wisely, as it will have a real effect on your ability to achieve your dreams.
"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight." — Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was so committed to being a virtuous man that he kept a journal in which he could mark down every time he wavered from his principles. In this quote, the man who gave us so much (the woodstove, bifocals, the lightning rod, the Declaration of Independence, etc.,) also gifts us a wonderful little phrase that's easy to hold in our minds as we go through our day. "Keep in the sunlight."
"Do you remember the things you were worrying about a year ago? How did they work out? Didn't you waste a lot of fruitless energy on account of most of them? Didn't most of them turn out all right after all?" — Dale Carnegie
This is a fun game to play. Think of something that you were really, really worried about six months ago, a year ago, or five years ago. What ended up happening? Did your worst fears come to pass?
Probably not. If you value your time and your energy, you'll realize that you burned precious resources worrying about something that ultimately went just fine.
"The less you have, the less you have to worry about." — Gautama Buddha
No, you don't necessarily have to sell all of your belongings and make a lean-to in the woods where you sleep. But this is worth keeping in mind if you find yourself constantly accruing more stuff, whether it be material or abstract. Be deliberate about what you include in your life and what you don't, and you'll find you have a lot less that keeps you up at night.
"If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever." — Dalai Lama
We've heard it a thousand times but it's worth hearing again. Worrying literally doesn't help solve anything. If you can fix it, then fix it. If you can't fix it, then worrying won't be of any use anyway.
"Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry: worry never fixes anything." — Ernest Hemingway
If you really want to freak yourself out, contemplate just how much of your life you've spent worrying. Your time is finite, even if life feels long right now.
"Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose." — Eckhart Tolle
Why is this the case? When you worry, it really does feel like the most important thing in the world. It's just a trick, though-- it seems so necessary, but it's actually completely useless.
"It is not work that kills men; it is worry. Worry is rust upon the blade." — Henry Ward Beecher
Beautiful. Keep your blade sharp and in good working order.
"Little minds have little worries, big minds have no time for worries." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Worry is something that can legitimately keep you from growing in your life. If you can conquer worry, you have an infinite amount of space you can fill.
In the words of Epictetus, the only things in our control are "opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions." Though it might be hard to believe if you are suffering from extreme anxiety, this means that it's possible for you to take control of your mind and rid yourself of 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
There are plenty of things we worry about that are simply out of our control. That doesn't mean you can't think about these things, but why bother worrying? If you are in control of it, you can change it. If you aren't, worrying likely won't change a thing.
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. — Epictetus
When you recognize what you are in control of and what you aren't, you can put your energy and attention where it really counts.
You have power over your mind not outside events, realize this and you will find strength. — Seneca
You might not be able to change the things that happen to you in life, but you can change the way you react to them.
"Worry is a state of mind based upon fear. It works slowly, but persistently. It is insidious and subtle. Step by step it “digs itself in” until it paralyzes ones reasoning faculty, destroys self-confidence and initiative. Worry is a form of sustained fear caused by indecision therefore it is a state of mind which can be controlled." — Napoleon Hill
Think and Grow Rich might not seem like a particularly Stoic text, but you'd be surprised what's in there if you take the time to read it.
"Worry is a useless mulling over of things we cannot change." — Peace Pilgrim
If you've ever thought about walking the Appalachian Trail or the PCT, you might want to read a bit about Peace Pilgrim. The fact that she was the first woman to walk the AT in one season back in 1952 is just kind of a footnote in her life's journey. Starting in 1953, she began a 28-year journey of walking across the US. When she died, she was on her seventh cross-country journey in the name of peace.
Talk about someone who focused on what mattered to her and let the rest burn off. With only the clothes on her back and a few objects she carried in her pockets, she didn't carry any money nor ever ask for food or shelter.
Peace Pilgrim was a 20th-century embodiment of the Stoic idea that "wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants." With this quote about worry, we imagine that she was a kindred spirit indeed with many of our favorite Stoics.
"Invest your energy in the things you can control." — Steve Backley
When we think about things, we are investing our energy. When we think about things we have no control over, we're basically uselessly burning our energy. You have control over what you put your energy into, and if you invest wisely, it will change your life.
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." — Maya Angelou
It's easy in the digital age to be trapped in our heads. Many of us would be well served by becoming more action-oriented. If something is making you worry, fix it so it doesn't make you worry anymore. If you can't change the problem, you can change how you view the problem.
"Don't worry about what you can't control." — Tim Tebow
Even Tim Tebow knows that it's silly to worry about things that you don't have the power to change.
"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." — Winston Churchill
It has been said many times in many ways. If you change your attitude you can change your life. If you find that your attitude primarily consists of worrying about things, you can choose to invest in yourself and do the work you need to in order to change your outlook.
If you go to some of the major medical websites to read about anxiety, you'll find that they largely talk about psychotherapy and medication as the way to treat anxiety. Obviously, the intensity of anxiety can range from sort of inconvenient to seriously crippling, so it's important to not paint with too broad a brush. That being said, it's possible that engaging with the wisdom of Stoicism and incorporating it into your everyday life could seriously reduce how much time and energy you spend worrying.
In fact, reading Stoic texts can be helpful in relation to a lot of the maladies of modern life. If you're interested in diving into more wisdom from the ancient Stoic school of philosophy, be sure to check out StoicQuotes.com.