It’s a control thing.

Hello everyone, I hope that you are all well. To say that we find ourselves living in uncertain times, is of course, something of an understatement. The way most of us live our lives has changed beyond recognition and in some ways may never return to ‘normal’. It goes without saying that many of us are concerned about our own health and the health of loved ones and those concerns are often heightened by the amount of coverage the crisis receives in the media. However, statistically speaking, almost all of us will survive the virus. This simple truth often seems to get lost. There are other concerns too, not least the financial difficulties many people now find themselves in. Worries about what the future holds are, I’m sure, fairly universal. Thankfully it’s not all bad news though. The stories of kindness, selflessness, caring and generosity are beyond counting and the high esteem in which NHS staff, care staff, emergency and essential workers are held is extremely heartening and well deserved. So too, the majority of people seem to be following the government’s instructions to stay home and to observe social distancing when outside for exercise and essential shopping, which is hopefully helping to control the spread of the Corona virus. Despite these positives though, the uncertainty, fear, anxiety and loss of ‘control’ many people are experiencing is contributing to an upsurge in mental heath issues.

So, what can we do to help ourselves? The Stoics may have an answer for us. One of the key ideas in Stoicism is the idea that some things are within our control and some things are outside of our control. And the things that are outside of our control, we should just let go of. Sounds simple enough. Well, yes and no. Firstly, what are the things that are within our control? Essentially, the only things that are within our control are what we think, what we say and what we do, our thoughts/intentions, our words and our actions. So, therefore everything else is outside of our control and we should just let it go, that is, not concern ourselves with it. Now you may think that you have control over many other things than what you think, what you say and what you do, but when you start to examine it carefully, it begins to become clear that you really don’t. For example, you may believe that because you eat well, take regular exercise and various supplements you have control over your health, but of course any one of us (even the super-fit) can be the victim of a sudden illness. You may think that you control your reputation, you could have done nothing but good your whole life, but one malicious rumour and it could be destroyed overnight.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we can’t influence other people or events, of course we can. Voting in an election for example, is something where we may have a tiny bit of influence, but if we voted for the party that won, we certainly couldn’t claim to have controlled the outcome. Imagine that you’re a tennis player, about to play an important match. Now you really want to win, but you know that you can’t control the outcome. However, you can control that you will do the best shot that you are capable of every time. How the other player plays is outside of your control, as is the outcome.

It is the attempt to control things that are outside of our control that causes us so much frustration and unhappiness, but of course it takes a great deal of effort to stop doing it. Just like anything else that is worthwhile, it is something that you need to work at. How often have you tried to make someone change their behaviour to no avail? How frustrating and unhappy did it make you feel? Unless you are a very powerful person, nothing you see on the news is within your control. So maybe, just let it go. If reading a newspaper or watching the news makes you feel angry or scared or any other negative feeling, maybe don’t engage with them. Many of the ideas in Stoicism have been incorporated into mainstream organised religions and are also utilised in various modern talking therapies, such as CBT. They have been helping people for five hundred years before Christianity and Stoicism is becoming very popular again in these difficult times. If it’s something that you think might be useful for you check out  http://www.modernstoicism.com  Just remember, whatever you decide to do is entirely within your control. Stay safe

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