Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ben Aldridge.
Several years ago, I found myself in a dark place. I was struggling immensely with severe and debilitating anxiety and felt that I was losing control of my mind. I was having back-to-back panic attacks and honestly thought that I was dying. It was a truly terrifying experience and I felt overwhelmed with fear. My lack of education on mental health at the time meant that I didn’t understand what was happening to me. This made everything even more frightening. The fear of the unknown can often do this.
When I began experiencing very physical and unsettling symptoms within my body, I didn’t think for one minute that my mind was causing it. How could my racing heart, shaking hands, and constant nausea be coming from my mind? I was convinced that it was a physical illness that I was facing. When I went to the doctor to get a better understanding of what was happening to me, I was genuinely surprised by my diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder and recurring panic attacks. All of this was coming from my mind. I didn’t realize how powerful my thoughts could be and the whole situation completely caught me off guard.
It took a while for me to process all of this and accept what was happening to me. I must admit that my ignorance and fear of being “mad” caused me to really resist this diagnosis at first. I was so worried about the stigma associated with mental health that I got distracted by my perception of the situation rather than the reality.
The doctor had suggested a few ways for me to address my anxiety (a cognitive behavioral therapy course and talk therapy) but I wanted to assess my options and educate myself on what was happening to me first. I could always decide to do CBT/therapy at a later date. To make an informed decision on how to deal with my anxiety, I began reading. This wasn’t just casual reading, this was a serious endeavor. I got so engrossed in figuring out what was happening to my mind that I became obsessed with reading as many books as possible. I was desperate for answers.
During this intensive period of research, I came across a whole host of incredibly useful ideas. I read about CBT, Buddhism, and the concept of a “growth mindset.” I read countless books on mental health, self-help, psychology, and philosophy. I read biographies and autobiographies. Anything that might help me to understand my anxiety made it onto the list. I’ve never consumed so much content in my life. It was during all of this research that I came across Stoicism. This changed everything.
The Lesson the Stoics Taught Me About Embracing Voluntary Discomfort
The ideas within Stoicism instantly resonated with me and I deeply connected with them. I loved reading about how this ancient Greek philosophy could help me to live a better life. The pragmatic nature of the ideas appealed to me and the advice seemed to be timeless. There were so many concepts that I found useful from negative visualization all the way to how we respond to events outside of our control (this was particularly helpful for my panicky mindset).
My reading choices started to change and more Stoic philosophy made its way onto my ever-growing reading list. As I began to further understand the philosophy, I started to appreciate how beneficial having a philosophy of