The miscellaneous writings of Mark Bridgeman

How to use philosophy to deal with bad OCD and anxiety

You can start by making a simple list of things that are worrying you then divide them into 3 columns, headed:

  1. Things I cannot control.
  2. Things I have some influence over.
  3. Things I can fully control.

The things that you cannot control should immediately be discarded, don’t give them a second thought, learn the stoic discipline of apatheia.

Apatheia, in Stoicism, refers to a state of mind in which one is not disturbed by the passions. It is best translated by the word equanimity rather than indifference.

In other words you treat the things that you cannot control with as much equanimity as you can muster.

If you can’t alter events or offer any influence over the things that cause you anxiety you have to take a view of ‘what will be, will be,’ and think no more of them as there is nothing you can do about them, this can take time, so start by giving them as little attention as you can manage and when you do think of them, just shrug and think to yourself ‘nothing to do with me!’

Then start planning and put your energies into the things that you can control and you can have some influence over.

Take your mind and think of everything that could possibly go wrong, imagine what it would be like to be in those circumstances and how these events would make you feel, then think of how you would cope in those circumstances. What could you do to make the best of it if those terrible things that make you anxious came to pass.

This is another stoic technique that should reinforce the idea that the whole world can go to hell in a handcart, but as long as you address your fears and anxieties and listen to what they are trying to tell you with stoic techniques such as ‘negative visualisation,’ then you’ll always find a way to cope and you’ll be fine.

The key thing is not to ignore your anxieties, delve into them as they are quite rational and are trying to tell you something important, if you ignore them they will eat you alive.

Dealing with your anxieties head on with a stoic attitude will not only empower you, but will make you feel good and able to deal with the complexities of world beyond you.

Delving into all that is bad and threatening is far from negative, it’s actually a path to happiness and control.

Anxiety is just the recognition that the world is a complex place, that stuff can and will go wrong and that it might affect you in a big or small way.

Anxiety comes about when we attempt to control everything that we may see or perceive as a threat to our existence, naturally enough we can’t control everything which is why we feel anxious. Anxiety is an attempt to control the uncontrollable.

As for the OCD, stoic practices such as negative visualisation and focusing only on what you can control or alter will lessen this over time as the mental energy is directed into activities that help you master what you can influence.

Here’s some resources to get you started if you don’t know about them already.

‘My Return to Mental Health with CBT and Stoicism’ by James Davinport

On dealing with Anxiety

This last video is really good, it’s called “How to use the Stoic Approach to Feel Bulletproof.”

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