New Zealand is becoming an increasingly stressful place.
Stress is a fact of life. But does being stressed have to be? Is there another way? Yes, there is.
People who listen to my Radio Hauraki Breakfast show or have read this column before will know exactly what's coming next.
That's right. Stoic philosophy. I love it. Here's some more 2000-year-old ancient wisdom for ya! Once again I point you towards the logic of Marcus, Epictetus and Seneca.
These guys knew stress. One was a Roman Emperor fighting wars with his army riddled with smallpox, one was a slave who had his leg crippled by his master for a laugh and the other one was forced to kill himself by the insane Emperor Nero. Yet they did not stress out.
They lived by simple ideas are as relevant to us here in the future as they were when everyone was wearing a toga. So what did they say about stress?
Here's Epictetus: "The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which 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? Within myself to the choices that are my own."
If you are going to suffer the medical implications of stress at least make sure you're stressing out over stuff you have a say in. It would be a bummer to have a stroke over things you had no control over in the first place. Ryan Holiday sums it up in his excellent book The Daily Stoic.
"If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable battle."
We are evolved for the wild. When a sabre tooth tiger attacks you, you need an increased heart and breathing rate to fight back. You need your muscles to tighten, and your blood pressure to rise. Stress is the activation of your natural fight or flight response.
Seneca observed: "Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We, however, are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come."
Stress becomes bad when we stay in fight or flight mode for long periods. Stressing out thinking about the tiger when it has gone. We add imagined and unlikely fears to real ones.
As Seneca said: "Some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow."
Epictetus was on the button: "Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems."
So what to do? As with everything stress is all in our heads.
It is you who is thinking. You choose what you spend your time on. So concentrate on the task in front of you. Why are we getting stressed about American politics, social media comments or lockdown rules we don't control?
Your age, your height, the weather. Don't concern yourself with decisions yet to be made by people above you. If you are a good person doing the right thing who cares if certain people don't like you? Concentrate on tasks in the present. The things we control. We are what we do.
"Whatever your vocation, your job is to be a good person," remarked Marcus Aurelius.
Like most people, I have experienced forms of anxiety and depression. The stoics are the only ones that truly helped me. I started by reading The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher by William B Irvine and Holiday's The Daily Stoic. They sorted me out
But you are busy. Is there anything the stoics can do for your stress today? Right now? Here are some tools from the big three. Things to remind yourself as you go about your business.
1. 'The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have' - Epictetus
2. "The whole future lies in uncertainty so live immediately." - Seneca
3. "If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it." - Marcus Aurelius
Read those quotes three times in a row and you might just stave off your stress-related irritable bowel syndrome till tomorrow.