Sunday, March 15, 2020

How Stoicism can help at a time of crisis - part 1, the Stoic Worry Tree

Stoicism is much more just than a philosophy of times of adversity. But it sure is a good philosophy for a time of crisis. Earlier today I presented a great CBT technique, The Worry Tree.

Now I want to share with you how Stoicism, the wise old grand-daddy of CBT, would handle the same worries. Meet the Stoic Worry Tree.


Let's see how it would deal with common worries about Covid-19.


Worry 1: "What if my elderly mother gets Coronavirus from me?"
Stoic Worry Tree Answer:
What aspects can I control? Only my actions and my attitude

What virtues are relevant?
Justice - it would not be fair or compassionate to risk her getting it
Courage - to give her advise about how best to avoid it!
Wisdom - to find other means of supporting her
What aspects are not under my control - whether she actually gets it
Self--control -  notice when I start worrying and moderate it
Wisdom - understand that worrying isn't helping, when I notice it think of what virtue I need to tackle something that is under my control

Worry 2:  Will I get COVID-19 myself?
Stoic Worry Tree Answer:
What aspects can I control? Only my actions and my attitude

What virtues are relevant?
Wisdom: Follow best advice about how to reduce the risk
Self-control: Don't do things I want to do (like meeting people) if it is too risky
Justice: If I feel any symptoms, self-isolate immediately
Courage - to tell work or whoever that I will not go in

What aspects are not under my control - whether I actually get it
Self--control -  notice when I start worrying and moderate it
Wisdom - understand that worrying isn't helping , when I notice it think of what virtue I need to tackle something that is under my control


Worry 3:Are the government doing enough?
Stoic Worry Tree Answer:
What aspects can I control? Only my actions and my attitude

What virtues are relevant?
Wisdom: I cant control the government, I am also probably not as well-informed as their experts. However I might notice something I can do (for example, helping an elderly neighbour)
Justice:Do what I can to help those who need it
Courage : If there is anything I can influence, do it even if it is uncomfortable

What aspects are not under my control - what the government does
Self--control -  notice when I start worrying and moderate it
Wisdom - understand that worrying isn't helping , when I notice it think of what virtue I need to tackle something that is under my control


Worry 4: What if I can't do what I planned to do in March, April, the summer ...
Stoic Worry Tree Answer:
What aspects can I control? Only my actions and my attitude

What virtues are relevant?
Wisdom: I probably need to cross those bridges when I can to it
Justice:Talk to those involved about any decisions.

What aspects are not under my control - what the government does
Self--control -  notice when I start worrying and moderate it
Wisdom - understand that worrying isn't helping , when I notice it think of what virtue I need to tackle something that is under my control

It's instructive to compare this with the conventional CBT Worry Tree that addressed the same que

There's a lot of overlap.

There's one important difference. Stoicism (contrary to its popular image) is actually an active philosophy, asking you to do the right thing. CBT doesnt tell you to do the wrong thing, but it wouldn't for example, be so concerned with justice and related values like compassion and kindness, unless you were worried about not being compassionate or kind enough.

So the Stoic Worry Tree suggests you try to apply all the virtues to aspects you can control.
Stoicism is more likely than CBT to suggest that you help your neighbour in times of crisis./

I think that both the Stoic and CBT Worry Trees can be very helpful - what do you think?



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