Ancient Wisdom: Emotional Vaccination

This is How You Make Hard Situations Easier

Ryan Holiday at Daily Stoic: Airports are stressful and traveling can be a nightmare. Dealing with a toddler’s tantrum at the grocery store tries the best of us. The confrontation with an employee or a colleague. The phone call where we get the news that somebody passed away.

Life is full of these situations. They challenge us. They overwhelm us. There is no foolproof way to prevent them or to manage them.

But there is something that helps. Seneca talked about premeditatio malorum. He said that we had to meditate on all the things that could happen to us and that by thinking in advance, let’s say, about a nightmare travel day or the eventual death of a grandparent, we lessen it—if only slightly. The unexpected blow, he said, lands heaviest. Even just saying that to yourself: The airport is stressful. There may be delays. But I’ve dealt with that before, and it’s important for me to try to relax and take things as they come. This doesn’t seem like much but it is. It helps!

Dr. Becky Kennedy, whose book Good Inside we’ve been raving about (great podcast episode, too!), calls this “emotional vaccination.” In the same way that a vaccine exposes our body to a manageable amount of the virus or the disease, teaching it how to fight the illness, talking to ourselves (or our children) about what is going to happen in advance of it happening helps us deal with it. It removes the surprise, it removes the suddenness of it.

The last thing you want to do is to face anything—a virus or a trip to the grocery store with a tired kid—defenseless. Especially when there are defenses available, when medicine or the ancient Stoics have studied it and come up with things that work. Because we are going to catch these situations, we are going to be exposed to germs—but if we strengthen ourselves in advance, we can handle it.