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How to Deal with Fear: Insight from Seneca

How to deal with fear on tests

I don’t remember how I came across it, but I started journaling in “The Daily Stoic Journal” that accompanies “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday. “The Daily Stoic” offers a quote from a Stoic philosopher such as Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, and an explanation from Ryan Holiday. In general, they provide good advice and force me to question my actions and especially my reactions. 

A quote that struck me has to do with fear.

Many are harmed by fear Seneca quote

“Many are harmed by fear itself, and many may have come to their fate while dreading fate.” – Seneca, Oedipus, 992

I notice this in my own life, the lives of my family members, and the lives of my students. My interpretation is that sometimes people cripple themselves with fear and create the fate they feared because of it. 

Many people are afraid of change:

  • Leaving a job.
  • Moving to a new city.
  • Starting a company.
  • Telling someone how they feel.

Their fear prevents them from taking action or acting with restraint. Lack of action or action without full effort sabotages their chances of succeeding.

Dealing with Fear on Test Day

Sometimes the fear sets in on the day of the action. This happens to many students in the form of test anxiety. Even if they are fully prepared for a test, when they focus their thoughts on their fear, a low score, the students sabotage themselves and don’t perform as well as they could.

It is useless advice to tell someone not to be afraid. That almost never works. I don’t know what exactly helps me, but a few things are:

  • picturing the worst-case scenario and realizing it really isn’t that bad
  • telling myself that I can do it because I have worked hard and believe in myself
  • thinking about the other people who have done what I want to do, and ask myself if I really think they are better than I am

There are many students who believe they aren’t good test-takers. In a way that can be a self-fulfilling belief. It’s going to be hard to do well on a test if you go into expecting yourself not to do well. Kids have to break that belief, and it takes time. Support from parents and tutors helps, but eventually the student has to question their own belief and realize it isn’t true.

Self-reflecting on our actions and reactions to different situations can help us in the long term. I think when we are more critical of our actions, we can build the ability to control our reactions and unreasonable fears and other emotions.

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