Imperturbability, equanimity, or tranquility. We can use all of these as synonyms for ataraxia. It’s the state of calmness that is not disturbed by mental or emotional events. It’s freedom from anxiety and worry.
Imagine drops of water landing on a lotus leaf and sliding down and away. The drop doesn’t stay. It makes its impact and then flows with gravity until it is gone. The lotus leaf is aware of the drop – it feels it – but it does not reject it, retain it, or struggle with it. It is undisturbed.
This is how the Stoics present the concept of ataraxia.
How hard is it to get into that state of mind? A lot.
Are there any benefits to being there? Two or three remarkable ones.
According to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, 44% of employees worldwide say they experience a lot of stress every day, and only 23% of employees say they are engaged at work. Employee burnout, or chronic workplace stress, is also on the rise. This phenomenon is characterized by feelings of energy depletion, increased mental distance from one’s job, and negativism.
Under these conditions, the brain suffers a dopamine reduction and cortisol rises, making it easy for the amygdala to take over.
Therefore, distress can have significant negative effects on the body and mind. Chronic stress can lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. We may end up using food and other substances to cope with reality, feeling unable to face challenges and difficulties.
Stress can also lead to diseases of the cardiovascular, immune, and other systems.
Since distress issues affect both individuals and organizations, people should find a way to manage the effects of our context, whatever it may be.
The starting point for managing things is acceptance. This doesn’t mean resignation. What it does mean is understanding that what is happening now is happening and recognizing that there are things we can’t change.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that we become emotionless or indifferent. It’s about acknowledging what is happening, whether we like it or not.
This state of calm and acceptance can help us learn to be resilient to the chaos of the world around us, understanding that things often don’t turn out the way we want them to.
Once we accept reality, we can begin to make decisions about what to do about it. The goal is to avoid the trap of feeling helplessness.
Locus of Control
Learned helplessness is the behavior an individual exhibits after experiencing repeated aversive events that are beyond their control. How someone interprets adverse events affects their perceived ability to respond and perform cognitive tasks such as problem-solving. They end up feeling defenseless.
Understanding that we often can’t change how events unfold, while accepting how they unfold, keeps us from questioning ourselves.
Focusing on what we can control reduces uncertainty and gives us back the power to make decisions.
Being present, accepting the events of life, and knowing what is under our control is the first step in developing the correct state of mind that prevents us from disengaging. Stoics called it ataraxia.