There are more things, Lucilius, that frighten us than injure us, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality. —SENECA, Epistulae ad Lucilium
Before you get worried, I'm not going to give you the history details of who Lucilius was (some Roman) or even much about Seneca, so this shouldn't be excessively boring. Background on Seneca is that he was a Roman Stoic philosopher and teacher, was the tutor to Nero, and was 'forced to commit suicide' for conspiring to dispose of Nero.
Let's focus on the quote instead. Is he right? I think he is. One thing that modern medical science has discovered for us is that stress is a dangerous thing. Stress will kill you, will make you old, will wear you out.
To modern medicine, Seneca says "Well, yes, I told you so." He's warning Lucilius in his letter that we should be careful imagining dangers. Think about it in your own life. Is it that your job is really so terrible or that you fear losing it? I've seen some research that shows that job satisfaction dips in high unemployment but job loyalty soars! Then, in good years, job satisfaction rises but loyalty dips, although many people still stay at the same job. Why? Because our satisfaction dips with the fear we'll lose the job, whether we do well or not.
The same thing is often true in our personal lives. Fear, anxiety cause more relationship issues than, I think, anything else. I see this is pastoral counseling, I see it in married couples, parents, pre-marital situations. We react to our fears and destroy our relationships.
We see it economically: there's a fear that the situation in Egypt will affect oil, so oil prices go up, so other prices go up, so we have economic damage. We see it in government: we fear what will happen in the long-run with the health care legislation, we fear what will happen without.
Fear will paralyze us. Seneca was right. Observation shows him to be right. There's someone else that shows he was right too:
““So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ” (Matthew 6:34, NAS)
Those would be the words of Christ. (By the way, it's beyond unlikely that Seneca and Jesus influence each other. They were contemporaries that were too many miles apart.)
There's a reason we're commanded not to worry. It's hard. I find myself worrying about trying not to worry! Yet it's wise. Focus on what you can do, beat the anxieties back and do what you see in front of you.
Make your house payment this month, and hope the thing sells. Show up for jury duty and hope to get dismissed. Go shop and hope the snow's not too bad.
Otherwise, fears will overtake you before real disaster, and then what will you do?
Inc Merriam-Webster, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Quotations. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1992), 23.