The First Step in Tackling Anxiety

The First Step in Tackling Anxiety

For the next 30 seconds I am going to ask that you not think about elephants. You can think about literally anything else, but not elephants. If you mess up and find that you are thinking about elephants then you have to start the clock over. Continue doing this until you can complete a full 30 seconds without thinking about elephants


How did you do?

Were you able to do it the first time? Second time? Did you finally give up because it is impossible not to think about elephants for 30 seconds?

Maybe it was easier because you had the visual of the numerical jeopardy countdown in front of you, which took your mind off elephants. But if you are anything like me, you had to re-start the clock a number of times before you finally just gave up and started thinking about elephants.

You might have found the strangest thing happening. Once you gave yourself permission to think about elephants, you only thought about them for maybe 10 seconds. After that, elephants did not consume your thoughts for the rest of the day.

This is not a coincidence. Read on….

The Best Way to Tackle Anxiety

I am about to throw something your way that is going to blow your mind. You will wonder why you have not tried this before.


Buckle up.

The #1 BEST way to tackle anxiety is…….wait for it……..

to think about it.

WHAT?!?! Think about anxiety? That’s ridiculous!

I know that anxiety makes us feel uncomfortable. It ties our stomachs in knots and makes our shoulders and necks sore. We clench our fists and look everywhere for exits out of the situation.

Surely if we can get out of the situation that is causing us to feel anxious, we will be okay.

Except we won’t.

Running From Anxiety Makes You More Anxious

Just like in the elephant example, if we try to run away from that which is in our head we find that we start thinking about it more.

It is not until we can accept our thoughts that we can begin to control them.

Acceptance does not have to equate to approval. I can hate having to make dinner but still accept that it is necessary if I want to eat.

If I think about what I am going to make for dinner, the stress of meal preparation at 6 PM lessens. But if I don’t think about dinner until it is time to eat, I get frazzled and suddenly I am feeding my family microwaveable meals.

The same holds true with anxiety.

What Happens When Avoiding Anxiety

There are a couple of things that happen when trying to avoiding anxiety.

  • We don’t think about why we are anxious
  • We begin to have a fixed mindset (that is, we decide that we can’t do the thing that makes us anxious)
  • We give in to the worry
  • We avoid risk-taking
  • We develop a bunch of physical side effects (illness, IBS, headaches, etc)

This sounds miserable.

It makes complete sense why you try to avoid anxiety-producing situations. After all, running toward something that we fear is contradictory to our human instinct.

And anxiety, after all, is fear.

But I am going to ask you to do just that.

Run toward your fear.

Why You Should Run Toward Anxiety

Still not convinced that this is a good idea?

Still worried that you might go into a complete tailspin and end up worse than you were before?

You won’t, and here is why:

  • Facing your fear allows you to conquer it
  • Understanding your triggers allows you to challenge them
  • Exposure is one of the best ways to treat anxiety
  • You will become more self-aware
  • You will feel empowered
  • You will be kinder to yourself
  • You will have the time to prepare for situations that you know will trigger your anxiety

The list can go on, but you get the point.

It is Okay to Be Afraid

By now, you might be wanting to throw your computer or phone at me, depending on what device you are reading this on.

After all, I am asking you to do the opposite of what you have been doing.

But what you have been doing hasn’t been working, so you have nothing to lose, except a grappling fear.

The C.A.L.M Technique

Don’t worry. I am not going to leave you hanging on a flimsy rope overlooking shark-infested waters.

I have developed a method that will help you to bring to life that which scares you and walk you through a step-by-step process to change the way that you look at the event. It is called C.A.L.M, and it looks like this:

C = The cause of your anxiety (ex: giving a presentation)

A = The automatic thought (ex: I am going to forget my entire speech and people will think I am stupid)

L = The locus (the real circumstance) of the situation (ex: I have practiced and know what I am talking about)

M = The modified thought (ex: I would not have been asked to present if I was stupid. I am prepared. Everyone gets nervous. I can handle this).


The Most Important Thing to Remember

The most important thing to remember is that anxiety is like thinking about elephants. If you try to push it out of your mind, it ends up consuming your thoughts.

So think of the elephant (and by elephant, I mean anxiety).

  • what does it look like?
  • is it a baby elephant or full-grown?
  • does it have any marks on it that set it apart from other elephants?
  • Is there anything else you notice about the elephant?

Now that you have noticed everything, there is no need to think of elephants anymore.

I know, I know. It’s not that simple.

But the thing is, it is that simple.

The hard part is doing it.

You have spent a lifetime facing anxiety with a knee/jerk reaction that has yielded unsuccessful results. It will take time and practice to be thoughtful about your anxiety.

You will win, you will lose. But you will keep getting up because that is what you have always done.

You are a fighter

You are strong

You are worth the effort it takes to live an empowered life.

Monica Fugedi
Clinical Certified Anxiety Treatment Professional (CCATP)
Wellness/Crisis Counselor
Groves High School


(blog post originally entitled “The Best Way to Tackle Anxiety,” from


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