The Best Way to Eat an Elephant

I’m sure each and every one of us has experienced anxiety or overwhelm at some point in our lives, if not more than once. If you have you’ll know it can be absolutely debilitating. Full of fear thinking we are under threat, the limbic system in our brain (specifically the amygdala) goes into fight, flight, or freeze and flood our systems with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

Anxiety – Symptoms and Causes

Stress, anxiety

Anxiety can cause a number of problems, including but not limited to:

  • Faster breathing or palpitations
  • Problems sleeping
  • Headaches or tension
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Teeth grinding
  • Needing to go to the toilet more often
  • Loss of appetite

So what causes anxiety? It is different for everyone, and can be any number of things – including the result of past or childhood experiences or traumas, current stressors such as money worries, loss of a loved one, or a stressful job, physical or mental health conditions, or as a result of drug or alcohol consumption. What many don’t realise about alcohol is that it is a depressant and, while it can seem to relieve anxiety temporarily, it can actually make it far worse over time.

An Elephant for Dinner

When we’re happy and healthy making decisions and going about our daily life seems perfectly manageable and we just get on with things. But when we’re anxious and overwhelmed everything can seem like having a huge mountain in front of us to climb or someone serving you an elephant for dinner. And, unfortunately, in modern life it’s incredibly easy to become overwhelmed. I for one know how ill it can make me feel sometimes when I first look at my phone in the morning and there are umpteen Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin notifications to check, then all the texts, whatsapps, and emails throughout the day, not to mention news updates and other apps pinging at you all day. We have so much more information, communications, and requests coming at us every day than ever before, and since we’ve had smartphones it’s been 24/7. I like to think I’m a pretty organised person, but even I struggle to keep up with it all sometimes!

With everything that’s gone on so far this year it’s not surprising that many of us are feeling more anxious than usual and worrying about the future, so it’s important we have strategies to hand to manage it as anxiety can so easily affect the quality of our daily lives. So, what is the best way to eat an elephant? Take it one bite at a time! In other words, if a task or something you need to achieve feels astronomical or the size of an elephant, break it down into smaller more manageable chunks and take it one thing at a time. There’s a reason people climb the biggest mountains in stages rather than all at once.

Here are a number of other practical strategies for managing anxiety and overwhelm:

Switch off

Turn off all non-essential notifications (on your phone and computer browser) so they’re not pinging at you all day. If you’re working on something close your email program until you’ve finished it to avoid getting distracted. Constant interferences can have you feeling frazzled by the end of the day, so take back control of what comes at you and when.


If you’re not sure exactly what’s causing your anxiety journaling can be a great way to observe your triggers and get to understand what’s driving your feelings. You could do this at the end of each day reflecting on the events of the day and how they made you feel, or you could keep it to hand and write in it every time your anxiety kicks in.

Avoid stimulants

Limit or avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and tobacco to help your nervous system come back into balance.

Take regular exercise

Physical activity helps to change your physiology, which helps you change your emotional state. I recommend to anyone feeling stressed that a daily walk is essential – ideally in nature and getting plenty of natural light on the back of your eyes.


When anxious our breath can become shorter and shallower without us being aware of it. So it’s important to be conscious of your breath and take longer deeper breaths when you feel your anxiety coming on, and especially if you are prone to panic attacks. There are many techniques you could google online, and I’m a big fan of a method called the 4,7,8 technique where you breathe in for the count of 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and then breathe out for 8 seconds.

Avoid comparisonitis

Reduce or limit your time on social media when you’re feeling anxious as human nature is to compare ourselves to unrealistic images of people portraying their ‘best lives’ – one of the quickest ways to trigger anxiety and depression. If you do fall into this trap, remember – half of the images and braggery you are seeing on social media don’t reflect reality. I remember my old partner’s sister was forever posting pictures of herself and her husband – on holidays, drinking champagne at the weekend, saying how much she loved him – when behind closed doors they couldn’t stand each other and were on the brink of divorce. So remember, if you get a bit of the green-eyed monster, you never know what you’re REALLY comparing yourself with!


While at first this could seem difficult when you’re anxious, with practice it can help to calm your mind and quiet some of the stressful thoughts that are whirling around your head. Try using an app, going to a guided group meditation (I’m hosting these online while we still can’t meet as a group – for more information click here), or there are plenty you can listen to on YouTube.


If any of you are familiar with EFT (also known as tapping) you’ll know that that can be a great stress reliever among other things. It’s a simple process and very easy to learn, and can be extremely effective in managing anxiety. I recommend taking a look at the following website:

Distract your brain

Make time for other activities that will take your mind off of your concerns and help you relax – watch a film, cook or bake something, play some of your favourite upbeat music, do something mindful like a jigsaw or colouring. My favourite option is doing sudoku puzzles as I find it a lot harder to worry when my mind is focused on a puzzle. Do whatever it is that you love and know absorbs your full attention.

Get help

If you have been trying some or all of these strategies and are still feeling highly anxious then reach out – talk to a friend or family member you trust, go and see your doctor, self-refer for counselling or therapy, or consider seeing a hypnotherapist. Your health is far more important than any pride you may have so don’t suffer in silence – get help and support if you need it.

If you’ve been impacted by the pandemic and are wanting to make some positive changes in your life and take back control of shaping your future I offer life coaching and support to help you get clear on what you want and start creating it. For a chat about how I could help you please do get in touch –
07850 352588;

The Best Way to Eat an Elephant
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