Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

Reframing anxiety from a threat to a challenge

We tell ourselves stories all the time that explain the world and the situations that we are experiencing. Sometimes these stories help us find solutions to life’s problems and sometimes the narrative just makes things worse, however, there is always more than one way to look at every situation. In the book “RESET”, authors Luke Mathers and Ally Shorter set out to help us find a story that helps.

Anxiety kicks in for a reason. Anxiety is there to make us pay attention. The cavewoman who didn’t get anxious when she knew predators were around got eaten along with her kids. Anxiety is evolutionary. Anxiety has a purpose and anxiety is there to make us take notice. We need to listen to the feelings of anxiety and treat them like a signpost that gives us information rather than an alarm that promotes panic.

There is always a fork in the stress road, a point where something sparks a stress response. We have two options: Threat or Challenge?

Our default, the first response is to view it as a threat. 10,000 years ago, on the plains of Africa, this anxiety response served us well and kept us safe. It’s hardwired into us. Years ago, stress was short-term, urgent and transient. Our pre-historic ancestors dealt with the threat and moved on. Good system!

In 2021, with iPhones, Covid and Instagram most anxiety is caused by things like FOMO, fear of failure and constantly comparing ourselves to others. Our problems are hardly life-threatening, but our body doesn’t know that. Seeing anxiety as a threat is hardwired, but it’s no longer helpful.

When anxiety is seen as a threat, the newest part of our brain (pre-frontal cortex) goes offline and the fear centre (the amygdala) fires up. When your amygdala gets hijacked, thinking becomes defensive and constricted.

So, how do we expand our thinking to keep the smart part of our brain online? The answer – get curious and treat the situation as a challenge!

When feelings of anxiety are met with curiosity they become more of a challenge. All parts of the brain stay online when we do a curious RESET.

In RESET, Luke and Ally explain a simple 3 step process:

Catch, W.A.I.T + RESET

  1. “Catch” your physical reaction. Knots in the stomach, clenching fists and elevated heart rate are all signposts alerting you need to pay attention to something. Listen to them with curiosity rather than fear. Lean into the feelings of anxiety and get curious.
  2. W.A.I.T stands for “What Am I Thinking” and is where our dominant thought is curiosity. What am I thinking? Why am I thinking it? And, is it helping? These questions of self-awareness get our brains working in Challenge mode.
  3. RESET – Control – ALT – Delete. When a computer is overloaded, we press Control/ALT/Delete to shut everything down and start again. What CAN I control? What are my ALTernatives? And, what do I need to delete?

1 in 7 Australians will develop an anxiety-related condition every year. This number could be greatly reduced if we can catch anxious feelings early and stop them from going into a spiral of threat.

Your heart may thump, breathing quicken, and your stomach may be doing cartwheels, but if we stay curious and “Catch, W.A.I.T. + RESET” those feelings of stress and anxiety will pass and we will learn from the challenge.


If you would like to investigate running a RESET program in your school or workplace contact Luke Mathers at luke@lukemathers.com.au

About the book:

RESET- Choose your story” is a short book written as a parable which is an easy read that is packed full of a lot of great life lessons. Written from the perspective of two characters, RESET centres on the stories of Amy, who is returning to grade 12 after losing her best friend who died, and Zac who is popular but is struggling with a lack of motivation, stress, loneliness and is turning to drugs. 

The book is co-written by Ally Shorter, a 2020-year 12 graduate who draws on her personal experience of losing a close friend to suicide in 2018 to help frame the story of “Amy”.

Compare