ANXIETY AND EXPOSURE THERAPY
If you notice your heartbeat racing, your palms getting sweaty, or a feeling of irritability or fear in certain scenarios, it can be tempting to get as far away as possible. You may avoid the uncomfortable situation now, but what happens when you are exposed to something similar in the future? If you continually recede into your comfort zone, your mind can process feelings of positivity about your choice, unwittingly training your brain into believing that avoidance is the right thing to do, only making your fear worse.
It’s not uncommon to fear being exposed to an object, person, situation, or activity. We are certain you know someone who has or has had a fear of one of the following:
- Dogs, cats, and other pets
- Thunder and lightning
- The dark
- Eating in public
You may fear something else entirely!
You may ask yourself, “Why bother to address my fear of something I don’t encounter often?” Perhaps your feeling of trepidation around dogs, for example, doesn’t impact your life in obvious ways, but there are situations in which it might in the future. Maybe your boss decides to adopt an office pet or your fear of dogs prevents you from getting closer to a significant other who is an animal lover. How would you handle those situations? It’s even possible your fear impacts you in ways you don’t quite realize yet. Hyperawareness is one very common issue and a possible cause of frequent anxiety.
Maybe you’re aware that your fear has created a more routine problem for you! One such example of this might be declining invitations to your friend’s child’s birthday parties year after year because a clown might attend. You may not even know if a clown will attend, but its association with birthdays might be enough to trigger your anxiety. And certain fears, such as those of healthcare professionals like doctors and dentists, can take a deep toll on your physical health.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to learn how to overcome these feelings of anxiety so you can stop letting fear get in the way of your life? A therapist skilled in exposure therapy can help you change how you think and feel about the things you fear, and in turn, how you react.
WHAT IS EXPOSURE THERAPY, AND IS IT RIGHT FOR ME?
Exposure therapy is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) designed to help you confront your fears about objects, activities, or situations. Don’t worry – we will never ask you to be exposed directly to your fear unless you are ready! There are many ways to go about exposure therapy, and all are based on your skills and level of readiness. Here are some of the methods we might discuss:
- In-Vivo Exposure: Directly facing your fear in real life.
- Imaginal Exposure: Imagining the object, activity, or situation you fear.
- Virtual Reality Exposure: Exposing yourself to your fear via virtual reality.
- Interoceptive Exposure: Replicating physical sensations experienced during exposure in a safe and exposure-free setting.
Together, we will determine how you are most comfortable approaching exposure to your fear. This may include listing details about your experiences with anxiety and ranking them based on which ones cause the most discomfort. We will then discuss different ways of combating your fear, such as by flooding – initially tackling the most-feared aspects of your phobia – or by grading – fighting back against the least overwhelming aspects of your fear first. Exposure therapy is considered one of the most effective ways to reduce or eliminate phobias, and it is our goal to take it at a pace that is most comfortable for you while still improving thoughts, feelings, and reactions related to your fears.
Exposure therapy is not for everyone, but if you’re ready to face your fears, we’re ready to help. The fact that you are reading this is already a huge step! When you confront your phobias and anxieties, you will be ready to live a life filled with more joy, less stress, and greater possibility.