Updated: Jun 22
One of the major tools in overcoming anxiety are exposure plans. They help because they give you a plan of tackling those anxiety provoking situations in a safe way, and repeatedly until you no longer feel anxious anymore.
1. Trigger List
The first thing you need is a list of the situations that you feel anxious. There should be a variety of things but aim for ten different ones.
Assign a number to each trigger as a level of difficult For example, 1 is barely any anxiety and 10 is unbearable.
2. Plan a place for each trigger
Once you have your list, you can then start planning where you can challenge yourself. For example, if you have a problem with lifts, plan going to a shopping centre. If you have a problem with quiet places, plan going down to your local library.
Plan when you want to challenge yourself so that you give yourself plenty of time and also plan who you will go with. It’s important to have support so aim to have someone with you or at least accompany you to and from the triggering place.
3. Work your way through each trigger
Start with the lowest trigger on the scale. Go to the place and challenge yourself. If we go back to the lift example, you go to the shopping centre and you set foot in a lift. Perhaps you manage to go up one floor before getting out. That is challenging your trigger.
Once you complete the challenge you have set yourself, reward yourself. I used to go to the bookshop every time I managed to stay in a triggering situation. Find something fun or relaxing and do that. It could be something as simple as watching your favourite film.
Rewards are an important part as it retrains your brain to view the situation as positive rather than threatening. Something good came from it in the end rather than something bad.
If you felt anxious in the lift, repeat that trigger until you don’t feel anxious anymore in that situation. Once you’ve achieved that, move on to the next one. Keeping repeating the challenge and reward cycle until you are no longer anxious in that situation.
It’s important to take your time and not skip a step as you risk overwhelming yourself and losing the progress you have made so far.
6. Record Findings
It’s worth writing down what happens every time you challenge a triggering situation and how you felt throughout it. That’ll provide you with a kind of journal that will show all of your progress and also help you tackle any future anxiety challenges you may face.
This is just a brief look at how to come up with exposure plans. There is plenty of information about them generally but hopefully this condensed version will offer you more of a ‘how-to’ approach rather than a lecture.