Discovering graded exposure therapy was a complete life saver for me! I would love to share this method with anyone who might need it.
When you have a fear of something the idea of getting over it will probably seem impossible, however, with this method you can break it down into lots of steps and it makes it so much easier. This technique will give you hope that you CAN conquer your anxiety.
What is Graded Exposure Therapy?
Graded exposure therapy is a method of cognitive behaviour therapy that allows you to overcome anxiety-inducing situations, by gradually becoming comfortable with the situation and slowly working up to it. This is something that you can do by yourself, for free and I cannot recommend this enough.
You need to make a goal of what you want to achieve. Set your expectations high, even if it may seem impossible, you will eventually get there! Choose a situation that makes you anxious like riding the train, driving to work or going on a night out.
Break this goal down into many specific parts. Don’t worry if there are a lot of steps! It’s better to take it slow and make the steps seem like manageable goals. For each new challenge you may want to have a “safety behaviour” that you can take away once you get comfortable with the new task. A safety behaviour could be having a friend accompany you, having an escape route if you want peace of mind or having medication with you. In addition to having friends as a safety behaviour, sometimes to feel calm enough to be able to get on the train I had to take diazepam; but I made sure I could do each step without it before moving onto the next one. It’s easier to look at an example of a graded exposure plan so I’ll show you mines:
STEP 1 – get the train with friends at a quiet time
STEP 2 – get the train myself at a quiet time
STEP 3 – get the train with friends at a moderately busy time
STEP 4 – get the train myself at a moderately busy time
STEP 5 – get the train with friends at a busy time
THE GOAL : STEP 6 – get the train myself at a busy time
This will hopefully make it easier to create your own plan, you can adjust it to suit your goal. For example, if you are anxious about driving, start by driving around your street then gradually increase the distance.
You will start on step 1 and do this as many times as it takes for you to feel 100% comfortable, then you can progress onto the next step, and repeat. It’s important not to skip steps and to stick with this plan! Involving a friend can help to motivate you and to make sure that you don’t quit. Doing this therapy as frequently as possible will help your recovery. I wouldn’t recommend leaving weeks in-between challenging yourself as it won’t seem much easier if you don’t do it often.
Set backs are a natural part of the recovery process so we should not get disheartened over them as they are bound to happen. For example, I skipped from step 2 to my end goal and doing this caused me to have an anxiety attack – which set me back in the progress I had made with going on the train. The important thing to do is pick yourself up and try again – no matter how many times it takes. Don’t ever give up.
How it helped me…
It might seem daunting at first but through time it gets so much easier. At one point, I found every situation anxiety-inducing, so I had a lot of graded exposure plans going on at once. Through using this method I am now comfortable getting on moderately busy trains and will continue to work until I can get on the train myself when it’s rush hour. I found that by making a plan, it made facing my fears a lot easier and it helped others that didn’t understand what I was going through to know how to support me.