Posted on Apr 11th, 2006

Exposure Therapy often puts fear into the heart of any one who as a simple phobia or agoraphobia, but does it have to be terrible? Sure, you have to actually face what you fear, the apparent cause of all your discomfort, panic and anxiety, but isn’t that what you have always wanted? To be able to go out and face it like a “normal person”? More importantly, are you doing everything you can to make exposure as painless and easy as possible? Did you know it can even be fun?

We all know fearless people who apparently shrug off bad news and thrive on stress. They seem to be as tough as crocodiles. We know that some of this apparent power is due to upbringing, some to genetics, some to brain chemistry, some to brain structure (as discussed on the Anxiety 2 Calm blog) and some to diet. But we also know that people can change themselves, spectacularly. No one is doomed to live in fear for ever. What has this got to do with exposure? Well, when you face whatever has been scaring you, AND YOU DO HAVE TO FACE IT!, you will be much more assured of success if you learn the skills of successful people. Instead of seeing life like you used to see it, see it like they see it.


Visualizaton has lone been used for relaxation. The bog standard technique has been to picture yourself somewhere you feel comfortable, preferably on a tropical beach where you can feel the sun kissing your skin. This is quite an effective form of relaxation, especially for those with insomnia, but it is not particularly useful when it comes to exposure therapy. Yes it lowers blood pressure, pulse, breathing rate and stress levels, but they all rise again when you are faced with the feared situation. The site of the airport terminal, an elevator, or a subway train can trigger the same old reaction.

But still I’d say the visualization works. Not the fantasy sun-kissed beach type but a more realistic type. When you are starting exposure therapy forget trying to fool your mind into thinking it is lying on a tropical beach, it is not. Instead imagine the real thing you are tackling. Let’s take the example of an elevator. See yourself in an elevator being calm and relaxed, thinking about the normal things people think about in elevators: work, food, office politics, business, sex, family etc. Include the sequence of events including the build-up, imagine yourself leaving the house, walking the route to your office, entering the building, walking to the elevator, summoning it, waiting for the doors to open, stepping in, selecting your floor, watching the doors close and feeling the elevator rise, follow the visualization right up until you exit the elevator and continue with your day. Before you try this, read the essential tips for success bellow.

1) It is very important to visualize through your own eyes, as if you were actually there doing it. Don’t see yourself, see from yourself. Look down and see your paunch or your toes, see your hands press the button, be inside yourself looking out, as if it were actually happening. If you see yourself doing it as if you were watching yourself in a movie, your mind will see someone else doing it, not you, and this won’t be as helpful.

2) Use all of your senses including touch, smell, and sound. Really make the experienced vivid and real, this will help you relax more when you are actually there, as you start to re-attribute what you experience and connect it with a feeling of calmness. Imagine the ring of cell phones, background chatter, the smell in the elevator of perfume from other users, and the texture of the walls.

3) If you find visualisation hard, don’t worry, it will come. The key is to keep trying to do it and really concentrating on feeling calm in those situations.

4) Often people find it hard to visualize feeling calm and happy in a feared situation. This is quite common, quite normal, and nothing to worry about. The remedy to this is to break down the visualisation into parts and concentrate on the easier ones until you are calm and relaxed with them. This might take several days. In the elevator example you might first master visualizing looking at the elevator. Eventually you will be able to visualize the whole experience.

5, when it feels right, go for it in real life! You will probably have found that you have taken the sting out of the experience!

Anxiety 2 Calm looks at various techniques to overcome anxiety, panic attacks, phobia and stagnation. It includes sections on TFT/EFT, EMDR, and much more. All information is free and there is also a blog and a forum and many more interactive features. Feedback on experiences with medication and those expensive programmes and CD courses that are always advertised is useful to help others who are in a similar predicament to yourself or your loved one.

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