Gradual Exposure: a Systematic, Concrete Approach to Dealing with Anxiety-Inducing Situations.
In my last blog article, we explored why avoidance is the worst strategy to deal with anxiety in the long-term. Even though avoiding certain situations can help us to feel relieved in the moment, by constantly avoiding those anxiety-inducing situations, we never get to increase our tolerance to them. If you missed that article, you can find it HERE.
So, now that we know that avoidance is not the way to go, what can we do instead?
Gradual Exposure is my favorite tool to give to those of my clients who feel anxious about specific situations, like public speaking or meeting new people.
Here's how it works:
First, make a list of 10 situations that cause you to feel anxious, in increasing levels of difficulty. For example, if public speaking is the thing that scares you, a Level 1 might be to ask a question at your small team meeting, and a Level 10 might be volunteering to give a company-wide presentation. Or, if meeting new people makes you want to run as fast as you can, a Level 1 might be introducing yourself to one new person at your best friend's birthday party, and a Level 10 might be going to a networking event alone and meeting at least 5 new people.
Taking as little or as much time as you want, work your way up the list, gradually exposing yourself to these various situations. You can tackle all 10 levels in 10 days, 10 weeks, or 10 months! Go at your own pace.
As you challenge yourself to move through the different levels of your list, you will gradually gain more and more confidence and situations that once felt terrifying won't be so scary anymore! Or, they will still feel hard, but by willingly exposing yourself to them you will prove to yourself that, even though it's hard, well, you can do hard things ;)
So, here's my invitation to you: think about an area of life that makes you feel anxious. Examples include: public speaking, meeting new people, setting boundaries, saying NO, being more vulnerable with your loved ones, trying new things, spending time alone, ...
Then, make up your list of 10 challenges in increasing levels of difficulty and decide when and how you will tackle Level 1. I can guarantee that, every time you hit a new level, it will feel like a victory and it will make you want to move onto the next one.
You got this!