Anxieties are progressive, so it seems logical that one of the answers to anxiety would be a progression of a different kind. When a fear starts out small and keeps expanding, the way to combat anxiety is to cut that anxiety down to size. Instead of trying to take on the whole fear, you start small, working your way up your fear, like climbing a ladder. As you become comfortable at each rung of your fear, you become ready to climb up to the next.
This progressive exposure is also called desensitization. I’ve also often referred to this as baby steps. Taking on a full-fledged fear in its immensity is simply too big a task when you’re in the throes of anxiety. Instead, taking on small, bite-sized pieces of that fear is just enough to allow for progress. Each successful rung on the fear ladder, each baby step taken, provides momentum and courage to go on to the next.
This rung-by-rung, step-by-step progression works well with fears because fears are generally made of smaller, interconnected components. Fears are like a geodesic dome—a large structure being supported by a series of small, interlocking parts. Deconstruct the parts and the fear crumbles like a house-of-cards.
Desensitization means starting small. If you become overly anxious at being in a crowd, start small—literally—with a small group of people. Start with people you know and like, learning to be comfortable with them in a safe, social setting, such as your home. Next try going with that same group of people to different setting, such as to a restaurant or movie or go to an outside event.
Ask For Help
Some people are able to work up the rungs of desensitization on their own, but others find working with a counselor helpful. At each step, work through your fears, identifying them, acknowledging them, and challenging them. If you’ve made progress on your own but then find yourself stymied, unable to move forward, don’t be afraid to ask for help. A trusted friend, faith advisor, family member, or counselor can often provide the third-party perspective needed to deconstruct the fear barrier.
As you encounter and conquer smaller fear situations, begin to integrate those experiences into your daily routine. Don’t just go out once to dinner or a movie with friends just to prove you can; work this activity into your life going forward. Practice, practice, practice!
Use Your Tools
As you progress through desensitization, don’t forget you have tools at your disposal to help work past the fear. Controlled breathing, for example, can give you back control over the hyperventilation so prevalent in anxiety. Talk back to your anxiety and remind yourself of what is true. Don’t allow fear to dominate your inner dialogue.
Celebrate each victory as you walk the baby steps toward relief from anxiety. Shame and blame may attempt to derail your progress, but don’t listen! If you get stuck at a certain level and experience “failure,” that is not a reason to give up. Each setback holds the key to future success, if you’ll objectively look at what happened, seek to understand why, and find a way to try, try again.
Don’t be surprised if along the way you are emboldened to take a giant leap but fall flat on your face. It happens. Overcoming anxiety isn’t a race. The goal is progress. Anxiety wants you to stay firmly stuck, with fear calling the shots. By refusing to give up, you inch step by step toward reclaiming control over your life.
If you or someone you know suffers from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or PTSD, it is beneficial to understand the causes of these conditions. Contact The Center • A Place of HOPE today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.