How would you like to learn a few ways to battle your anxiety and fears? Well, systematic desensitization may be the answer.
During my lifetime, and that’s been 4 decades, I’ve tried everything I could think of to eliminate or even alleviate my anxiety. Some things helped pretty well, while other things just seemed like a waste of time. My fears and anxieties just continued to follow me wherever I went.
So, I saw the words, “systematic desensitization”, and I wondered if these were techniques that might work for me. It seemed like learning to face my fears through the help of a relaxing environment would much better than analyzing and deconstructing everything that happened to me. So, let’s examine this systematic desensitization approach.
What is systematic desensitization?
The systematic desensitization combines techniques of relaxation and gradual exposure to whatever is troubling you. If it’s a phobia, these techniques keep you calm, but they also coax you to face your fears, you see.
Of course, as you face these fears and anxieties, you start slow as not to cause an overwhelming sensation or possibly a panic attack.
The systematic desensitization techniques come in 4 steps:
Before you can even start approaching the subject of your fears and anxieties, you will need to learn how to relax. I don’t mean just sitting or lying down. I mean genuinely relaxing your entire being. Here are a few ways to properly relax:
- Breathe slowly, inhaling through your nose. This is called diaphragmatic breathing. As you inhale, hold your breath for 2 seconds, then release your breath through your mouth. This type of breathing helps you relax pretty fast and helps you focus as well.
- Now, close your eyes and imagine a scene. See the colors, hear the sounds, and even imagine you can smell the scents of this imaginary place. You can also let someone describe an image to you, and then see what they are describing utilizing your own mind.
- Tense your muscles, then release them. Do this several times. This helps you understand what happens when you are afraid. You might not notice, but your muscles tense up all over your body during anxiety.
- Take the time to learn more about meditation and mindfulness. These techniques help you accomplish all of the above and more. You can ground yourself in the present instead of saturating your mind tomorrow or the next day.
2. Making lists
After indulging in relaxation techniques, it’s time to make a list of what makes you anxious. You can include your phobias, or write them on a separate sheet of paper.
Either way, it’s important to try and list every single thing that triggers anxiety or fear. Knowing what makes you afraid is the key to facing the things that make you afraid.
You may be surprised by the things that come to mind. After all, you should list even the smallest things that make you afraid. This is especially helpful for those who start worrying as soon as they wake up.
I do this. I wake and wonder what negative things will happen during the day. It’s virtually taken over a corner of my life. So, I guess you would say, my list is long. But it doesn’t matter as long as you write it down and come to terms with it.
3. Rating your fears
After listing your fears, rate them at the worst and least fearful with everything else in-between. As you work through these things, other fears may surface, but you can’t let this distract you. Think about fears in different ways as well.
For instance, you may be terrified of spiders, which fall at level 10, but a picture of a spider may only rate on a level 7. Talking about them could be a level 5. Rating your fears helps you get ready for the last technique…coming to terms with your fears.
4. Facing fears
The first thing to do when facing your fears is to make sure you are totally relaxed. If you’re already going through something, it’s not quite the time to face fears and anxieties.
A good time would be in a quiet atmosphere, and it’s best to start with a therapist who can support and help you stay in control during the transition.
As you face your fears, you will imagine the fear first, then talk about what makes you anxious. As you talk through your anxieties, think about why you’re scared in the first place.
Where did the fear start, and how long has the fear been present? These are questions that will help you see the fear as something smaller than it really is. Therapy like this will slowly help you see your anxiety as something that cannot control you.
It will take several sessions using the systematic desensitization techniques before you will notice a difference.
Over time, you may even be able to endure more than one fear at a time or face a fear during a stressful event. Until then, give yourself credit for every milestone you achieve toward your goal of being free of your fears.
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