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Exposure Hierarchy

Avoidance and unhealthy coping actually maintains your anxiety. Exposing yourself to the things you actually fear will help you conquer your anxiety.

First step: think about what really drives your anxiety: FEAR. Develop a hierarchy of those fears. It sounds scary, but with practice, these fears will control you less and less.

Rate your anxiety on a scale of 0 (no anxiety) to 100 (the worst situation or thought you can possibly imagine). [A 50 would be anxiety that is tolerable, but still a challenge.]

What are 10 situations or thoughts that can produce anxiety for you? List them.

For example, a person with the fear about her family's future might include items such as: What if I'm not a good mom? What if we get into a car accident? What if our marriage can't handle the stress of a new baby? I don't know how to take care of a new baby. What if I'm a failure?

Now, rate each of these situations.

Select your lowest rated situation. Practice confronting this situation using real-life exposure (direct confrontation), imaginal exposure (confrontation that is not easy to create in real life), or physical symptom exposure (confronting a body sensation). Practice this in one session until your anxiety comes down, at least by 10. If you can focus and go longer, do so. Your anxiety level should decrease during each exercise. Stay with this item until you have mild or little anxiety, then move on to the next item on your list.

Continue to confront your fears until your list is resolved.

Until next time,


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