Exposure Therapy for Anxiety

Over the years, my social anxiety has been bad. Really bad. It led to agoraphobia of some sort, and that made everyday life even harder. It’s getting better now, as I’ve made sure to continually expose myself to the things I fear. It was really difficult at first, but I like proving myself that I can do the things that make me anxious.

When I was fifteen I was shipped off to Santander for a language exchange. I spent two weeks there on my own, and must have spoken about ten words of Spanish. The girl I stayed with enjoyed saying how lazy English people were and that she hated the language, which was charming of her. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fantastic experience, and I don’t think I was ready for it. I think I’d have the confidence to enjoy travelling alone now though, as I’ve gradually built up experience of smaller exposure tasks.

I love Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain”. However, you really do need to make sure you’re ready for it and that you haven’t pushed yourself in at the deep end. Perhaps this quote is more appropriate, as it suggests to me that you need a record of smaller success before facing your larger fears:

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” – William Jennings Bryan

Santander 2008

Below are some exposure tasks that I’ve done or am planning to do, from lowest to highest anxiety level. It’s like a ladder I can work along.

  1. Smile at a cashier
  2. Talk to my boyfriend’s sister
  3. Ask a waitress a question about a meal on the menu
  4. Walk along the main road into my village alone
  5. Go to a shop I’ve never been into before
  6. Use a normal checkout instead of self-service as much as I can
  7. Answer the phone
  8. Make a phone call
  9. Compliment someone (even if the person is a friend)
  10. Be the centre of attention in a group of people
  11. Address a group of people
  12. Strike up a conversation to someone sitting next to me on the train
  13. Ask for the time
  14. Ask for directions
  15. Speak to a lady at a make-up counter in a posh department store
  16. Say yes to every social invite I have no reason to miss (e.g. most of them)
  17. Jog through a public place
  18. Book a taxi by phone
  19. Go on a bus
  20. Attend a university society event
  21. Go to a bar with a friend
  22. Tell a friend about my anxiety
  23. Wear a dress with bare legs in summer
  24. Wear shorts
  25. Wear my hair down in public when it’s curly

It’s important that I give myself a pat on the back after completing any of the tasks above, and not berate myself for anything that may have not gone perfectly. I am learning to finally become better at this, and I like to write down things I’ve achieved in my journal, or think of a little reward for myself (hello ice cream!)

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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