I wrote recently about exposure being the key to managing anxiety. It’s true. I witness over and over in sessions where individuals are seeking relief from anxiety and try exposure out. However, some believe that it might be too hard or impossible.
Interestingly enough, exposure happens every day. Most of develop exposure skills early on in life that help us overcome fears since we were children. It is the same skill later at any time in our life when we are trying to overcome anxiety no matter how fearful we may be.
My 4 year old is in swimming lessons. She has been for about a year consistently. And, consistently, she is terrified of going under the water. Initially, she warmed right up to the water during the first class we put her in, and went from being nervous to loving playing in the water. However, going under continued to be a different story. Even the thought of going under had her in a panic. She would swim easily with a teacher but then when asked to float or blow bubbles, etc, she would get scared and not want to try. Over time, she did attempt bubbles and floats as her exposure to the water increased.
We then had to change teachers and found a teacher who “forced” her to go under the water. She didn’t last long there and had decided she didn’t like swimming any more. We took a break for a while, but were committed to keeping her exposed to swimming so that she could eventually overcome her fear of the water. After a few weeks, she was willing to try. After all she had accomplished before, she was starting all over and afraid again of the water. She held tightly to the teacher’s neck in fear of falling in.
We continued and encouraged taking baby steps and helping her to try a little more and a little more. Sometimes she would be really upset at us, but we continued to remind her that one day she wouldn’t be scared.
This past week, I promised her a reward if she went under the water. She didn’t the first day, but on the second swim day this week, she told me she was going to try. She tried once, then twice, then three times and made it to 15 times in one lesson. Her brain had finally learned that it was okay. Her confidence had increased and she was so proud of herself. She requested to call her dad immediately to tell him about her lesson. She even forgot about the reward because she was so proud of her accomplishment.
This is exposure in its true form: facing fears head on over and over until your brain learns to tolerate the fear or that there is actually nothing to fear. It works and it’s amazing. If you think you don’t have exposure skills, take a look at your life. I bet you have done it before, and if you have anxiety, I bet you can do it again!
Until next time,