By MARK THOMAS
Although it is usually recommended to not avoid fear in real life, often the best way is to face it in a simulated environment. That is because simulating your fears can cause less anxiety than facing them directly. Additionally, you can use your mental imageries when it would be impractical or foolish to directly face your worst fears. For example, if you’re fearful of getting tropical diseases, including malaria, directly exposing yourself to carrier mosquitos isn’t a smart move.
You may argue that observing your fears through your imagination won’t make you realistically uneasy. However, some people discover that when they imagine their fears in greater detail, their bodies react accordingly. As they are progressively able to master anxiety, fears often subsides.
In essence, you should break down your fears into smaller portions and organize them into a list sorted from the easiest to the worst.
1. Start with a simple relaxation process, you can use the same relaxation process needed before a meditation.
2. Choose a group of fears under a similar theme. For instance, fear of being rejected is also related to fear of criticism and negative evaluation by others. Similarly, fear about personal injuries is related to fears about the safety of your family members.
3. Sort your fears into a number of successive steps according to their level of severity.
4. Picture yourself as though you are actually facing your fear.
5. Imagine all the details related to your fear for example, smells, sounds, sights, and anything else that could bring your imaginary experiences to life.
7. If you are sure that your mind is completely exposed to fears, observe and rate your anxiety level (for example, on a scale of 1 to 10).
8. Keep the image until you find that your anxiety drop considerably. Waiting until your rating falls by around half or lower is best. It may come down significantly as you keep the image long enough on your mind. For instance, if you rate your anxiety at about 6; keep thinking about it, until the score drops to about 2 or 3.
9. If the imaginary experiences went easily, you should try the next step, until you find the intensity that is somewhat uncomfortable. You should immediately do the relaxation process if you find that your fear becomes uncontrollable.
10. Finish the entire session with a slightly longer relaxation process.
The following tips can help you face the above process more easily:
* Ask the help of a trusted individual. This person should give you support and encouragement.
* If necessary, back off just a little. You shouldn’t make a complete retreat except if you feel completely out of control.
* Your mind might scream “Stop! I can’t do this. It’s worthless and painful”. Don’t listen to this internal chatter. Simply watch your body’s reactions and understand that they can’t harm you.
* Reward yourself after each successful session, for example, you could put a couple of dollars in the shoebox each time you finish a session and buy something you like in a few months or so.
* Use a little positive self-talk to help quell rising anxiety, if you need to.
* Understand that occasionally, you will feel uncomfortable. Consider that discomfort is a part of the process; it is part of achieving success.
* Repeat, repeat and repeat, do this each day, you’ll notice that your anxiety level begins to drop to the point that even your worst fear will be manageable.
* Don’t expect a quick progress. Proceed at a normal and sensible pace. Keep moving forward, even so you shouldn’t expect to conquer your fears in a couple of days.
Even with daily exposure sessions, it may take more than two months or far longer to subdue your fears. Always set realistic aims, for example, say you are afraid of confined places – so much so that it is impossible for you to enter an elevator, it is unnecessary to perform exposure exercises by using elevator for hours each day; just let yourself feel completely satisfied with your courage to enter those small boxes in your mind. Don’t use crutches to limit your vulnerability to fears. Some of the common crutches that people tend to use are:
- Drinking alcoholic beverage
- Taking anti-anxiety agents, for example, benzodiazepines
- Performing additional rituals with chants or incantation
- Hold onto something that can keep you from succumbing to your fear
All of these crutches might interfere with the positive effects of exposure. However if you completely feel the need for aids, use only a minimum amount. For example, a sensible compromise is by initially using chants and then going up to the next step without any ritual. Often, it is better to use self-talk and relaxation as a way to thoroughly master your fears.