Courtesy of odpmedic

Avoidance of anxiety-arousing activities can serve to maintain anxiety, which is why graded exercises that expose you to small steps, will eventually give you the confidence to combat more difficult tasks.

Graded exposure is useful for specific phobias, and is a way to practise your coping skills for anxiety, such as breathing, relaxation, thought-challenging, grounding, and distraction. These anxiety management strategies can help you to undertake graded tasks.

Four Stages To Graded Practice

1/ Identify the trigger for anxiety: For instance, someone who gets anxious when shopping, needs to ask, (a)”What kinds of shops make me anxious?” (b) What time of day is worse or better?” (c) What helps or hinders my ability to cope?” It might be that you get anxious in large supermarkets (but not small shops with fewer people), particularly worse when it’s a busy time of the day. It might be easier to go with a support person.  Breaking down your anxiety can help you to create a plan to challenge these anxiety-arousing situations.

2/ Focus on Targets: Organise your description of fears in order of your greatest fear to your lowest fear. If we take the example of anxiety in large crowds, you can make a list like this:

Lowest Fear – Sitting in a movie theatre with my husband.

Greatest Fear – (a) Shopping in the supermarket alone on Friday evening when it’s very busy; (b) Catching the bus from home into the city alone (morning) during crowded times. (c) Using the elevator at work (1-7 level) with no-one around.

Focus on targets you wish to achieve, so you’ll be motivated to tackle them. Choose the lowest fear or you can break down your greatest fear.

If we choose to focus on breaking down the anxiety-arousing situation of shopping alone on a Friday evening, you can set tasks from the easiest to the most difficult so you can develop the skills and confidence for more difficult tasks.

Action Steps: With each step, use your coping strategies; e.g. challenge negative thoughts, breathe, ground yourself etc. until you can do it with ease, then move on to the next task.

1/ Shopping in the local store with a friend when it’s quiet and buying one item.

2/ Shopping in the store, but I buy three items and pay by credit card so I spend a longer period in the store.

3/ Shopping in the store, but I buy at least ten items and pay by credit card.

4/ Going to the local shop when it’s quiet on my own.

5/ Going to the local store when it’s medium-busy.

6/Going to the local store on your own when it’s the busiest time.

7/ Going to a small supermarket alone when it’s quiet.

8/ Going to the small supermarket on your own when it’s busy.

9/ Going to a larger supermarket on your own when it’s quiet.

10/ Going to the larger supermarket on your own when it’s busy.

It’s okay to be somewhat anxious, so long as you’re not overwhelmed to the point of having a panic attack. Anxiety is natural, and it’s okay to feel a little uncomfortable.

You need to do your tasks regularly and keep the momentum going.

Reward yourself for your achievements.

Repeat a task until the anxiety is absent.

In conclusion, graded tasks can help you face anxiety-arousing situations to relieve anxiety. If you avoid the task, anxiety will perpetuate. The choice is yours.