6. Exposure Therapy Tips – Overcoming Your Fears

Once all 5 fundamentals are followed you may still have anxiety from doing stuff that gave you anxiety before. Your body basically remembers what it thought was a bad or negative situation, and when that same situation re-appears, it makes the mistake of thinking it is still a bad or negative situation (when in fact it isn’t). One great way to train your brain that there is nothing wrong is through the means of exposure therapy. 

Exposure therapy is exactly what it sounds like, exposing yourself to the situation and facing your fear head on. It can be actually very easy if done correctly and there is no rush. You can take as long as you want and go as slow as you want. Everyone has different thresholds and anxiety levels. 

Please note I am not a professional, everyone has individual needs, and these are just example guidelines you can follow. However, for a supervised plan of action it is advised to consult with a mental health professional

These are just 2 examples. Depending on what gives you anxiety, you can set up a similar plan of action for your situation.

Driving Anxiety #

If you have anxiety when driving, which is actually very common, you can start off with an easy plan of exposure therapy. We will assume you cannot drive at all and start at the very beginning. 

Step #1: Get in the car, turn it on, and just sit there. That’s it. You will not be driving yet. Just sit there, adjust the mirrors, rev the car a little, turn on blinkers, press the brake, turn on the radio. Basically, you are just going to sit in the car and perform minor things you would normally do while driving. Sit there until you feel comfortable, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, there is no limit. It is up to you how long you want to be there. When you feel mentally carefree, you can go to the next step.

Do not sit there and be on your phone. You will need to have that driving mentality, be aware of your surroundings, think to yourself “you got this”. 

Do not think of it as wasting gas or time, because you are not, you are training your brain very slowly to get used to the idea of sitting in the car, and getting accustomed to the feeling of driving. 

You can do this step for as long as you want, until you feel ready for the next step. Usually, one day,  a few days or a week or even more would be ideal, depending on how severe your driving anxiety is.

Step #2: Drive up and down your own street, or around the block of your neighborhood, back and forth, over and over, slowly and safely. If you really want to start small you can just move the car a few feet.

Roll the windows down, get in that fresh air, inhale it, take it in! Fill your lungs with it, fill your lungs with life. 

You’ve sat in your car (step #1) a few days now, and now we can start driving around slowly, safely, and close to your home (safe zone). 

You may also take someone with you that wants to come along for the ride. Eventually though, you will want to do this alone. 

Drive for at least 30 minutes, or 1 hour or more! The more you do this, the more you will get accustomed to it. And again, do not think of this as wasting time or gas, think of it instead as investing time and money (for gas) on your own mental health. When you feel mentall carefree (and you will be), you can move on to next step.

Step #3: Now you expand. If you drove up and down your own street, or around your own block, now you can drive to the next street, or around the next block. If you feel good enough you can also drive around your own neighborhood. In circles, make a pattern, random streets nearby, it is up to you how you want to drive. Do it carefully and enjoy it! Realize you are doing this. And realize, driving around your own street or neighborhood is no different than driving 500 miles away from home.  Remember, mentally carefree!

Step #4: Now you can expand! You can either just drive out more and more out each day, little by little, or if you want to get structured you can create a custom route on google maps (Details Here), or set markers/locations on google map of places or “goals” you want to meet (How To). You can even set them by distance! For example, set a 1 mile location, a 2 mile location, 2.5 mile location, 3 mile locations etc.

You can also set apart 1 day and create 3 (1 mile) distance goals, the next day do 3 (2 mile) distance location goals, and etc. 

Once you are successfully meeting your location goals, try to deviate and just take random streets.

Tip: Taking random drives is awesome! In the mornings, at night, or anytime during the day. Going alone is awesome, bringing a friend is awesome as well. 

Step #5: By this time you get the deal. Expand slowly more and more, each time. If someone needs to go somewhere, volunteer to take them! Actively look for an excuse to be on the road more. You will conquer the road soon enough. You got this!

Tip: Music obviously helps. But so does peace and quiet sometimes. It helps to reflect on your life, be thankful, be grateful, cry if needed. Crying is immensely helpful during anxiety. For some reason it just seems to help let it all out. 

Going to the store or public places anxiety #

Many people get anxiety at the store or public places. First and foremost, you must be meeting and doing the 5 fundamentals. If you go to the store on an empty stomach your chances of getting anxiety will increase. If you did not sleep enough your anxiety will increase. It is important all 5 fundamentals are met!

At this point, you need to prepare and get your mindset ready to change. You are flipping that switch from “No, I dont want to go”, to “Sure, ill go, but I might just [insert the step you are in]” You will now be looking for any excuse to go with someone to the store or anyplace but you will start with these steps.

Step #1: Go to the store or place that gives you anxiety. You are going to just sit in the parking lot for a while. Sit in your car, in the parking lot, listen to music softly, observe the people going in and out, think about how everyone has different problems and things they all must be going through, yet they still exist. Try to be “in the moment” with life, meaning, think of where you are now, as you sit in the car, and where everyone else around you is, and in this small instance of life you all share the same moment. 

You will not get off today, you will just sit there, looking at the store, at the signs, at the advertisement posters they have. Someone took the time to create all of it for you. 

You can do this for as long as you want, for as many days as you want, until you feel mentally care free. Until your brain has accepted there is nothing wrong being there and you are not in danger.

Here you are switching from “No, I don’t want to go”, to “Sure, ill go, but I might just wait in the car if you don’t mind”

Once you feel ready you can move to step #2.

Step #2: Now you can get off your car. At this point, depending how severe your anxiety is, you can go alone or take someone with you. So you wont look weird or shady, taking someone with you might be a good choice for now. 

Basically, the idea is just to stand outside the store. You dont have to go in yet. Just stand outside, if they have benches sit in the bench. Absorb the moment. Try not to look at your phone. Remind yourself, this is your home, earth is your home, and being there is no different than being at home. If you take someone with you, they can go inside the store while you wait outside for them. Observe the people, the environment, the moment. Breathe deeply and enjoy the fresh air. You can stay at step #2 as long as you want, do it for a few days or even weeks. The goal is to go forward and not back. 

You can also do step #2 at pretty much any place you go to or accompany anyone to

Here you are switching from “No, I dont want to go”, to “Sure, ill go, but I might just wait outside by the door”

Step #3: Now its time to walk in to the store. You dont have to go “deep” in to the store just yet. You can just pick a few aisles, maybe stay close to the register or door. Usually, seeing the door seems to help ease anxiety. So if you like to can make it a goal to pick a few items to buy that are close to the front or close to the door. Make it small items, a bottled water, bubble gum, or anything really. It doesn’t matter what. You must think of this as an investment on your health.

Step #4: Now you can try going more and more into the store. Make a list of a few items to get and go for it. Breathe, relax, and remember this place exists for you. Everything you see exists for you. The advertisements, the products available to buy, the employees, are there for you. Right now, in this moment, at this exact point in the infinite scale of time, this is where you belong.

Step #5. Now I hope you get the idea, try going more and more into the store. Walk around the aisles, buy stuff you don’t need or that you do. Keep small things as trophies. It will be such a wonderful feeling when you lay in bed at night and think back about what you did, you will think “I can’t believe I just did that!” and you will be so glad you did. 

Tip: Sometimes, going into a new store and encountering new scents, like perfumes or foods, or hearing new noises in the environment, may trigger feelings of anxiety. I find the best thing to do is stop  what you are doing, take some nice deep slow breaths, and let your brain catch up to your body. After a minute or two, the feelings of anxiety subside as your body and brain sync. 

Creating a plan for other things that give you anxiety #

Read the above two exposure therapy plans for driving and going into stores for a general idea on how to create your own custom plan based on your own needs. Remember to start slow and steady. Slow and gradual exposure therapy seems to work better in the long run. 

Anxiety caused by worrying about the past or future #

A lot of the time we think about the mistakes made in the past or worry about things that may or may not happen in the future. One of the best videos I’ve seen that really helped me with this was this short 7 minute video I have personally  recommended to friends and family going through rough times:

5 Things Eckhart Tolle Said That Will Open Your Heart To The Magic All Around You

Although I have not purchased Mr. Eckhart Tolle’s full book entitled “The Power Of Now”, it might be worth considering if you found the above video helpful. 

Conclusion #

I hope the information presented to you here will help you on your journey to mental freedom and anxiety-free living. I know you are strong, I know you can do it, and it will be scary and frightening when you start “pushing through” and begin to break those walls that have held you back.