Mental Health Series: Exposure Therapy

When someone is depressed, they want to listen to sad music and lay in bed all day. When they are anxious, they want to avoid all situations that could cause anxiety; they may even avoid friends. If one is angry, they want to lash out at everything possible. If an individual feels any guilt or shame, they want to hide, avoid the situation or beg for forgiveness too many times. When a person is feeling unstable, they want to do the things that will make it worse. It is human instinct, and it is not healthy.
To help myself manage my social anxiety disorder, I immersed myself in something called exposure therapy. This therapy had me rate my fears and slowly make my way up the list, engaging in the fearful situations to develop resistance to them. I had to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Have you ever considered doing the opposite of your usual response to your emotions? In DBT, the opposite action skill is a deliberate attempt to act opposite of your emotion urge. If your emotions are doing more harm than good, try acting opposite.
If you are just starting out with this technique, practice with less intense emotions first. Begin by identifying your emotion and the action urge associated with that emotion. Then, ask yourself if your emotion fits the facts and if acting on this emotion and urge is effective. Do you want to change your emotion? Identify the opposite action and do the opposite action fully. Finally, repeat doing so until the emotion decreases enough for you to notice. Once you have mastered this process, move on to more intense and problematic feelings so you can better cope with your emotions.
1) Do what you are afraid of doing over, and over, and over … and over.
2) Approach events, places, tasks, activities and people you are afraid of.
3) Do things to give yourself a sense of control over your fears.
Fear: If you feel afraid, approach the stimulus that gives you anxiety. Try confronting your fear. Do things to increase your sense of control and build mastery over your fear. You can repeatedly expose yourself to what you are afraid of in order to desensitize yourself.
Anger: If you are mad, take a brief vacation from the situation or person that you’re angry with. This means avoiding someone who you are frustrated with if you feel the urge to attack them. Also consider deep breathing exercises to calm down. Try to have sympathy or empathy for the other person; find the “nugget of truth” that you are able to focus on in order to feel even a small amount of sympathy.
Sadness: If you are feeling down, approach rather than avoid the situation you’re upset with. Like dealing with fear, you want to build mastery over your emotion. Do not isolate yourself from others; get out and do something to keep yourself busy!
Shame: If the shame fits the facts, then face the music. Apologize and repair the harm if you can. You need to accept the consequences of your actions and learn from them for the future. It is also important to forgive yourself and let it go. If the shame does not fit the facts, then you should participate fully in social interactions and go public with your personal characteristics or behaviors.
Guilt: If your guilt fits the facts, then experience the guilt. Ask, but don’t beg, for forgiveness and accept the consequences. Try to repair the transgression and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If your guilt does not fit the facts, then do not apologize or try to make up for it. Instead, change your body posture, walk tall and maintain eye contact and speak with a steady and clear voice.
This may not help immediately, but over time you will notice a difference. Stay dedicated. If you are depressed, then try taking a shower, talking to some friends or listening to happy music even if it irritates you. If you are anxious, then do little things to expose yourself to your fears. You are in control and able to help yourself.