Exposure Therapy

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a form of CBT, and is aimed at maladaptive, excessive, or unreasonable anxiety. That is, for example, someone with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) will touch a doorknob, and they’ll think, “Oh, if I touch this doorknob, I might get a disease like HIV.” So again, the anxiety is out of proportion to the actual experience.

The intention in exposure therapy is to get your brain to signal you in a more accurate way. In an anxiety disorder, your anxiety system is giving you misinformation. It’s giving you information that you’re in danger when you’re,in fact, not in danger.

So exposure therapy — the idea is that we have you systematically confront your fears: go into those situations that are causing you anxiety. The idea is that you don’t leave that situation and you don’t do anything to protect yourself. It’s a very difficult treatment because your anxiety actually feels like it’s increasing in the moment, and it is increasing in the moment.

As that bad thing doesn’t happen, the feared consequence doesn’t happen, your brain starts to learn something new — “Oh, bad things don’t happen in the situation the way that I thought” — and your anxiety naturally starts to come down on its own. And that’s what we think is helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

So with repeated exposures to those kinds of situations — where you go into the situation, you don’t escape, you don’t protect yourself — your anxiety will go down on its own, and you’ll have less anxiety in future similar situations.

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Five Ways to Prioritize Self-Care During the Holidays

  1. Exercise!  Exercise is a natural mood-booster, helping to reduce stress, promote concentration, and kick depression to the curb. In only 10 minutes of exercise, your brain will begin to produce serotonin and dopamine—the same hormones targeted by antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. The holidays are busy, and it’s easy to skip your workout in order to make time for seasonal activities… but even if you can only carve out time for a 10-minute walk, it’s important to maintain the healthy habit of daily exercise.
  2. Get grateful. The simple act of asking yourself, “What am I grateful for?” promotes the development of serotonin and dopamine in your brain… even if you can’t come up with an answer! Get into the habit of thinking of something you’re grateful for at the end of every day—it will help keep you grounded in the spirit of the holiday season, while promoting a more stable and upbeat mood.
  3. Sleep well.  Staying up late to wrap presents or to enjoy the company of friends and family at a party is par for the course during the holiday season. But don’t let your late nights get out of hand. Lack of sleep can cause weight gain, irritability, and heightened stress levels. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, eliminate caffeine after 2 p.m., exercise daily, and avoid eating for at least three hours before going to bed.
  4. Avoid emotional eating and drinking. The holidays aren’t joyful for everyone. Whether grieving the loss of a loved one, anticipating tense interactions with family, or experiencing financial hardship, the holidays often go hand-in-hand with higher stress levels and hard-to-handle emotions. And that’s okay… but allow yourself to feel these feelings, rather than use food or alcohol to avoid them. The more you sit with your emotions, the easier it will get to process them in a productive way.
  5. Stay present in the moment.  Each moment is a gift… that’s why they call it the present. Give yourself the gift of the present moment this holiday season. When you begin to get sucked into the stress of party planning and baking and shopping and wrapping… stop, and focus on something you feel good about right there in that moment.

Remember, most of the standards we hold ourselves to during the holiday season are self-imposed. Instead of creating stress, give yourself permission to sit back and relax a bit more. Ten, 20 or 30 years from now, you won’t remember that pecan pie you baked from scratch, or how you wrapped each gift with a perfectly spiraling ribbon; you’ll remember the good times you spent with your family and friends, laughing, and making memories.

 

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