When people have anxieties or fears, they naturally avoid whatever causes this feeling. However, gradual exposure is a common methodology used by counselors and psychologists. This encourages individuals to gradually expose themselves to their feared situation in order to decrease this fear over time. The American Psychological Association defines exposure therapy as, “creating a safe environment to ‘expose’ individuals to the things they fear and avoid” (APA, 2017). When exposing people to their fears in a safe environment, “it can help reduce fear and decrease avoidance” (APA, 2017).
I don’t think there are many of us who can claim we haven’t had some fear during the current COVID crisis. It has forced us to ask ourselves, “What if I get COVID or one of my loved ones gets COVID?” And for many of us, that question alone brings up anxiety. As many states are now re-opening, I find myself talking with many clients about “new” situations, where we have to ask ourselves, “Am I okay with this?” Examples might be a trip to the beach, a backyard party, or an indoor church service. It’s obvious that there are many differing opinions with how these events should be handled, and this article is not meant to hash out any of these differences, but rather to encourage you to ask yourself, ‘”What might gradual exposure look like for me in this scenario? “
If you are invited to a party that immediately invokes fear, and yet you desire to reconnect with the people attending that party, ask yourself, “How can I expose myself to this situation and feel as safe as possible?” As we re-acclimate to an ever-changing world, I think we will need to get more comfortable asking ourselves these questions in hopes that we will help reduce fear and live more freely moving forward.