It’s tempting to avoid feared situations or rely on emotional props to get by. But this just feeds anxiety. The best way to build confidence is to face what you fear.
The more you avoid dreaded situations or fall back on behaviours that make you feel safe, the harder it is to go into similar situations in the future. But learn to face your fears in a managed way, and you’ll see you can cope and start to feel more confident again.
Who can benefit?
Anyone struggling with fear and anxiety, including panic, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social fear or trauma.
How to use it
The key is to start small and slowly build up. This lets you build up your confidence doing the easier things, before moving onto things you find harder. If at any point it feels too much, simply slow down or scale back what you’re doing.
1. Define your fear
Start by describing your fear. For example, it might be social situations that make you anxious or you might be terrified of cats. Then list all the things you avoid or struggle with because of your anxiety. Be specific and make sure you cover the full spectrum of fear, from things you find least worrying to the scariest.
Example: fear of social situations
- I avoid eye contact with parents I recognise at my daughter’s school.
- I’ve stopped going into the local newsagent’s because it involves talking to the shop keeper.
- I refuse lunch invitations from workmates because I dread social gatherings.
- I always turn down invitations to parties.
2. Rate your fear
Rate each item on your list according to how anxious it makes you feel from 0 (low anxiety) to 10 (high anxiety). Now arrange your list according to difficulty so you have a ladder, with the things that make you feel least anxious at the bottom and those that make you feel most anxious at the top. These are your goals or the steps you need to take to climb the ladder and reach your final goal of where you want to be. Goal: to overcome my cat phobia that’s stopping me from going to my boyfriend’s house.
From most anxious to least anxious: Touch a cat. Stand near a cat. Approach a cat. Stay put if the cat approaches me. Be in the same room as a cat. Enter a house with a cat. Walk past a cat in the street without crossing over. Watch a cat from the other side of the street or from my doorway. Watch a film about cats. Look at pictures of cats.
3. Think small
To make the steps more manageable, think about breaking them down into smaller steps. You might plan gradually to increase the length of time you do something, or wean yourself off some of the behaviours you use to keep yourself safe. These behaviours are what psychologists call safety behaviours and they stop us from learning that we can manage on our own. Think of any behaviours you rely on to get by, from staying silent in a group of people, using alcohol to calm your nerves, reciting songs in your head or leaving the moment you feel anxious. Decide how you might phase these out – and build it into your plan. Your aim is to do more of what you were avoiding and less of the safety behaviours you use to get by. Be specific in what you are trying to achieve and remember to say when and for how long.
Goal: socialise with my work mates
Step 1: Join my work mates for lunch instead of eating at my desk. Go for 20 minutes and start a conversation with the person sitting next to me. Step 2: Once I feel comfortable with this, stay for half an hour and address at least one comment to the group. Step 3: Go to the Friday night work social with my friend. Make an effort to talk to at least one person I don’t know. Step 4: Go to an evening social without my friend. Stay for half an hour and make conversation with at least one person. The trick is to keep practising. Try to make the most of everyday opportunities, such as arriving earlier than you normally would, or practising when you go down to the shops, by the coffee machine at work or during that chance enounter with someone you know.
4. Deal with anxious predictions
It’s often the dread of what might happen that stokes up our anxiety. Rather than getting caught up in anxious predictions, write the thought down. Tell yourself you are going to test it out. But before you do, write down what else could happen that might not be as bad. Then use this to write a more realistic prediction. Try our thought balancing exercise to help you.
5. Pace yourself
Now you’re ready to start on your plan. Begin with the easiest step at the bottom of the ladder. Remember, you need to encourage yourself to go ahead even though you’re feeling a bit anxious. Keep practising this step until you start to feel more comfortable. You’ll notice over time your anxiety will start to subside, though it probably won’t go away altogether. Once you feel more confident, try moving onto the next step. If it’s not working try scaling back what you’re doing or breaking it down into smaller steps. Look to see if there are any safety behaviours you are using that may be holding you back.
6. Check your progress
At the end of each step, check your predictions and rate your anxiety to see how it’s changed. Did it work out better than you expected? How do you feel about doing it now? Seeing how far you’ve come can a good confidence booster. Each time you make progress, give yourself a reward. You’ve managed something you couldn’t have done before, which must be worth celebrating. Share your successes with people who care about you.
Things to remember
- Make your goals specific, achievable and measurable.
- Give yourself a time scale.
- Repeat each step until you are feeling comfortable.
- Reward yourself and share your successes with those who care about you.
- If things don’t go as planned, congratulate yourself for trying.
- Be ready to amend your plan if it’s not working out.
This article is part of our TogetherAll article series where we highlight content available on the TogetherAll platform. TogetherAll is FREE for all FFWPU-UK members. For more information, please visit: https://familyfedcommunity.co.uk/togetherall/