Recovery Tips

Exposures for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

April 4, 2023

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As a therapist, I have found that exposure therapy can be a highly effective treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about a wide range of life events and situations. 

While it may seem counterintuitive to intentionally expose someone to the things they fear, exposure therapy can help people with GAD minimize the symptoms of anxiety and regain control over their lives.

Reducing safety behaviors during exposure therapy

One of the key components of exposure therapy for GAD is reducing those safety behaviors. Safety behaviors are actions that people take to avoid or minimize the anxiety they feel in response to a trigger. 

For example, someone with GAD may avoid social situations to protect themselves from feeling embarrassed or judged. Another individual with GAD may constantly check their phone for reassurance that nothing bad has happened. While safety behaviors may provide temporary relief, they ultimately reinforce the belief that the feared situation is dangerous which can lead to more anxiety in the long run.

In exposure therapy, the person is gradually exposed to a feared situation or trigger in a controlled and supportive environment. The therapist may start with less anxiety-provoking situations and gradually work up to more challenging ones. During the exposure, the person is encouraged to resist the urge to engage in safety behaviors.This requires them to experience anxiety without resorting to avoidance or reassurance seeking. Scary, I know. 

However, over time, exposure therapy can help people with GAD learn that the feared situation is not as dangerous as they originally believed. By repeatedly confronting their fears and resisting safety behaviors, they can develop new, more adaptive beliefs and coping strategies. This can lead to a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms and an improved quality of life.

Challenges of exposure therapy

One of the challenges of exposure therapy is that it is often uncomfortable and even scary at times. However, the role of the therapist is to provide support and guidance throughout the process. The therapist can help the person realize that they are able to sit with discomfort and that it is not dangerous.

It is important to note that exposure therapy should always be tailored to the individual’s needs and comfort levels. The therapist should work collaboratively with the person to create a treatment plan that is safe and effective.

Exposure therapy to build resilience and confidence

In addition to reducing safety behaviors, exposure therapy can also help people with GAD build resilience and confidence. By confronting their fears and learning to tolerate discomfort, they can develop a sense of mastery and control over their anxiety. This can translate to other areas of their life, leading to increased self-esteem and a greater sense of accomplishment.

While exposure therapy is ideally undergone with the supervision of a licensed professional, I know that finding a therapist is not always so simple. If you are looking to learn more about doing exposures on your own, check out my podcast episode, The “Must Haves” of ERP. And if you need more to chew on for this topic, my “GAD or OCD? Does It Matter?” masterclass would be right up your alley. Click here to learn more about the GAD vs OCD masterclass (it will truly blow your mind).
If you or someone you know is struggling with GAD, know that there is help available. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to overcome anxiety and live a fulfilling life.

P.S. You CAN do this.

I’m rooting you on SO dang hard. 


Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as mental health or medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional advice of your own professional mental health or medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical or mental health professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

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