Hi. It’s Jenny at AnxietyBoss.com. Our question today is from Theo in Westfall, Indiana. I’ve heard about the idea of baby steps to get help and relief from anxiety attacks. Can you tell me a little bit more about it and where I should go to learn more in detail?
Are you referring to systematic desensitization? This is an evidence based, very effective and gradual method of managing panic attacks. It involves intensive work with a therapist and compliance with homework assignments that the therapist will give you. The way the process works is through very gradual exposure to the feared stimuli that are inducing panic attacks and replacing the learned response of panic with relaxation or indifference.
Here’s an example. Let’s imagine someone has severe anxiety which is manifested as panic attacks and led to agoraphobia or the fear of public places which has now become to the point where the person cannot even leave their home or is confined to a single room in their home.
The therapist may have to make a house call, and there are programs where they do that. You’ll have to do an internet search in your area or contact your PCP or primary care physician for a referral or your local mental health clinic for a referral. The therapist will come to the house and will teach the person relaxation techniques such as DB or diaphragmatic breathing, which you can learn to control your breathing to prevent or manage a panic attack. Breath in through the nose for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and out through your mouth for four seconds. Using this method to prevent panic, the person may take very small steps, literally, to leave their home.
Step one, open the door to the room that you’re confined in and look, keep breathing. Now close the door and go back to your safe room. Continue this until you can look out the door without panic. Step two, step outside the room and stay there as long as you can tolerate, breathe, go back into your safe room. Step three, sit in another room as long as you can tolerate, and so on until you’re looking out the front window, opening the front door, standing on the front porch, walking down the driveway, walking to the end of the block, and eventually you’re able to leave your home and function in the community.
This is a very gradual process which can take months. It does work and it’s a non-drug method of treating anxiety. No medications are used; however, the process can be sped up and is even more effective when combined with antianxiety medication.