Part 2 - (Hope it's okay for me to double post like this, but I couldn't see any way to shorten my post without losing important information from it - so I had to split it in two due to the 10,000 character limit!)
On the 13th of this month (December 2017) I decided to suck it up and start doing exposure therapy again myself. I started an exposure therapy/social anxiety journal. In the journal, I write down the following things:
- Steps taken (This is what I've done to face my anxiety)
- Results (How did it go? How anxious did I feel? Was it as bad as I expected? etc)
- Medication taken (I'm prescribed Alprazolam and Propranolol to take as needed - so I thought it helpful to note down if I take those on any particular days, as if my anxiety is particularly low, it's helpful to know if it was due to getting comfortable in a situation, or just because I was medicated at the time)
- Notes (Other general notes I might have, like if my medication dose was sufficient if I took any, what I should do tomorrow to face my anxiety, any cognitive distortions I noticed, etc)
Every day I force myself to do at least one thing, no matter how small, to face my anxiety. I started with the lowest thing on my exposure hierarchy, which was going to the shops alone. It was about a 5/10 when I started, since I'd managed to do it a handful of times over the prior months thanks to a supplement called Ashwagandha reducing my anxiety.
I've forced myself to face it every day and leave the house every day, and after 10 days of doing this, it worked. My reported anxiety was now 1.5/10, or less than the 2/10 needed to cross off that activity and move up to the next step on my exposure hierarchy. I expected this to be a slow gruelling process that took months just to move from step to step, but it isn't. I think the important thing is facing your fears EVERY day, no exceptions, because this rapid repeated exposure is what gets quick and meaningful results.
I've now moved on to the next step, night time walks, which are currently about a 5/10 for me, or about the same as going to the shops was 11 days ago when I started this process. I will keep going on them until they too are a 1.5/10, and then I will move on to the next step, and so on. So far it's been going fantastic, and I know without a doubt now that I will once again conquer my anxiety to the point of being able to lead a normal social life. I honestly think it'll happen a lot quicker than expected too, because I had no idea I could make progress this fast!
I'll be sure to post an update in here further along in my exposure therapy trials.
If you are considering exposure therapy, or have done it before but had bad experiences, make sure you do it right. I suggest creating an exposure hierarchy, and EVERY SINGLE DAY, no exceptions, facing the lowest thing on the hierarchy, until it gets to 2/10 on the anxiety scale and can be crossed off, and you move up to the next one.
When you do that, don't stop facing the thing you crossed off, just don't make it a priority anymore. You still need to face it occasionally, or that anxiety number will creep up from lack of exposure - unless of course higher things on the hierarchy also encompass it (for example, if leaving the house is the bottom item on your hierarchy, then you're technically facing it when doing things higher up on the hierarchy like going to a party or a friend's house etc - since you're leaving the house there too).
If you don't have a therapist, don't wait until you get one. All you need is a pen and paper or a document on your computer, a few minutes to create a 10-15 item list, and the dedication to do at least one small thing every day to face your anxiety. I promise you, if you follow through, and do it right, this is the best treatment you'll find.
You cannot overcome any fear without facing it, period. If you do face it though, you can, and will, eventually become comfortable enough with it to at least lead a relatively normal life.
Oh and just in case anyone's curious, here's a sample from my social anxiety journal, an entry from a couple of days ago, to maybe give some of you ideas on your own journals: