If your anxiety is triggered by a particular event and you are not a heavy drinker or taking high doses of sedatives, then you may be able to cure yourself by following the guidelines designed by Professor Isaac Marks.
If you have a medical condition such as heart disease, asthma, colitis or peptic ulcer, anxiety may exacerbate your symptoms, so you should first consult your GP before embarking on the course.
- Write down precisely and specifically what frightens you. For example: “I worry about dirt and germs, so I wash my hands all day,” or “I panic whenever I go out of doors alone, and so I stay indoors unless I have an escort.” Do not use general statements such as “I am a bundle of nerves.”
- For each fear you have specified, write clearly what you want to achieve: “I want to be able to touch the floor, my shoes, the dustbin, without washing my hands,” or “I want to spend two hours a week shopping alone at the nearest shops.”
- Write down the benefits to your life of achieving these aims: “I can hug my child ren without being frightened of giving them germs,” or “I will be able to get a job.”
- Set aside a regular time for your homework.
- Record what you do.
- Make a firm commitment not to run away from the situation which frightens you.
- Find someone to offer moral support if you feel that will help.
- Rank the forms your phobia takes on the following scale:
- 0: Would not avoid the situation or object.
- 2: Would rather avoid it.
- 4: Would try to avoid it.
- 6: Would definitely avoid it.
- 8: Would avoid it at all costs.
- Write down your problems and aims alongside each other in order of priority: to begin with you should set yourself relatively easy goals that you feel you are likely to be able to accomplish.
- Write a timetable for yourself, gradually building up to the most difficult aims, and leave space to record what happened immediately after each session. Each time, write down how you felt about the fear, using your scale of 0 to 8. Revise your plans each week in the light of progress.
- Plan your tactics for coping with the fear you will inevitably suffer. Write statements on small cards that you can carry around, which will help you recognize panic and cope with it. For example:
- I feel horribly tense. I must tense all my muscles as much as I can, then relax them, then tense them up again, then relax them, until slowly I feel easier.
- I must breathe slowly and steadily and gradually learn to deal with the situation. I feel terrible, but it will pass.
- I have to stay here until I can tolerate this panic, even if it takes an hour. Meanwhile, let me experience the fear as deliberately and fully as possible.
- I am so terrified, but I will get over this in time.
- I am so embarrassed, but it’s something I’ll have to get used to.
- Write down the sensations you feel when you are frightened: “I want to scream or run away,” or “I freeze in my tracks.” Use these sensations as signals to employ n the coping devices above.
- Imagine yourself in the situation and use the cards to help you cope. Continue to do this gradually until the idea bores, rather than terrifies you.
- Stick to your timetable.
Rules for each session
- Before starting each session, plan exactly which aims you are going to achieve.
- Leave enough time — up to several hours if necessary.
- During the session, remember to use the coping tactics you have chosen. At the end of each session, record what you have achieved, write down the next session’s program, and the date and time you plan to carry it out.
- Remember that anxiety is unpleasant but not harmful.
- It is very important not to run away from the situation.
- Encourage yourself to face fear.
- The longer the time you face the situation, the better.
- The more rapidly you confront the worst, the quicker your fear will subside.
Carry on until you find that you have forgotten what you used to feel about those things which used to terrify you.