This approach involves three parts:
Learning relaxation skills
First, your therapist will teach you a relaxation technique, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing. You’ll practice in therapy and on your own at home. Once you start confronting your fears, you’ll use this relaxation technique to reduce your physical anxiety response (such as trembling and hyperventilating) and encourage relaxation.
Creating a step-by-step list
Next, you’ll create a list of 10 to 20 scary situations that progress toward your final goal. For example, if you final goal is to overcome your fear of flying, you might start by looking at photos of planes and end with taking an actual flight. Each step should be as specific as possible, with a clear, measurable objective.
Working through the steps
Under the guidance of your therapist, you’ll then begin to work through the list. The goal is to stay in each scary situation until your fears subside. That way, you’ll learn that the feelings won’t hurt you and they do go away. Every time the anxiety gets too intense, you will switch to the relaxation technique you learned. Once you’re relaxed again, you can turn your attention back to the situation. In this way, you will work through the steps until you’re able to complete each one without feeling overly distressed.