ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Systematic Desensitization: A "How-To" Guide

Updated on April 20, 2012

Systematic Desensitization is a technique employed in Psychotherapy to treat Phobias and Anxiety and related disorders e.g Social Anxiety and phobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Panic Attacks, OCD, Claustrophobia, Agoraphobia, Acrophobia and many more related disorders. Systematic desensitization is an effective exercise which aims to "desensitize" the senses to dreaded stimuli and situations. It brings back control into the life of someone who feels scared and out of balance and who is yearning for a wisp of control over fear and life!

Living in perpetual fear is a tough deal. And when the fear is either unrealistic or exaggerated or the source of fear is elusive, it becomes tougher still. Surrounded by "normal" persons who step into the elevator without breaking stride or conversation while your heart is pounding in your chest, drumming in your ears and thudding in your head while you contemplate ways and excuses to take the stairs, you feel alone and miserable and abnormal and it hurts goddammit, it HURTS!

Ask someone who has suffered the feeling of intense fear associated with panic, anxiety or phobia, and they will tell you that its worse than anything in the world. Its like living with a twin barrel gun sticking down your throat ALL THE TIME. Not comfortable. Is it?

The good news is that its possible to overcome these feelings of exaggerated and unbearable fear which deters you from a normal and healthy lifestyle. It will take a bit of time and patience. It will take determination and doggedness. But it will be done. Another good thing is that, people who suffer these neuroses are generally intelligent and ambitious people. So odds are that they will win the battle.

How To perform Systematic Desensitization on Yourself

  • The most important step when starting to work on a program to cure your mind of fears is to gather data. So, make a list of all the situations and things that scare you. Once you have the list, start working with the point of least resistance: the situation you fear the LEAST. This way, you'll have a better chance of succeeding with minimal effort and a success is going to reinforce positive beliefs about your capabilities.
  • Reserve an hour in the day for the exercise, preferably a quiet time in the day. I would suggest you avoid doing it at bedtime. The reason is that you don't want to do something radically proactive at night: it may interfere with sleep.
  • Find and dedicate a quiet, peaceful corner for the practice.
  • Sit or lay yourself down and relax as much as possible. Take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing takes you into a relaxed state so that you are more likely to focus your mind.
  • Now imagine the least dreaded situation. Visualize it. Lets say, for instance, that you are scared of enclosed spaces. And you want to get over the fear of subways and tunnels and cars and elevators. Now out of these situations, pick the one which is relatively less frightening. And visualize yourself there.
  • Out of the above situations in the example, let's suppose sitting in the car is the least bothersome. So what you do is visualize a calm, relaxed and normal "you" sitting in the car.
  • Divide the situation into scenes for maximum benefit. Visualize yourself getting out into the garage, and imagine that you are totally relaxed doing that. Now try relaxing your muscles and calming yourself down while visualizing yourself in the garage.... Repeat the exercise till you are fairly in control and relaxed imagining the situation. Take your time. Remember it might take a few days of practice to get the hang of it.
  • Now go to the next scene. Play it like a movie in your head. You now open the door of the car and climb in. Calmly. Visualize yourself totally relaxed and cool about the journey. Relax yourself with the vision. Relax your muscles. Keep your breathing steady. Now repeat this a few times.
  • Keep visualizing each step of the situation and visualize a successful culmination of the task. Every time you do it, imagine that you are actually doing what you fear, without being fearful.
  • Once you have learned the art of visualization and also practiced relaxing yourself for a couple of weeks, try doing the dreaded thing for real. You'll find that you are much less tense while actually doing it. The idea is rehearsal for the show. You teach yourself to face the fear by facing it in small increments over time and in your head.
  • Keep working on your technique. Refine it. Modify it to suit your specific needs. Be creative. But... Don't quit it. Even if you stumble a bit on the way.

You will undoubtedly face obstacles on the way to recovery. Be prepared for that. But never ever believe that you aren't going to make it. because you WILL.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)