If you suffer from emetophobia, you may spend a decent amount of time avoiding anything that may trigger your phobia. You might skip work functions where alcohol is present, turn off TV shows when a character gets ill, or throw out food when it gets even slightly close to its expiration date. The problem is that behaviours like these can actually make your phobia worse—the more we avoid something, the more frightening it can seem.
This logic is what lies behind one of the most effective treatments for phobias: exposure therapy. Though it might sound daunting, facing your triggers head on is often the only way to overcome your fear for good.
You might be surprised to learn that you can do exposure therapy at home by yourself. As long as you stick to a few rules, it can be a very effective way to start managing your phobia. Read on to find out exactly what you need to do. We’ve even included a handy worksheet at the end!
What is exposure therapy?
Exposure therapy is a treatment method that involves gradually confronting ideas, situations or objects that cause you some kind of mental distress. Our brains have an impressive ability to adapt to new realities. When you repeatedly confront a trigger and it doesn’t have the expected catastrophic outcome, your mind becomes desensitised to it. As a result, gradual but consistent exposure to feared stimuli can have a number of positive outcomes:
- It breaks patterns of avoidance
- It reduces the impact of triggers
- It diminishes the fear response
Of course, confronting triggers is no easy feat. One must therefore approach exposure therapy with a great deal of care and consideration—it is not the type of thing you should jump into. Take each step gradually, and make sure you have a number of coping mechanisms available to you for when you feel your stress levels rise.
How do I start exposure therapy for emetophobia?
The first step on your exposure therapy journey is to create an exposure hierarchy. Now, even this process can be tricky or uncomfortable, so take your time. Your exposure hierarchy is a list of ideas, situations or tasks that trigger your emetophobia.
As these are things you one day want to confront, you should make them into something actionable. For example, if you are triggered by the sound of somebody being sick, the activity on your list could be, “listen to an audio clip of someone being sick”. This works as an exposure therapy activity because it can be performed in a safe space, you have the ability to stop at any time, and it is repeatable.
When compiling your list, give each activity a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being “slightly distressing” and 10 being “incredibly distressing”. When you start the exposure process, you will begin with the activities that score 1. Set yourself up in a secure environment, attempt to complete the activity, utilise any calming techniques you require and give yourself a period of recovery. Depending on how it goes, you may want to repeat the activity again in a couple of hours, a day, or a week.
Be aware that the activities you rate as a 10 probably seem completely out of the question at this point—that is totally normal. Exposure therapy takes time and patience and you shouldn’t rush yourself to complete your list. You may even find that you never get to those activities at the more distressing end of the scale. This doesn’t matter, because even small gains can make a difference to your day-to-day life.
Exposure therapy guidelines
At-home exposure therapy is only suitable for people with milder forms of emetophobia. If you find the process too distressing, you should stop immediately and seek the guidance of a trained therapist.
As exposure therapy causes a certain level of distress by it’s very nature, it’s really important that you follow certain guidelines when attempting this kind of treatment. Keep the following points in mind…
- You set the boundaries: only you know what you can really handle, so create a hierarchy that is personal to your experience of emetophobia.
- Stop if it gets too much: a certain level of discomfort is expected, but you should quit if the distress feels unmanageable.
- Give yourself breaks: even if the process is going well, give yourself plenty of time to recover after each activity.
- Be accountable: set yourself goals and consider telling a trusted person what you want to achieve.
- Keep it safe: do not choose any activities that put your physical or mental health at risk, or from which you cannot escape.
Finally, if you are unsure whether exposure therapy is suitable for you, consult a health professional before proceeding.
Your exposure hierarchy worksheet
Ready to give exposure therapy for emetophobia a go? Use the worksheet below to create your exposure hierarchy.
Exposure therapy for emetophobia
For individuals with mild to moderate emetophobia, exposure therapy can be an effective and empowering treatment. Showing yourself that you can face your triggers and overcome the negative feelings they produce will build your confidence and make your phobia much more manageable.
Want to try exposure therapy but would prefer to have the guidance of a professional? Most therapists that treat phobias will be able to arrange this for you. Services like ManageMinds offer online therapy in single sessions or discounted bundles, so it’s a good place to start.