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The Anxiety Exposure Ladder: Climbing Towards Freedom

Exploring UK anxiety statistics reveals how many people need support, and the extent to which different demographics are affected by anxiety.

Anxiety Stats UK

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The Challenge

The Solution

Living with anxiety can be an overwhelming experience. The good news is that there are proven techniques and strategies to help individuals confront and overcome their fears/what might trigger them. One such method is the Anxiety Exposure Ladder, a powerful tool used in cognitive behavioural therapy that empowers people to face their anxieties step by step.

The Anxiety Exposure Ladder, also known as a fear hierarchy or anxiety hierarchy, is a structured approach to gradually confronting situations, objects, or thoughts that trigger anxiety. It's a bit like climbing a ladder, with each rung representing a different level of anxiety-inducing situations, starting from the least anxiety-provoking to the most challenging.

6 in 100

people in the UK will be diagnosed weekly with generalised anxiety disorder

8 milllion

people in the UK are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time


less than 50% of people with a generalised anxiety disorder access treatment


Estimated number of workers are affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety every year

Step 1. Identify Your Anxiety Triggers

Step 2. Create a Hierarchy

Step 3. Gradual Exposure

Step 4. Maintain a Journal/Diary

Step 5. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Step 6. Seek Professional Guidance

Step 7. Celebrate Success

The Anxiety Exposure Ladder: Climbing Towards Freedom

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Click on each step for more information

The Anxiety Exposure Ladder: Climbing Towards Freedom

It's important to remember, that your journey up the ladder might not always get you to the top, there'll be occassions where you fall down, or stumble, but thats ok! It doesn't mean you've failed, there's always a way back up!!

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Always remember Anxiety is a common human experience that can arise in response to various situations and challenges, and with the right support and coping strategies, it is manageable, allowing individuals to lead fulfilling lives.

  • The magic of the Anxiety Exposure Ladder is in its gradual approach. You begin by exposing yourself to the situation at the bottom of the ladder, the one that triggers the mildest anxiety. This could be something as simple as looking at a picture of what makes you anxious. As you face this situation repeatedly and begin to feel more comfortable, you move up the ladder to the next item, which triggers slightly higher anxiety. Another example of this might be, if a busy supermarket makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed, the bottom rung might be that you expose yourself to that situation at a quieter time, perhaps the last hour or first hour of opening.

Gradual Exposure

  • As you climb your ladder, don't forget to celebrate your victories, no matter how small they may seem. Each step upward is a significant achievement in your journey to conquer the specific anxiety pertinent to your ladder(s) but also, anxiety overall.

Celebrate Success

  • The first step is to identify what situations or stimuli trigger your anxiety. These could be specific phobias, social situations, or even internal thoughts and feelings that make you anxious

Indentifying your triggers

  • Keeping a journal to track your progress is crucial. Record your feelings and thoughts during each exposure, noting any changes in your anxiety levels.

Maintain a Journal/Diary

  • It's essential to incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation during each exposure. These techniques help you stay calm and manage your anxiety effectively. 5 second box breathing is also a fantastic technique to calm an anxious episode.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

  • Once you've identified your triggers, organize them into a ladder or list. Start with the least anxiety-inducing item at the bottom (the lowest rung) and place the most anxiety provoking situation at the top (the highest rung).

Create a Hierarchy

  • While the Anxiety Exposure Ladder can be a valuable self-help tool, it's often recommended to work with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counsellor, who can provide guidance, support, and feedback throughout the process. Please feel free to speak to our own Zen Mental Health ambassadors to discuss what tools we have available via the likes of Benenden etc.

Seek Professional Guidance