Anxiety involves fear or worry about bad things happening if you experience a thing or event. Energy is spent avoiding the thing/event, and then the fear or worry is eased. You feel less anxious, which makes you feel better. However, avoiding the thing/event can make it harder to function. Imagine a man who is too afraid to get on a plane even though his children live in another country. Exposure allows you to confront the avoided thing/event in a controlled way, and you are given a mental "tool box" to help decrease your anxiety while you are doing it.
One example is exposure for arachnophobia (fear of spiders).
A CBT therapist might first have you think about a spider. Next, they may show you a cartoon image of a spider on TV. Later, you see a more realistic cartoon image. Still later, a realistic looking drawing, then a photo. Eventually, you are able to go in a room with a non-poisonous spider in a cage, and you may be asked to step closer and closer. Finally, you might even be able to put your hand in the cage and let the spider crawl on your arm without experiencing extreme anxiety. The goal is not to be a spider tamer, but to be able to live without having to cross the street at the sight of a spider. All the while, you are learning to face spiders, while thinking and acting in ways to lower your anxiety as you face them.
For more information on anxiety and phobia
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