Individuals with elevated anxiety sensitivity (AS) interpret physical sensations related to anxiety as an indication of impending illness, embarrassment, loss of control or other dire consequence. Those with preexisting anxiety disorders report elevated levels of AS, while prospective studies of nonclinical samples have suggested that AS precedes the development of anxiety symptoms, spontaneous panic attacks, and anxiety disorders. Unlike most anxiety risk factors that cannot be easily altered, AS has been shown to be ameliorated with treatment. While the focus on AS reduction in the treatment of preexisting anxiety disorders has been shown to be effective, there has been much less focus on the reduction of AS among those at risk for anxiety disorders. More attention focused on the potential prevention of these disorders could have far reaching effects and is warranted. The proposed study would build upon a previous investigation by Schmidt et al. (2007) in which participants with elevated AS completed either a one session intervention aimed at reducing their AS or a health education control condition. The active condition provided participants with psychoeducation regarding anxiety related physical sensations and also encouraged them to engage in interoceptive exposure (IE). IE is thought to be an essential component of AS reduction and involves repeated exposure to uncomfortable bodily sensations until habituation is achieved. Individuals in the active condition evidenced a reduction in AS and were less likely to develop problems with anxiety at follow-up. Participants were provided with instruction regarding how to complete IE and encouraged to practice on their own;however, their use of IE was not assessed. Thus, it is plausible that participants in the active condition did not carry out the IE exercises as instructed and therefore the potency of this intervention was not maximized. The current study will utilize a similar one session two condition design with similar psychoeducational content;however, the IE will be briefly practiced with a study therapist and the participants'compliance with practicing these exercises will be monitored through follow-up. It is believed that the demonstration and practice of IE with a therapist has the potential to bolster the effectiveness of this treatment while the monitoring of homework will allow an assessment of the potency of IE. Additionally, the reduction of AS will be assessed both through self-report via the Anxiety Sensitivity Inventory and through a biological challenge (i.e. CO2 response). AS affords the mental health community access to a malleable risk factor for anxiety and related disorders. By examining a brief treatment for AS, this study will provide critical knowledge regarding how to briefly and effectively reduce AS and potentially prevent these disorders.
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