Anxiety disorders and related problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are among the most common mental health conditions and although effective therapies for these often debilitating disorders exist, many sufferers find them very difficult to engage with or complete.

Canadian researchers decided to look for ways to make treatment easier to handle for those who need it most.

The team focused on safety behaviours - things people do to make themselves feel less anxious.

"Giving patients greater agency is much more effective," said Adam Radomsky from Concordia University in a paper published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

The team followed 157 participants - ranging from people with low-level anxieties to those diagnosed with OCD - as they adapted old habits with new ones that they could use to avoid anxiety during exposure therapy.

The therapist exposed the participants to feared objects or situations without any danger.

The findings showed that using new safety behaviours during exposure therapy was slightly more helpful to participants than their usual or typical safety behaviours.

"Under the right conditions, safety behaviours have the potential to make the therapy more effective and more acceptable," added another researcher Hannah Levy.

The findings will help reduce the number of people who refuse or drop out of cognitive behavioural therapies and should result in more people getting the help that they need, the authors noted.

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