Scared of spiders?
It sounds strange, but being shown one at the exact time of your heartbeat might help.
And the approach could be applied to any other phobia – whether that's clowns, heights or even types of food.
An author of a new study describing the intervention said most of us have phobias, and while current treatments usually involved exposing people to their fears, these could take a long time.
"Our work shows that how we respond to our fears can depend on whether we see them at the time our heart beats, or between heartbeats," said Professor Hugo Critchley, chair of psychiatry at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.
"You could say we're within a heartbeat of helping people beat their phobias."
In phobias, disproportionately intense, disabling anxiety is induced by specific situations or triggers.
Treatment is often prolonged and involves a graded exposure to fear-evoking stimuli, but has made some progress in recent years through the use of computerised therapy.
Critchley and his team were able to show how phobias could be treated more effectively by linking this to the patients' own heart rhythms.
The new research had previously revealed how bodily arousal signals that occur with each individual heartbeat can change the emotional impact of potential threats, for example, when experienced during a heartbeat they can appear greater.
In a proof-of-concept clinical trial, computerised exposure therapy for spider phobia was combined with online measurements of heartbeats.
For one group of patients, pictures of spiders were presented in time with heartbeats, while for another patient group, pictures of spiders were presented in-between heartbeats.
A third control group saw spiders randomly in the therapy sessions.
Although there was some improvement among all patients, as you would expect in exposure therapy, those individuals exposed to spiders in time with their own heartbeats showed a greater reduction in self-reported fear of spiders, anxiety levels and their physiological responses to spiders.
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