Rewarding Bravery

It takes courage, perseverance and hard work to fight back against anxiety. As your start to take important steps towards bossing back your anxiety via making changes in what you do (e.g. stopping avoiding activities or situations, and/or having the courage to do more things), as well as making changes in how you think, you will start to notice improvements. These improvements will feel good and give you further encouragement to continue to use tools and make important changes. However, for some adults, taking the first important steps in this “battle” can be hard, or, if you have been working for some time you might be feeling tired or discouraged. As a result, you may need an extra incentive in the form of a reward to get you started or keep you going.  

How to Use a Reward System:

Use the examples below for ideas about what kind of rewards might appeal to you. Once you have some options in mind, decide how often you should reward yourself. Some individuals like many small rewards provided each time, or every few times, they use a tool or engage in an exposure exercise, such as getting a favourite coffee drink every day you ride alone on the train rather than taking the car (for fear of public transit). Other adults prefer to award themselves with a more moderate or large reward for a pattern of effort spanning a longer period of time (e.g. getting movie tickets for two weeks of work). Finally, some individuals can manage to work for a much longer period of time and will award themselves only when they have reached a significant milestone. For example, for an adult with moderate OCD with contamination fears s/he might purchase movie tickets after being able to reduce hand washing to 4-6 times a day for less than 45 seconds each washing, reduced from 20-30 times a day lasting 5-10 minutes each time. With this success, the individual might set a next reward of concert tickets for being able to re-wear clothing multiple times and rinse a coffee cup and reuse rather than wash in boiling, soapy water. All of these methods can be effective, and the best method is the method that works for you. Consider trying all three to figure out which one is best.

Reward Examples:

Getting out of chores (as a partner, spouse or roommate to help with this):

  • A night off from doing dishes
  • Order take out instead of cooking
  • Does not have to walk dog
  • Does not have to do the laundry
  • Send pants to dry cleaner instead of ironing

 Privileges or rewards:

  • Manicure or pedicure
  • Meet a friend for a coffee, drink, or ice-cream
  • Nail polish, lotions, etc. from a special store
  • Magazine or book
  • Sporting or concert tickets
  • New athletic gear
  • Day trip somewhere fun
  • Overnight trip of your choice
  • i-Tunes song or album
  • Movie ticket
  • Purchase your favorite soda/ice-cream/snack for home
  • Spa bath (favorite bubbles, music, etc.)


Anxious patterns of thinking and acting can take time to change, especially if they have been around for a long time. Try not to become discouraged if progress appears to be slow. Chart your progress to help track whether things are getting better.

Learning to overcome anxiety is like exercise – you need to "keep in shape" and practice your skills regularly. Make using skills a habit. This is true even after you are feeling better and have reached some of your goals. 

Don't be discouraged if you experience lapses and returns to your old behaviors every once in a while, especially during stressful times or transitions (for example, returning to work after a vacation). This is normal, and just means that you will want to re-use some tools from your My Anxiety Plan (MAP). Remember, coping with anxiety is a lifelong process.