Are you scared of leaving the house? Or to go to spaces where it is difficult to escape?
If so, you might be struggling with agoraphobia.
In this article, you’ll learn what agoraphobia is and the 7 steps to treat agoraphobia.
Let’s dive right in!
What is agoraphobia?
Let’s get this misconception out of the way: agoraphobia is not just being scared to leave your house. It’s an anxiety disorder where you are afraid of being in a place where it is difficult (or impossible) to escape. This is often accompanied by experiencing an embarrassing event in a public place.
Think of suddenly throwing up, having to pee, or fainting.
People who deal with agoraphobia might be afraid of taking the elevator, waiting in line or standing in a crowd. They avoid these triggers “just in case they have a panic attack”.
If you struggle with agoraphobia, you might be afraid of going to places that make you feel trapped. And because you are scared of those places, you avoid them.
Because “What if you have a panic attack while waiting in line for (Fill in the blank)?”
Can you relate to that?
You see, agoraphobia is not necessarily the fear of the specific place that causes the anxiety, but rather the fear that if something would happen, escape would be difficult (like a panic attack in a train for example).
People who struggle with agoraphobia, therefore have a lot of anxiety about the potential of having a panic attack in public.
But what are the other symptoms of agoraphobia?
Let’s take a look!
What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?
Being afraid of panic attacks isn’t the only symptom of agoraphobia, according to Verywellmind, you can also experience:
And what about low self-esteem? If you have agoraphobia, you’re often also dealing with low self-esteem. Why? Because you are often disappointed in yourself and are very critical of yourself, because you somewhat think it is your own fault.
But is it really your own fault, or is there another cause?
Let’s take a look!
What are the causes of agoraphobia?
According to Talkspace.com, family history is one of the most significant risk factors for agoraphobia. Research has shown that you are 61% more likely to have agoraphobia if someone in your family has too. If anxiety runs in your family, there is a bigger change that you will experience it too.
But it doesn’t mean that if your far aunt Lucy has agoraphobia, you will have it too… so don’t worry! And it also doesn’t mean that if your mum has it, you will have it too. It just increases the likelihood.
There is another common factor that can cause agoraphobia: long-term stress.
The build-up of long-term stress is a significant risk factor related to developing agoraphobia. No, don’t blame agoraphobia “just” on genetics… long-term stress can likely be the cause.
When your body is under too much stress for long periods of time, your nervous system becomes overstimulated to stress. The result? Anxiety.
And then your anxiety can cause agoraphobia… but why?
Because if you suddenly experience excessive anxiety (or a panic attack) when you are outside (or at home) you might be overwhelmed with so much fear that you start to think:
“I won’t go to that place… because what if I have a panic attack while visiting (Fill in location)?”
You became so afraid of the panic that you simply don’t dare to go to places where escape could be difficult if it will happen again.
The reason you avoid these places is NOT because the place is scary… but because you are extremely scared of feelings of panic and the social embarrassment that you think having a panic brings.
That means that interpreting anxiety and panic is an extremely important thing you can work on to treat agoraphobia. It is exactly what I have been sharing on my YouTube Channel.
Well, I hope you can find yourself in what I am saying. Because now it is time for the practical tips: 5 tips to treat agoraphobia!’
PS: If you want to learn the 3 biggest mistakes anxious people make and what to do instead, then watch my FREE Limited Time Training before it expires.
How is Agoraphobia Treated?
Like I said a moment ago: excessive anxiety occurs when your sympathetic nervous system becomes overstimulated by long-term stress, trauma or big life changes. This causes your body to release high amounts of adrenaline after the slightest triggers, which makes you feel anxious.
Your healing is therefore focused on calming down your sympathetic nervous system and nurturing your parasympathetic nervous system: which we call the “rest and digest” nervous system.
When you do this, you become less sensitive to stress and your anxious thoughts decrease in intensity.
What does that mean, Wouter? It means that you’re less likely to believe your anxious thoughts, the more in balance your nervous system is.
Besides balancing your nervous system, you also want to take a look at exposure therapy. This form of therapy is the most effective approach for healing phobias. This article explains how to do it correctly.
But before I ramble on… let’s give you 5 practical tips!
Step #1: Learn more about agoraphobia
How can you overcome something if you don’t know what you want to overcome? Agoraphobia is so much more than simply “being scared of leaving your home”.
Yes, it’s more than that… you know it as no one other!
Therefore, the first step in treating agoraphobia is to educate yourself on what it actually is.
Think of learning more about:
- How to recognize agoraphobia
- What anxiety actually is
- How you can cope in better ways
- How you can interpret panic and anxiety in new ways
By educating yourself on what agoraphobia is, you have a better idea of what you are dealing with. You’re essentially shining a bright light on what agoraphobia is. That way you can see the entire thing you are dealing with. And besides learning more about your agoraphobia… why not try to contact other agoraphobics on Facebook or other platforms?
It is a great feeling to know that you are not alone… so why not hang out together online or offline?
It could be nice to meet someone who knows exactly how you feel… and maybe you can even share great advice with each other.
But this alone won’t get you far… that’s why you need step 2!
Step #2: Learn to be OK with feelings of anxiety
The second step to treat agoraphobia is to learn to be OK with feeling anxious.
The biggest mistake that I made when I was at the peak of my anxiety, was being critical and mean towards myself.
I told myself the following:
“For God’s sake! Why am I angry again? It doesn’t make sense? I am anxious for a silly thing like (fill in the blank)!”
I also interpreted anxiety and my panic attacks as a sign of losing my mind. I was so extremely scared of having YET another panic attack that I did everything I could to calm myself down or avoid panic.
I interpreted anxiety and panic the wrong way! I was more scared of having another panic attack than the panic attack itself… which is nothing more than a rush of adrenaline that passes under 5 minutes!
No wonder I never healed from anxiety. But now I know what to do instead… so I’ll give you my secret framework.
Whenever you feel anxiety creeping in, whether you are at home or outside, use the PAU response (Read the entire article on the PAU Response here).
Step #1: Point Towards Anxiety
Understand that if you’re feeling anxious sensations (like headaches, a racing heart or start to overthink)… that it is nothing more than anxiety. You’re not losing control, you won’t die and nothing bad can happen.
Why? Because it is just anxiety. Anxiety cannot hurt you. Anxiety cannot do you harm. And nothing bad can happen. It’s just a feeling, which are chemicals that go through your veins.
If you have anxiety, you’ll notice that there are many things happening to you. But whenever you feel those symptoms, don’t try to work them out individually. Simply blame everything to anxiety. That way you are not dealing with dozens of sensations and problems, but with one manageable problem: anxiety.
In my paid program, my clients learn to perceive their anxiety as a little man inside their brain: Mr. Anxiety.
Whenever they feel anxious, they tell themselves: “Oh… it’s just Mr. Anxiety again. He thinks I am in danger and wants to keep me safe. That’s it. Just Mr. Anxiety.”
Mr. Anxiety wants to keep you safe and makes you anxious if he believes you’ll be in danger (Even though 98% of the time he is overreacting!).
Great metaphor right?
Step #2: Allow yourself to feel anxious
Whenever you feel anxious: allow yourself to feel it! Don’t resist it, don’t put up a fight, don’t suppress and repress it… allow it!
Just accepting the fact that you feel anxious takes away so much of the fear and pressure. It feels a lot better to allow yourself to feel tense, scared or maybe even angry, than trying to force those emotions away. It’s OK to feel anxious, please let yourself feel it.
Also, try to interpret your anxiety in a new way. Instead of seeing it as a sign of losing control… try seeing it as Mr. Anxiety that wants to keep you safe. There is nothing scary about it, there is just someone in your brain that wants to keep you safe (but is often overreacting).
That’s a friendlier interpretation, right?
Step 3: Use your anxious energy
There are two people waiting in line to get on a rollercoaster: one of them is scared, the other one is excited.
Why is that?
Well, they both feel adrenaline before the ride… so that’s not the answer. Curious what it is?
It’s their perception of the adrenaline that makes them either excited or anxious.
Whenever you feel anxious, tell yourself that you are excited. And when you do, start using your aroused energy to either keep doing what you were doing, or do what you want to do.
Use your aroused energy to your advantage, which you do by perceiving your anxious energy in new, constructive ways.
I highly recommend you to read the full article on the PAU Response here.
Step #3: Gradually Expose Yourself to Triggers
The third step to treat agoraphobia is to expose yourself to triggers.
You’re not alone: most anxious people avoid what they are scared of. But this creates two fundamental problems:
The first is that your world becomes smaller. You can no longer do the things you want to do, because fear and anxiety arise everywhere.
The second one is that you show Mr. Anxiety that whatever you’re anxious of, is indeed dangerous. The next time Mr. Anxiety will warn you even further in advance… and with greater intensity.
Why? Because avoiding what makes you anxious, shows Mr. Anxiety that whatever you avoid is dangerous. Otherwise, you wouldn’t avoid it!
But by learning to expose yourself to fears, you slowly expand your comfort zone and break free from anxiety. By using exposure therapy, you slowly show Mr. Anxiety that whatever he is anxious about, is safe and shouldn’t be feared.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to take the elevator to the 50th floor when you are scared of elevators. Taking the elevator to floor 1 until you’re getting comfortable is a great first step.
Read this article to learn how to use exposure therapy correctly.
Step #4: Use these techniques during exposure
The fourth step to treat agoraphobia is to make use of certain techniques while practising exposure therapy.
When you made the decision to use exposure therapy to overcome your agoraphobia, you might experience the following:
An intense feeling of fear and anxiety, before you expose yourself to your trigger.
Great! This means you’re doing it the right way, because if you didn’t feel any fear, you aren’t stepping outside your comfort zone.
For example: if you are scared of visiting the mall, try driving to the mall as a first, small step to overcoming your fear. You might feel the anxiety rise, but remember step 2: allow yourself to feel anxious and then tell yourself you are excited!
During this anxious moment you can use deep breathing to calm down your body.
Why does this help?
Because whenever you are anxious, you’re likely to breathe very shallow. But by doing the complete opposite, you show Mr. Anxiety that you’re not in danger.
Why? Is that?
Because if you were in real danger, like being chased by a cheetah, you would breathe very shallow and fast. But by taking in deep breaths, you send a signal to your brain that you must be safe.
Practice this deep breathing during your exposure therapy and you’ll notice a greater sense of comfort during your exposure sessions. Don’t use it to forcefully calm yourself down, because that means you’re not allowing your anxiety. Use it as a tool to show your mind you are safe.
Step #5: Implement These Lifestyle Changes
The last step to treat agoraphobia is to implement certain lifestyle changes. As I said, we want to rebalance your nervous system. This included calming down the fight or flight nervous system (the sympathetic nervous system) and nurturing the “rest and digest” nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system).
To do this, try to exercise more during the week. Think of fitness, aerobic exercise or simply going for a run. Doing this a few times a week creates more confidence, gives you small wins and releases feel-good hormones. It also helps you to get rid of the excess energy that anxiety creates.
Also, focus on your diet. Remove as many processed foods from your diet as possible, sugar and decrease your intake of carbohydrates (like bread, rice and potatoes).
Last, it’s very important to stop drinking coffee.
Because anxious people like you and I are very sensitive to the caffeine that is in coffee. Coffee can mimic the symptoms of anxiety and that’s the last thing you want while dealing with agoraphobia.
This video explains everything you need to know about coffee and anxiety.
PS: If you want to learn more about easing your anxiety, then watch my FREE Limited Time Training where I explain the top 3 mistakes anxious people make and what to do instead.
Other Approaches to treat agoraphobia
For agoraphobia, doctors might prescribe medications like SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). This medication can make it easier to practice exposure therapy and face your fears. There are many forms of medication for agoraphobia, so always ask your doctor or psychiatrist for advice regarding medication.
If you want to work with a therapist, like a psychotherapist, you’re likely to work on underlying issues that lead to your agoraphobia. This can help you with having more control over your response whenever you encounter a trigger.
After this article, you gained a better understanding of what agoraphobia is and how you can treat it. When you learn more about agoraphobia, accept your anxious feelings and gradually expose yourself to triggers, you can definitely overcome your agoraphobia. Understand that this is a process and that healing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, with many setbacks, but also great rewards.
Last, make sure to implement lifestyle changes, like a better diet and exercise to rebalance your nervous system. This is important, because an oversensitive nervous system can make you more sensitive to stress.
If you want to learn the 3 biggest mistakes anxious people make and what to do instead, then watch my FREE Limited Time Training before it expires.
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