To learn how to overcome agoraphobia you need to understand what it actually is.
For all you know, you might be suffering from something else entirely.
So what is agoraphobia?
A few years back I was suffering from a severe case of social anxiety, and although I got better, I am still a pretty awkward guy to be around.
Still, my supposed fear of other people ran far deeper than just me being scared of being judged.
I was obsessed with how others could hurt me.
Soon enough I noticed that even when people weren’t around I was still really uncomfortable with how everything around me appeared to be.
Walking around the street made me shiver and twitch uncomfortably.
Getting inside the elevator caused me some pretty major dizziness and stress (what if I fell down?)
No matter where I went, I didn’t seem to be able to let go of these feelings.
At the time, I figured it as a quirk of my existing anxiety disorders and left it at that.
Then, it all came crashing down, and for the month before I began my military training I mostly kept myself at home.
Sure, I wasn’t doing myself any favors regarding my condition, but at least I was safe.
And then it all clicked for me.
I didn’t feel safe at all – to think that this was my problem all along!
And it was, too.
Claustrophobic people don’t feel safe in close spaces, people with social anxiety are stressed out in social interactions and crowds, and fear of open spaces can be attributed to sheer paranoia rather than anything else.
But when all factors were put together it didn’t seem like a coincidence.
So after some research, I found my answer – Agoraphobia.
Haven’t heard about it? can’t say that I blame you, the term is a bit complex and the definition isn’t really clear cut.
According to the dictionary, Agoraphobia is “
But in practice, it’s so much more than that.
Agoraphobia is a lack of security
After reading my own story, as well as the bottom line of the definition itself, you might have noticed the similarity.
I sure did.
Agoraphobia, at first, seems to be really general, but it can actually be summed up as a constant lack of security and sense of safety.
People with agoraphobia struggle to visit certain places, such as parks, public establishments or even the very street that they live on.
They might also struggle in talking with other people, even over the phone, possibly imagining that they are somehow being watched.
Although I wasn’t as bad as that last example, I definitely didn’t feel safe in practically any environment that I wasn’t specifically familiar with.
A symptom or a unique disorder?
The really tricky part about agoraphobia is that it can serve as either a symptom of any anxiety disorders or a disorder all on its own.
What do I mean by that? Let’s look at anxiety as a whole for a moment.
Anxiety is, for the most part, an obsessive sense of worry caused by stress, imagined or otherwise.
Agoraphobia is also an excessive sense of worry, a persistent, irrational fear for once safety.
On one hand, agoraphobia can be viewed as a specific type of anxiety, in the subcategory of “phobias” or irrational and impulsive fears.
It can also be seen as a side effect of, let’s say, your social anxiety – with you feeling unsafe around other people, to the point that you actively avoid crowds, small groups, or even just walking in an empty street.
After all, who knows when some random stranger will jump at you from around the corner, trying to strike some conversation.
It’s sad because I used to come up with such excuses all the time!
Speaking of symptoms, When should I be cautious?
Some level of caution isn’t enough for you to suspect agoraphobia, and although I dislike self-diagnosis, it’s vital for you to at least somewhat understand the problem at hand – so that you can go and get some professional help with it.
So what can agoraphobia do?
Well, I already discussed this specific subject in depth in my article about the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but here’s a quick run-through:
- Intense sense of fear
- Stomach aches
- Harsh, shallow breathing
All of these are purely situational mind you.
If you have these “safe zones” or “safe situations”, something that all of us do (after all, nobody would feel safe in the middle of a volcano, yeah?) have to a degree, yet yours dominate your life, then you have a problem.
If you have this sense about you that makes you feel unsafe, to the point where it dominates your life, as well as at least three of these symptoms then you really should go and see a professional.
What about the causes of agoraphobia?
I already said that to learn how to overcome agoraphobia you need to understand what it actually is. but that’s only a small part of the battle right there.
Aside from knowing what agoraphobia is, you need to know what could be the possible causes for it.
I already discussed them.
Truth is, agoraphobia is… Well, a phobia – an irrational fear.
As such, agoraphobia is, by its very nature, an irrational thing.
Sure, there probably is a cause for it, but it’s an extremely obscure one – it might have something to do with the way you were raised, your environment or even your very genetics (they can have an effect of depression, so why not anxiety?).
For all you know, you might have grown too attached to certain places or states of mind without meaning to.
Conditioning your brain to react that way, kind of like the way a dog is trained.
In such cases, general treatment practices would be preferable.
However, the much more common form of agoraphobia would have a lot to do with other disorders.
Let’s look at a few possible culprits for a moment.
- Social Anxiety – Nothing too shocking here, people with social anxiety tend to feel unsafe in crowded areas or around other people in general.
- Panic disorder – The panic and agoraphobia combo is extremely common and only gets worse as time goes on, with you being afraid of these panic attacks, which are caused under specific situations to which you are agoraphobic to.
- PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, after going through a traumatic event it’s possible for you to develop agoraphobia, such as going through a near death experience while driving your car, making you phobic of cars.
One thing that should be noted separately is that treating your agoraphobia would be a different experience based on what causes it.
Exposure therapy, for example, would be a poor choice to help someone who suffers from situational panic attacks.
Still, I do have some tips to share with you which are relatively general.
A few tips on how to overcome agoraphobia
This is the solution-based part, which is what we have all been waiting for.
Here’s the thing though, I am not going to write you down advice like “practice breathing techniques” or “exercise”, not even “practice positive thinking“.
These are all great pieces of advice, but they are either too general or too obvious.
You probably already heard other people tell you to “breath deep” or whatnot , and exercising is always a good idea.
On the flip side, there are unique tips that you either haven’t heard of or seem too obvious to implement.
Here are a few of my ideas:
- Exposure Therapy – Getting yourself out there, one step at a time.
It might seem kind of obvious, but implementing it is pretty difficult, more so for people who suffer from panic disorders.
Look, if you don’t make the first step no one else will. If you suffer from panic attacks then simply add some panic attack tips alongside your therapy
- Get distracted– this one is pretty clever in a way, you use your imagination as a crutch to handle the difficulties of the outside world.
Get a book, listen to music, distract yourself, get absorbed in something, to the point where your fears just seem minor in comparison.
Be careful to not grow dependent on your emotional crutch, if you can’t face your problems without a book in hand then you are just developing yet another agoraphobia
- Get a pet – Another helper for the exposure therapy technique would be to do so with a pet. If you are scared that other people will judge you then this appears to be a great solution for that.
There actually service dogs enlisted to people with anxiety, so you might as well go and get a dog of your own.
Again, you might condition yourself to rely on your dog, but as long as you are being constantly pushed to take action on your agoraphobia then all is well.
- Cling to the ideal life/the life you had before – One thing that you would need to do to accomplish your goals is to visualize them.
People with mental illnesses tend to forget that they had a life before all of their sufferings began.
They don’t cling to their ideals, to that end result that they were searching for because they can’t see it before their eyes.
As such, consciously or subconsciously, they don’t give it their all, or simply give up altogether.
Don’t be one of those people, never forget the reason you are fighting for.
It won’t just go away
Here’s the thing.
Agoraphobia is a disorder that is heavily related to panic attacks as well as other anxiety disorders, and neither are just going to go away.
Until you fully get over it you are just going to be searching for your “safe zones” and “comforting things”
What you need is a guide, a teacher, a professional, to make a difference – and I have just the person you are searching for.
In the case of social anxiety, I got that covered as well, you can send your thank you’s later.
For now, go and check these two programs out.
While you do that, here’s a question to think about – How badly to you want to function like a regular person again?
Think about it for a moment – if you don’t have the will, how can there be a way?
Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I would love to see your resolve in action.
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