Agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places such as shopping malls, grocery stores, train stations, restaurants, really anywhere that is out of a person's comfort zone such as their home.
The spectrum of Agoraphobia is very broad. There are extreme cases where a person will become dizzy the moment they step foot out the door. Also, many people are unable to drive due to this condition. These cases can completely immobilize the Agoraphobic.
Fortunately, my level of Agoraphobia wasn't to this extreme. It did, however, interfere with my day to day activities.
My Panic Attacks in these "open" situations were perpetual.
Leaving the house was miserable, yet at the same time I was afraid of the condition worsening.
Ironically, the thinking behind agoraphobia is one based on a feeling of isolation, despite being out in public.
It's a feeling of "all eyes on you" You feel of separated from those who are "normal". It's a feeling of being exposed.
When I'd walk out my door, I couldn't help but think...
"If a Panic Attack occurs, who will look after me? How will I get the assistance and reassurance that I need? What will people think when I freak out in front of them? How will I get to a hospital if I pass out? How will I get home if I feel too anxious to drive?
The emotional rollercoaster would spin round and round until I decided going out was just not worth the worry.
Also, my feelings of vulnerability would escalate the farther away I got from my home.
Similar to my "regular" routine of Panic Attacks, the anticipation of a Panic Attack outside the home led me to have the attacks. This cycle of anxiety enforced my agoraphobic tendencies and the fear of leaving my house began to take hold a majority of the time.
Sure, I would force myself to go to the occasional party or event. However, my time away from home was always laced with anxiety and I could never fully relax.
In my experience working with Agoraphobia sufferers, I've encountered "victims" (that's really what they are) who have been housebound for numerous years.
If you suffer from Agorophobia, there is good news for you. Whether you've suffered from this condition for months or years, this is by no means a hopeless situation.
It doesn't matter if you haven't driven a car lately due to the condition. I don't care how impossible you think your condition is. You will get over it. You will conquer this anxiety and start enjoying the world around you again.
I say this all from personal experience.
My battle overcoming Agoraphobia was long, but I did it -- and you will too.
Find Confidence in Your Safety Anywhere
To start with, you'll need to work on changing your thinking in terms of what is and what is not a "comfort zone"
Most Agoraphobics believe their home is their safe zone. They know it well.
The truth is, anywhere you are is equally safe. The anxiety in your mind is the only thing that distinguishes a place as bad or good, fun or miserable, happy or sad. Controlling the anxiety will change your perspective on the world around you and you will see all places as being equally comfortable.
Your mind will come up with reasons why it believes only a certain area is safe and another is not. Those reasons range from being near the phone or people you trust to having familiar physical surroundings to reassure you.
The reality of anxiety is that there is no such thing as a safe zone. There is nothing life threatening about a Panic Attack, and therefore sitting at home is the same as sitting under the stars on a desert island.
Of course, your mind will immediately rush to tell you that a desert island is a ridiculous place to be as there are no hospitals, no tranquillizers, no doctors, NO SAFETY.
Review your previous experiences of Panic Attacks. Aren't you still here, alive and well, after all those attacks during which you were convinced you were going to die?
A Panic Attack will NEVER kill you. You are healthy and you will live a long happy life.
This moment, when you are reading this article is a great time to meditate on this belief. You can not make rational decisions when you feel overly anxious. Take the time right this moment, while you feel a bit calmer to understand that there is a 99.9% chance you will live a long healthy life and NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.
I know that can be a hard concept to grasp. If relying on statistics is comforting to you, know that the odds are completely in your favor to live a long life. That means, if you spend your days worrying about random accidents and happenings that will interfere with your health, you're just wasting thoughts.
The fact is you'll be fine. I can say that confidently, knowing that freak accidents happen to far and few between. Sure you've heard a story from a friend of a friend of a friend.
Don't focus on the minority of things, focus on the fact that a majority of the population will live a long long time. Life expectancies are growing everyday with new breakthroughs in medicine and science. The truth is... you'll be around for quite some time and nothing bad will ever happen to you.
Focus on the positive. Thank the universe for bringing you this far and be grateful for the health you DO have now.
There are people out in the world with REAL medical issues. Have gratitude to the world around you that you are physically healthy and yes I'll say it...
You are LUCKY!
Believe this with all your heart.
Throw out ALL Superstition
I don't mean to sound harsh or abrasive here. I know first hand the terror that you are going through. The point of this article isn't to give you some kind of lecture or guilt trip. Certainly, there's nothing to feel guilty about.
My point is to help you see through the myths that our minds can so easily create.
For example, at 26 I used to fear relentlessly that I would have a heart attack. I would get anxious just saying the thought aloud. The truth was, I was exercising regularly, eating well, had excellent feedback on physicals with my doctor every year and had healthy parents in their late 50s who never had heart problems.
Even though all logic told me otherwise, my anxiety convinced me that I had heart problems. Obviously now that I know and am thinking differently, I'm much more relaxed about my health.
I'm giving you this example to illustrate how easily our minds can build prison walls around our logic. Without sensibility, it's hard to enjoy yourself anywhere that doesn't fit into your anxiety's made-up rule system. It's like living your life according to superstition. There's no sense to it and it will only drive you crazy.
Throw superstition out the window. There's never EVER been any evidence to back any superstition. That's why it's called superstition.
Patience is a virtue. You've heard the expression over and over. But have you started practicing it yet?
I know it can be hard to find patience. You feel stressed and anxious and you just want to feel calm RIGHT NOW. Anxiety can make you feel rushed and unsure. Practicing patience is a way to gain control over your panic.
and... I'm not just taking about having patience with your anxiety. It's important for you to learn to have patience for others.
If an individual such as a partner or family member has not had a similar anxiety issue, that person may often find it hard to understand and empathize with what you are going through.
I am sure you have been dragged out of the house numerous times against your will, kicking and screaming. This can then lead to tensions and arguments and is upsetting as it can make you feel less understood by those around you.
People around agoraphobics are often simply trying what they feel is best. They don't understand the feeling and it's completely NOT their fault.
If you can see that their intentions are well meaning (although often misguided), then you will be able to relate to them better and help soothe any potential conflicts.
No-one is "out to get you". Believe this. Know that paranoia in the company of others is all in your head. Truth be told people are waaay more concerned about themselves that your own actions. Find confidence in knowing that everyone is looking for the same acceptance and take comfort that we are all just human and only want happiness for one another.
Love everyone you meet. Help and do right by everyone you meet.
If along the way you meet some people who don't love you back, that's okay. The love you have for them is yours. It's yours just as every experience you have is yours.
Savor every feeling and experience as a different flavor in life. THINK positively.
Take the Next Step
There is one thing I am sure you will agree with, and that is that the only person who will get you out of agoraphobic thinking is yourself.
These are your thoughts, and only you can begin to change that pattern. Dealing with long term agoraphobia and Panic Attacks is a slow process to begin with, but once the results start happening, it moves faster and faster until you reach a point where you will find it hard to believe that going out was such a difficult task.