How to get rid of agoraphobia? 12 small steps
Reviewed by Nancy Diaz, MSW. Updated on April 28, 2021. Updated 2nd time on September 4, 2022.
Locked-up with agoraphobia as the only companion
You have not left your house for quite some time; you are locked up at home most of the week.
You feel miserable and desperate, and you wonder what is wrong with you.
You would like to go shopping again and meet up with friends in a nice bar, but the idea of the fear you experienced the last time coupled with the fact that your self-confidence is a bit on the low side lately make you decide to avoid this challenge again.
You continuously find excuses, whether it is against your friends, your family, or yourself. All this so as not to leave your familiar environment. The more you avoid your stress factors, the more the fear increases until, in the long run, for no reasonable reason, you no longer even dare to go to your letterbox to collect the correspondence. Do you recognize this?
OK. So we are stuck with this problem, called agoraphobia, that makes you a prisoner in your own house.
Path to recovery from agoraphobia
Well, don’t worry. Fortunately, there are several aspects of your life that you can start working from today to get rid of agoraphobia.
Yes, you can fully recover from agoraphobia!
I will explain step by step what you have to change to get rid of this agoraphobia.
Let’s start with the fact that we live in a society with high expectations and constant social pressure. You are concerned with how people look at you, and you would like to meet all expectations even if this involves a hefty dose of stress.
Fight or flight response
One day you felt uncomfortable in a social situation that triggered your fight or flight response. Because of this, your adrenal glands have started releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline to get you ready to respond to the danger; this together with cortisol that has increased the sugar or glucose intake in your blood so that you had a large amount of energy available.
Accelerated breathing accompanied this; you started to sweat, you were warm, you became red, and felt as if you had lost control of yourself. This experience felt so uncomfortable that your body released even more stress hormones until you had a real panic attack.
Since you have experienced this violent reaction as traumatic, your brain stores this as being dangerous, so that every time you come into contact with a similar situation, the fight or flight response resumes. We call this a vicious circle.
What is the fight or flight response anyway? The fight or flight response is a timely response that automatically turns on the body when it faces a significant hazard. This response gives you the extra strength to flee or fight for your life for a short time.
Handy, right? Yes, but this is only useful if the danger is real. If the fear is unreal or irrational, then we are talking about a phobia, which is accompanied by extremely annoying panic attacks and thus causes an emotional imbalance. We have to admit that if we think about this, nothing is frightening about sitting on a full bus or walking around a busy shopping street, right?
Avoidance of irrational fear
Agoraphobia is an irrational fear because there is no danger at all outside the walls of our familiar environment. Because of this, the concern moves from an external factor to an internal factor. In this case, namely that you no longer want to end up in a similar situation where you felt so uncomfortable among all those people.
This uncomfortable feeling is not about the fact that you feel fear for all those people, it is about the irrational fact that you feel concerned about the fear that you experienced when the fight or flight response resumed.
There are a lot of adjustments that we will have to make to checkmate agoraphobia, but I am sure that you are motivated!
First and foremost, you must learn to set your expectations lower as this is undoubtedly the basis of the problem. Also, learn to put things into perspective, it is not bad at all to have a panic attack, and it is also not disastrous to be agoraphobic.
Mental health disorders are more common than you probably think. Be kind to yourself and know that the healing journey may take time and effort, but will be worth it. In addition to being forgiving with yourself, try to maintain a positive dialogue with yourself. Surround yourself with positive people.
Work on reframing negative thoughts into positive ones. Identify the automatic negative thoughts that constantly plague you and the emotions that come with them, then replace them with positive thoughts. For example, an automatic negative thought you may have when going to the grocery store is that everyone is staring at you. The emotion you may associate with this event may be fear of ridicule. Now, question this negative thought’s validity. Is it true that everyone is staring at you or is that a distorted perception? After identifying the truth about the negative thought, reframe it into a positive thought such as, “I know that everyone has their own busy lives to worry about and they are simply focused on getting groceries, not staring at me.”
Find a goal to strive for in your life
It is also essential that you find something that makes you happy in your life. Try to establish a goal to strive for and start working toward it. The chances are that you may need to leave home to find what makes you happy and gives you purpose. You may have stopped doing activities you enjoyed because of your agoraphobia.
This challenge to find an activity that brings you joy and motivation may require extra effort for you as you learn to overcome your agoraphobia, but it is a good first step in the right direction. Take a moment to imagine yourself doing what makes you happy and fulfilled. Tell yourself that you will finally be happy again and able to lead a life outside your home once you put in the work and start this journey to recovery.
Positive self talk
Yes, you hear well. In addition to the fact that you have to be forgiving with yourself, you must maintain a positive dialogue with yourself. Think ahead and always think about the positive things that you want to achieve in your life.
Get rid of negative thoughts right away; they do nothing but crack your state of mind and self-confidence.
Pay attention to your diet
Once you are involved with this, you must pay attention to your diet. Adjust your diet so that your body gets enough tryptophan. Your body needs tryptophan so that the happiness hormone serotonin can be produced in your intestines. We mainly get our healthy dose of tryptophan from these foods: oats, chicken, turkey, cheese eggs, milk, beef, pork, tuna, salmon, almonds, nuts, seeds, and black chocolate.
Also stop caffeine (coffee, Coca-Cola, tea, Red Bull …), alcohol (beer, wine, vodka, gin …), soft drugs (marijuana, hashish …), saturated fats (pizza, hamburgers, kebabs, French fries …), and refined sugars (white sugar, candy, cookies, pies …).
All these substances raise cortisol, and this is a stress hormone that makes us feel anxious. Once the effects of drugs or alcohol work out, they also cause a cortisol peak, and you will also feel restless and uneasy. In any case, refined sugar is the worst because it irritates the glands that regulate cortisol production, causing them to run wild.
Instead of soda or alcohol, drink two liters of water a day. Water naturally eliminates the toxins from our bodies and keeps us hydrated. Hydration is critical if we are subject to a large amount of stress, for example, due to an anxiety disorder. Proper hydration will give us a calm and serene feeling.
Work on proper breathing techniques
Also, work on your breathing, stop mouth-chest breathing, and start nose-belly breathing. By breathing calmly through your nose, the air that you inhale travels a long way through which it can purify better, thanks in part to the nose hairs, and can spread more oxygen throughout the body.
Abdominal breathing is again recommended compared to chest breathing because short chest breathing is used in case of stress and danger to pump oxygen through our body faster.
On the other hand, the long, slow abdominal breathing that animals use when they fully relax, is a signal of calmness throughout your body and is an effective weapon against stress and anxiety. Proper breathing techniques can quickly stop a panic attack.
Start exercising and improve your self-image
It is also crucial that you immediately start exercising again. It does not matter whether you currently have to use the home trainer that has been in the garage for ten years or the treadmill that you had put away in the attic or if you start with bodyweight exercises.
The only important thing is that you have to start now. Why? Because practicing sports naturally releases endorphins, the anti-stress hormone, serotonin, the happiness hormone, and dopamine in your body. Dopamine is a hormone that makes us experience happiness, pleasure, and joy. You will feel happier almost immediately, and your confidence will get a real boost. This is without quoting that watching your diet and exercising makes you look much better in a short time, which will undoubtedly have an impact on your self-image.
Take a moment every day to meditate, listen to music, and read or write
Meditating will help you with introspection and finding a positive perspective in your life.
Listening to music enables you to focus on yourself and dream away.
Reading a book or keeping a journal helps you to find your focus and concentration. Reading helps you to imagine yourself away while keeping a diary enables you to express and visualize your thoughts and emotions.
All these activities increase the following hormones in your body: melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep), dopamine (pleasure hormone), serotonin (happiness hormone), and oxytocin (the love hormone).
Install a routine and rebuild your social contacts
Once you have made the above adjustments and installed a routine with daily sports in combination with meditation or reading and moments of rest, you should gradually try to rebuild your social contacts in a familiar environment.
Start by regularly inviting friends and family to your home, and always trusted people in small groups. These changes will make you feel familiar again with social interaction where you will not experience a panic attack even though it is almost certain that you will find these social contacts unpleasant in the beginning.
You are still going to have a fear of your anxiety disorder. You will find that if you adopt a forgiving attitude and allow yourself to have a panic attack, if necessary, you will not get a panic attack at all.
Speak openly about your emotions
Now you will finally be able to speak openly about your emotions with people who matter in your life, and without feeling bad, you will see that this will be a real milestone.
Go outside again
Now it is also vital that you go outside again. I advise you to go hiking in nature, half an hour a day is enough. The fresh air, in combination with the scents and sounds of nature, will have a very soothing effect on you.
Furthermore, serotonin is already produced by the body after we have been in direct sunlight for five minutes. It is also essential that you will be proud of yourself every time you have been outside, do not forget to be forgiving! You may have panic attacks. If you experience a panic attack, start slowly with nose-stomach breathing, and you will notice how the symptoms fade automatically.
Go to more crowded places with a trusted person
Of course, it is ultimately the intention that you now go to more crowded places. Yes, indeed, those places that give you panic attacks.
How are we going to do that? By being constructive. The first time you go to busy places you can take a handhold, namely a trusted person you can count on.
Concentrate on your breathing every time you feel your heart accelerating again and practice the positive dialogue with yourself. If you are on a good day and you do not feel too nervous, then I recommend you to look at all the people yourself, and you will soon find that nobody is looking at you, no, absolutely nobody. People are far too busy with their own lives to watch what others are doing.
Go alone to busy places
After a while, the moment will come when you will be alone in busy places. You will have already understood the importance of positive dialogue and mastered breathing techniques. At the moment, you still have a few things to change.
You have indirectly been stuck to the person who accompanied you in busy places, and you no longer have this person at your side. You don’t need anyone to feel good.
The first few times you are in crowded places, think that you are on a single-person island wherever you go, you take your home with you on the island, and people are always kept at bay by the invisible water around your single-person island.
Final tip: Self-mockery
If you still get anxious, think yourself away from the crowds somewhere in the future and imagine how ridiculous you in the future will think it was that you got a panic attack for no reason. Yes, learn to laugh with yourself! Why humor and laughter are so efficient?
Simply, when you smile, your feel-good hormones such as endorphins start to rise, and stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol begin to fall.
You have now gained the necessary insight to combat agoraphobia! Remember breathing & positive dialogue.
If you need to talk to someone, contact the Mental Help Hotline.
Good luck, You can do this,
Agoraphobia Self-Help Manual
This Self-Help Manual is written by Karina Lovell and kindly provided by Anxiety UK
Karina Lovell says about this manual: “This manual has been written to help you overcome your problems and should only be used in addition with seeing your therapist on a weekly basis. There are 7 sections of this manual.”
Interesting Questions and Answers about Agoraphobia
What is the best treatment for agoraphobia?
Studies have shown that the most efficient therapy to treat agoraphobia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and more specifically the behavior therapy technique ‘Exposure Therapy’ where the patient faces his fears. Recent studies have shown that computerized CBT like Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Treatment also provide good results in the treatment of agoraphobia.
Can a person with agoraphobia be cured?
Yes, agoraphobia can definitively be cured, and it is much easier than you would think. Talk to a psychologist and start exposure therapy. If your panic attacks are too disabling you should also consider a temporary medical treatment.
What is the root cause of agoraphobia?
Studies have shown that an important percentage of agoraphobics are perfectionists. The root of agoraphobia lies in fearing the loss of control. One day you had a panic attack or an intense anxious feeling in a crowded place, and now you avoid those places because you fear to be unable to escape if this situation would happen again. You actually fear losing control.
How do you calm someone with agoraphobia?
If an agoraphobic suffers a panic attack in a crowded place, the only thing you have to do to calm him down is to accompany him out of the crowded place while you reassure him. Keep talking so that he always feels your presence.
However, once this bad experience is over you should always go back to the crowded place, and prove to the person that it is possible to leave the place without having a panic attack. It is crucial to practice controlled breathing in those cases. Never leave a crowded place in fear because it only reinforces the erroneous thought that those places must be avoided.
What famous person has agoraphobia?
A lot of famous people have suffered from agoraphobia over the years. A few examples are Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Woopi Goldberg, Philip K. Dick, Donny Osmond, Paula Deen, or Kim Basinger.
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