Here is the method that helped me conquer agoraphobia
Tackle the anxiety at it’s core
This is done through understanding, applying acceptance and changing our behaviours. As a result of having the knowledge which allows us to dissolve fear, giving up the fight with our anxiety and changing our behaviours in order to rewire our brain, then naturally our anxiety levels our going to come down.
If we expect to conquer agoraphobia without any of the above, then it’s going to be an extremely hard time. Knowledge is so powerful. Without that knowledge, there is absolutely no way I would’ve been able to leave the house on my own.
When we start to dismantle the anxiety at it’s core, we will be putting ourselves in a much better position to conquer agoraphobia.
With the knowledge that we’ve learnt, we can start to slowly and I mean slowly, get back into the world again. We have to be realistic about things here. If we’re someone who hasn’t left their house for a long time, then flying on an aeroplane to Jamaica would be insane.
What you really want is to start from a place where you don’t feel intimated. This is why using baby steps with the passage of time is going to help you get to a place in the future where you will be able to do all the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Expand your comfort zone slowly
Okay, so the way to do this sensibly without provoking more anxiety in us is to approach this whole process of moving back out into the external world through baby steps which was, by far, the best method for me. It takes a while before the mind becomes accustomed to it’s environment, before it feels safe.
If jumping straight into the deep end and breaking out of my comfort zone when I was in a severe state of anxiety only discouraged me, then expanding my comfort zone through baby steps was the answer.
It takes time, let’s be 100% honest here. Everyone is different so it doesn’t matter how quickly other’s move back into the world. This is about us. We are moving at our own pace which is perfectly fine.
Here’s an example of this approach…
To begin with, get used to being comfortable with walking to the end of your road. If this is too much for you to begin with, become comfortable with stepping outside the front door and taking 5 steps forward.
When you feel used to this, expand your comfort zone just a tiny bit more by walking to the end of the road. Notice the pattern here? It’s really small steps to expand our comfort zones. You can do this with everything.
Maybe there’s a corner shop at the end of your road. When you feel comfortable enough with walking to the end of the road, walk into the corner shop, say hi to the proprietor and just look around, you don’t have to buy anything.
Even though this feels really small, it’s still a massive win. Just knowing that you can walk into a shop which you haven’t been in for so long, feels so good.
This is how you truly build momentum which will naturally increase your confidence levels and in turn, bring your anxiety levels down. You might not feel ecstatic, perhaps you’ll still feel anxious, but this is still an important step. When you do feel anxious, remember to not fight the feelings or thoughts.
An important part of this process is about allowing the anxiety to be there without fighting it. Remind yourself that you are perfectly safe and that the anxiety cannot hurt you. Self talk can be very helpful for when you are on a mission to conquer agoraphobia.
From my experience, I found that it doesn’t matter how small the thing is, just as long as we do the small stuff consistently. When we stop doing things, we naturally lose our confidence which gives the anxiety time to creep back in again.
The way to pick ourselves up and build confidence is to follow the baby steps method and do it consistently.
Maybe four streets down, there is a tennis court where you and your friend used to go on the weekends to play tennis. You decide that tennis is something you’d like to get back into. However you know that walking down four more streets to get there is still daunting, so you make it one of your goals to play tennis at that court four streets down from where you live.
The good news is you know what you can do to get there. You know it requires breaking down this target into small steps. You have gotten comfortable walking down to the corner shop and going in there.
Now you can use the same approach to be comfortable with playing tennis four streets down with your friend.
Slowly moving out of your comfort zone by walking a bit further down each street will get you there. However, do not rush this process. Give yourself all the time you need. When you feel comfortable walking down street two, walk down street three until you are comfortable enough to walk down street four.
This is just an example of the sensible approach. If you are currently uncomfortable with walking to the corner shop at the bottom of your road, then just think how anxious you’d be if you had to walk to the tennis court four blocks away.
You’d feel very anxious and because you’d be responding with more anxiety, your brain would get the message that you were in danger because of how you are responding to a certain situation, it would activate more anxiety to keep you safe. This is what happens when we are not ready to jump the gun.
Even though it’s not possible for a place to directly cause us anxiety, we’d still associate it with feeling anxious. This is what happened to the women who had a panic attack on a bus.
She was already anxious, the bus didn’t make her anxious because it’s a bus. However, because she was in a highly anxious state, her brain received the message through her behaviours that the bust must be threatening.
Don’t jump straight into the deep end
I’ve never encouraged anyone to jump straight into the deep end. I just think it’s off putting. If we haven’t left the house for a while and/or our movement in the world is severely limited, then the last thing we want to do is jump straight into the deep end.
Just thinking about that only leads to more anxiety. It’s daunting, scary and overwhelming. This will not encourage anyone to make positive change. If anything, it will just put people off completely.
I was speaking to a client a few weeks back and he despises the exposure therapy approach because he had a bad experience with it. He says it makes him feel like a failure every time he hears the term ‘exposure therapy.’
He was told to do the things he did before he suffered from anxiety. Go to the places and events he went to before he fell into the disorder of fear. He was told to push himself and go to places he’d never been in high anxiety.
Whilst this sounds like a good idea, it often backfires because forcing ourselves to go somewhere which makes us feel panicky will just give off the impression to our brain that this level of anxiety in this situation must be appropriate so more anxiety will be activated in order to keep us safe.
Remember, the brain doesn’t know the difference from reality and fiction, so it will treat our anxious responses and behaviours as a signal that we’re in danger. In order to break this spell, we need to bring our anxiety levels down using the acceptance and behaviour change method whilst slowly “exposing” ourselves to the world again.
Have a supportive person with you the first couple of times
The first thing I have to say is never feel bad for having a supportive person with you when you decide to tackle your agoraphobia. It’s not natural to feel bad but we get told that you have to do things on your own in order to fully recover which makes us feel like we’re a failure… but this is certainly not true.
Whilst it is true that we “should” do things on our own to feel more confident, there’s a sensible way to go about this.
We have to be realistic about things.
Like I always say, I can only go by my experience and I did have a very supportive family that helped me. After a while, I would start to do the things I did with them but on my own. To be completely honest, I did feel uncomfortable at first but comfortable enough so I could actually function.
When you go with a supportive person, this will give yourself the evidence that you can actually do it. Now you need to give your subconscious the evidence that you can do it by yourself. This isn’t about having pride for being “independent”.
This is just telling your brain that there is no danger. If we always do things with someone, then we are sending a message to our brain that we cannot do these things on our own and this will not increase our confidence.
The only way to build true confidence is to do things on our own. I definitely find this to be true. Even now, when I do stuff with other people like exploring a new walk, I don’t feel confident about where I’m going until I do it on my own.
Don’t feel like you have to do it on your own to begin with though. Get used to doing the things with other people who will support you. Then, when you feel ready (whenever that is, no pressure). try it alone and see how it goes.
There’s no judgement. There’s no pressure. There’s no failure.
There is only learning.
Most people including myself try to bite off more than they can actually chew. When it comes to conquering this condition, having patience is the way forward. It’s just so important. When we’ve made some progress using the baby steps approach, it’s easy to get excited. We tend to picture ourselves doing amazing things and travelling to the places where we’ve never been.
Whilst this is a great mindset to be in, we still have to be realistic.
I had a major setback when I started to build confidence doing this method. When I felt confident enough, I decided to go on holiday with a few friends. This involved going on an aeroplane and travelling to Norway.
This was a massive step for me because I’d never been on holiday without the comfort of my parents. I had never done anything like this before, maybe it was too soon but I did learn from it.
Whilst i managed to transform my anxiety into excitement during the plane journey, my anxiety started to kick in whilst being in Norway. By the time I got back home, my anxiety levels were through the roof and I became agoraphobic again.
Since then I have been on an aeroplane and have had no anxiety whilst on holiday.
Setbacks are likely to occur when we force ourselves into situations and places which we perceive to be too much.
We can minimise our chances of having setbacks by applying the baby step method.
This is all I can think of on this topic for now. I will definitely add more if anything else comes to mind.
I trust this approach can help you conquer this condition. If you have any questions about what I’ve written here, please feel free to send me an email at email@example.com
Until next time