If you suffer from agoraphobia, then at times it may feel that it is impossible to fully recover. This is not true. You may feel that you are alive but you are not living. However, there are methods and tools that you can use which will allow you to recover. You can regain full control over your life and thrive. 

But what is agoraphobia? How does it come about and how can it be treated?  


Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder


There are generally considered to be seven different anxiety disorders. These are specific phobia; agoraphobia; GAD generalised anxiety disorder; social anxiety; OCD obsessive compulsive disorder; panic disorder and PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder. The differences between them are generally what is causing the anxiety and how it manifests itself. It is realistically possible to suffer from more than one and you could suffer with all seven of them.  

Anxiety is a natural human response to a threat and can be experienced through our thoughts, physical sensations or feelings. Everyone will feel anxious at some point in their life and this is absolutely normal. A person could even feel anxious everyday but still not develop an anxiety disorder. Anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder when it impacts your ability to live your life. The disorder is in fact your cognitive reaction to experiencing the anxiety. The first panic attack can be terrifying and it is completely understandable to be scared of experiencing this again. However, once you begin to fear the anxiety you begin to change aspects of your life to avoid another attack. The avoidant behaviour fuels the anxiety and creates a cycle that is difficult to disrupt. 


What is Agoraphobia?


Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder whereby you fear and avoid places or situations that may cause you anxiety. It can include a fear of being in situations where escape or receiving help may be difficult. A person with agoraphobia may be scared of travelling via transport, being in queues or shopping centres and auditoriums. At its worst, being away from their home or safe place for an agoraphobe can create a debilitating fear. 


Avoidance can lead to agoraphobia…


Agoraphobia usually develops following a period of depression, panic disorder or after experiencing a traumatic incident. The fear which prompts you to avoid the situation becomes a fear in itself.

Someone who suffers from depression will generally withdraw from their life. Thy cycle of overthinking, over-dreaming and exhaustion which typifies depression, leads to lack of enjoyment in the things they used to do. They will stop seeing people and stop going out. Everything in their life feels like a challenge and is overwhelming. The increasing use of avoidance can escalate into agoraphobia. 

Suffering from a panic attack can also be an initial step towards agoraphobia. The emotions and physical sensations felt are so intense that you instantly never want to go through that again. Wherever the panic attack took place becomes part of the pattern that the brain wants to avoid. If you go to another public place and have another panic attack then soon the brain associates going out with panic. 

The more you avoid, the more fear and anxiety you feel and the smaller your world becomes.


The Overprotective Brain


The unconscious mind behaves like an overprotective parent or friend. It will try and protect you from threats including things which may not genuinely be dangerous. Often it will err on the side of caution and will go for being safe rather than sorry. If something scares you such as driving, then your unconscious mind will consider it dangerous even though it isn’t. A natural tendency of being human is to avoid what we fear and fear what we avoid. If we are doing something for the first time it can feel daunting. The unconscious mind will consider it is dangerous otherwise you would already be doing it. 

Once you understand the way your unconscious mind protects you this will help you to bypass the panic button.

Let’s look at some ways that you can help yourself. 


Techniques to support recovery from Agoraphobia


Treating agoraphobia usually involves several steps. It is recommended that you learn about the condition. The more you know the more you will understand. Lifestyle changes will also assist you. These include regular exercise, eating healthy, avoiding alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and drugs and a good sleeping pattern. 

Simply understanding the mechanism that has created the panic and the agoraphobia helps you to understand that you’re not broken, and that your brain is actually working the way it should. The issue is the level at which your brain is sensing danger.


Try taking a step back and once you are in a calm state, ask yourself, ‘Is this really dangerous?’ If it isn’t, and you’re able to pursue doing the activity, you will create a new positive pattern in your brain. Your unconscious mind will eventually learn that this activity isn’t a threat and therefore you don’t need protecting. The creation of new positive patterns is often termed exposure therapy. This is about gradually exposing yourself to things you fear until you feel comfortable doing them. 

It should be noted though, that exposure needs to be gradual and manageable. You don’t want to create new trauma patterns! 

Breathing techniques

Learning to control your breathing is key to reducing the body’s response to fear. Try this 7/11 breathing technique to calm your emotional brain.


Try and shift your attention to something methodical. For example, try and work out a sum or list countries with each letter of the alphabet. Utilising the thinking brain will mean you have to stop using the emotional brain. They can’t both operate at the same time.


It is important not to escape from a situation when you have a panic attack. If possible, stay put until the panic subsides. If you escape you are reinforcing the learned behaviour that you are in danger and you need to escape.


Learn some techniques that help you relax. If you practice these regularly you will be able to use them more effectively during a period of high anxiety.


Learn to accept anxiety. It is not your enemy; in fact, it is your friend. Anxiety is there to protect you. The more you accept it the easier it will be manage.


Think of a place that makes you feel peaceful and relaxed. Focus your mind and visualise yourself there.


Unlearning the Learned behaviour


If you are struggling with anxiety and panic and are finding leaving the house difficult you are not broken. The main problem is that you have inadvertently learned to trust your unconscious brain too much. You are trapped in the cycle of fear and got caught in a prison of avoidance and safety behaviours. At this point you’re always on high alert, struggling to relax and are waiting for the next panic attack.

Teaching your unconscious brain that a situation or place is not dangerous will create new behaviour patterns. This is not easy and will involve putting yourself into scenarios where you will feel high levels of anxiety. It is important you have learnt some of the techniques listed above so you have confidence in controlling your emotions. Challenging your thoughts and reminding yourself that you are not in danger will help the anxiety to pass.

Using a step-by-step process called a SUDS scale will help you gently tackle each of your fears. Start by making a list of everything you want to conquer. Put them in order of difficulty and start by tackling the easiest first. You may need to implement steps before you achieve your goal. For example, if you want to drive 500 miles away, start driving just 5 miles and gradually increase the distance.


Therapeutic Treatment for Agoraphobia


If you are struggling to recover from agoraphobia you may want to consider seeking therapeutic treatment. There are several techniques which professional support can assist with.

Anxiety and agoraphobia are underpinned by trauma templates. It can be difficult to override the emotional brain whilst these are in place. As trauma therapists, we can use specialist techniques to safely remove the traumatic memories that were a pre-cursor to the agoraphobia. Once the traumas have been re-processed by the brain, we use guided imagery and visualisation techniques to rehearse tackling your fears. This will be done whilst you are in a relaxed state. This allows you to practice facing your fears in a completely safe environment.

We will arm you with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) techniques and challenge your unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts. We can help you to develop new helpful ways of thinking which will make positive changes to your life. These positive shifts can help you implement strategies and make you more resilient.

Part of the treatment is developing applied relaxation skills. As an anxious person you may find you can’t remember the last time you relaxed. We can teach you skills and exercises that will allow you to detect and relieve tension.


Get your life back


Agoraphobia is a debilitating condition that can affect your life and that of the people around you, but you don’t have to live with it. It is possible to get help and make changes that can help you to gradually get your life back.

I hope you have found this information about agoraphobia helpful. As always, if you know of someone who would benefit from reading about it then please share it with them. Why not head over to our website, where there’s lots of information and useful downloads.

With warmest wishes


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