Do you remember Elena Lincoln? She was Christian Grey’s love interest in the Fifty Shades movie series. In the movies, Elena’s role was portrayed by Kim Basinger. A super model of her time, Kim has admitted to suffering from agoraphobia, of seeking treatment and of being able to manage her life. She has many more movies to her credit, but Fifty Shades was the most recent of the series.
This example was necessary to state because so many people believe that agoraphobia can’t be cured. It is an anxiety disorder that is manifested as the fear of being in places or situations that could target an anxiety attack. It could be just about any place where the person feels that escape is difficult. Over time, people suffering from agoraphobia tend to keep themselves isolated at home, believing that to be their only “safe” place.
Agoraphobia manifests itself after a person has already had one to two panic attacks. They may start avoiding places and situations where the last attack happened. They worry that being there will set-off another attack, and they may lose control. It doesn’t happen to everyone who has suffered anxiety attacks.
It is usually self diagnosable, if one pays attention to how they are feeling. Agoraphobia symptoms include –
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Feeling sick in unfamiliar places
The physical symptoms aren’t limited to these, but are the first to tell that you could be suffering from some anxiety related symptom. If you observe a pattern to your reaction, it is best to see a mental health therapist or specialist and discuss what you are going through.
Some people also exhibit cognitive symptoms of agoraphobia which may include-
- Fear that a panic attack will make you look stupid or silly.
- Embarrassment that others would think that you are overreacting to a normal situation.
- Fear of losing control in public, because you don’t know the layout of the place or the escape route.
- Fear that others may stop and stare at you, and that makes you extremely conscious, which triggers anxiety in itself.
- You could also experience general feelings of dread and apprehension as soon as you step out of your comfort zone.
- Psychological symptoms include a feeling of being left alone. You may start believing that you will not survive without another person.
It starts getting worrisome when you start exhibiting behavioural symptoms though. Behavioural symptoms include –
- You avoid going too far from your home and only go to familiar places in the vicinity
- When outside, you constantly want to be with someone whom you trust and know can get you safely back home
- You stay housebound for long periods of time
Agoraphobia symptoms are relatively easier to spot and diagnose. Talking to a friend and taking them in confidence, so that they can observe patterns, if any can be of great help. Many a times, it could only be a case of a mild anxiety attack that dissipates as soon as it happens.
It is not characteristic of a mental health issue, unless it has happened very severely or has happened multiple times.
Treatment for Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia treatment can be managed at home after a proper diagnosis. There are many self-help techniques that therapists guide you through to be able to manage your symptoms well. Over time, with counselling and enough practice, many are able to overcome it, though some may need counselling and guidance over the course of their lives.
A few simple practices that constitute agoraphobia treatment is:
- Focus: Every time you think that a panic attack is about to happen, focus on something that is non-threatening. Suppose, you are at the park for your daily jog and you feel overwhelmed, it’s best to start focusing on the trees and plants around you. Count them, unclutter your mind and remind yourself that in a few minutes this will pass.
- Breath control: Breathe deeply, close your eyes, and focus on inhalation and exhalation. Grab onto something for support if you feel the walls closing in on you. Just breathe. Breathe for 3 counts on each exhale and inhale. Count 10 breath cycles on your fingers. When you open your eyes, tell yourself that all’s right with the world and you are safe.
- Don’t fight it: Fighting the symptoms can often make it worse. If you think an attack is coming and you can’t focus, nor breathe, try to just let it go. Sit down and cry it out, if you have to. The fear of embarrassment will pass and you will know that the attack isn’t life threatening. A full blown meltdown might not seem like the best idea at that time but might be the thing you need.
Some therapists also recommend cognitive behavioural treatment. It helps in breaking the cycle of negative thinking and is considered as one of the most effective agoraphobia treatments. With therapy, as you become more and more confident, your therapist can help you set higher goals with time.
A panic attack or agoraphobia isn’t fatal by nature. However, like with all health conditions, this too needs a doctor’s or therapist’s attention.
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