How to Overcome Agoraphobia in 5 Ways
Last Updated: November 6, 2023
Agoraphobia is a mental health disorder that can significantly interfere with daily life. Individuals with this condition face extreme fear, making it difficult to complete routine tasks, such as going to work or public speaking with friends. While symptoms can be distressing, there is quality treatment available. If you are experiencing agoraphobia symptoms, it’s helpful to understand that with treatment, you can reduce the negative impact of this condition on your life.
What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a mental health condition belonging to an anxiety disorder class. People with symptoms of agoraphobia fear situations where they perceive they’ll be unable to leave or escape. In severe cases, someone with agoraphobia may become housebound because they fear the scenarios they may face outside the home.
Situations that may trigger agoraphobia symptoms include:
- Using public transportation
- Being in enclosed spaces, such as a closet or cellar
- Being in an open space like a field
- Waiting in line or being in a crowded situation
- Leaving the home alone
Coping with Agoraphobia
Living with agoraphobia means coping with extreme fear and anxiety when faced with a situation or setting where a person feels trapped or unable to leave. Individuals with agoraphobia experience distress and worry they will have a panic attack when exposed to situations that trigger symptoms. In many cases, they may avoid these triggers altogether, resulting in travel restrictions or an inability to engage in activities outside of the home.
Confronting the situations that trigger a fear response is one of the primary steps necessary for overcoming agoraphobia. While this may be the case, it is understandable that it’s not an easy step. If you’re ready to begin healing from agoraphobia, you can take small steps toward confronting your fear with the understanding that change will not happen overnight.
Practice Systematic Desensitization
Systematic desensitization is a standard method used for overcoming agoraphobia. Therapists can teach this method during sessions, but some may benefit from practicing it independently.
Systematic desensitization involves gradually exposing yourself to anxiety-provoking situations, such as being in a crowded setting like the supermarket. You can begin by making a “fear hierarchy” listing situations that may trigger your fears, ranking them on a scale from 1 to 10. Perhaps a ten is “going to the supermarket alone.”
To practice systematic desensitization, you will first expose yourself to a situation at the lowest level of your fear hierarchy. The example above could mean watching a video of someone at a busy supermarket. The goal is to expose yourself to each item on the fear hierarchy until your anxiety about the item’s presence reduces.
Practicing systematic desensitization requires you to learn relaxation techniques like deep breathing. These techniques during exposure help to reduce anxiety levels. It can also be helpful to think of these steps:
You will follow this process of gradual exposure until you reach the top of your fear hierarchy, without experiencing severe anxiety.
Implement Coping Skills
Various coping skills can be beneficial for managing agoraphobia in daily life. Consider the following methods:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This technique often teaches people to be more relaxed. To practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), focus on specific muscle groups, one at a time. Tense each muscle group, maintaining a 5-7 second contraction, and then release and focus on the feeling of relaxation for 20 seconds before moving to the next muscle group.
For example, begin by tensing and releasing the upper back muscles. Then, move on to the arms, and so on. Some research shows that this method can be beneficial for reducing panic symptoms.
- Breathing Exercises: Practice calming yourself by using deep breathing exercises. Breathe in for a count of three, feeling the diaphragm fill with air, and then breathe out for a count of six. This method has been used as part of a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention for patients with agoraphobia.
- Helpful Thinking: Try to reframe your thinking. Instead of worrying about the worst-case scenario or what could go wrong if you face one of your fears, imagine what might go right. Perhaps you’ll find that you overcome your fear, and life is much more manageable than you ever imagined it could be.
- Avoiding Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms: While healthy coping can be beneficial for managing agoraphobia symptoms, unhealthy coping mechanisms can worsen the condition. For instance, misusing substances or withdrawing from friends and family will likely worsen symptoms.
Stress-Management Relaxation Techniques
Beyond specific coping skills, it’s beneficial to practice general stress management techniques to address agoraphobia symptoms—for instance, plan for situations that may evoke anxiety. If you know you’ll have to use public transportation, or be in a crowded place, making a plan for tackling the situation can make it less stressful.
It can also be beneficial to regularly practice stress-relieving activities, including mindfulness meditation and physical exercise. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and grounding, are often used to manage anxiety disorders, including phobias. Research has also established that exercise is beneficial for alleviating symptoms of agoraphobia.
Address Underlying Issues
There is not one single cause of agoraphobia, but sometimes, underlying issues can contribute to the condition. In this case, it’s helpful to address these underlying issues to learn to overcome agoraphobia symptoms.
For example, stressful and traumatic life events can increase the risk of agoraphobia. If you’ve experienced a significant trauma or stressor, seeking therapy to move toward healing can be beneficial.
Other risk factors for agoraphobia include being diagnosed with panic disorder, or having another phobia, such as fear of heights. Sometimes, addressing these co-occurring conditions can help agoraphobia symptoms to improve.
Seek Professional Help
Self-help strategies, such as healthy coping techniques and stress management, can be beneficial for managing agoraphobia. However, many experience the best outcomes when seeking professional treatment for this anxiety disorder.
Agoraphobia is commonly treated with the following methods:
- Therapy: Agoraphobia is usually treated with CBT methods. Studies have found that (CBT) can reduce anxiety symptoms related to agoraphobia. A specific type of CBT called exposure therapy is often used in agoraphobia treatment. With a therapist’s guidance, this therapy modality gradually exposes patients to the source of their phobia.
- Medication: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are often used to treat depression, are also the first line of treatment for agoraphobia. This class of medication is usually the first choice because of the low risk of serious side effects. Other medications that may be used include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and benzodiazepines.
It’s essential to participate in a comprehensive treatment plan. Your doctor and mental health professional will determine the best strategy to meet your needs.
Professional Treatment for Phobias
When you experience symptoms of agoraphobia, the best way to manage them is to reach out for professional care. If you are looking for agoraphobia treatment in Missouri, The Recovery Village Kansas City is here to help. We offer a full continuum of treatment options for mental health disorders and co-occurring addictions, including medical detox, residential treatment, partial hospitalization programming and intensive outpatient services. Contact one of our Recovery Advocates today to get started.
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