March into spring with confidence – dealing with agoraphobia
It may still feel like mid-winter at times, but spring is officially blooming. This is fantastic for most but for a certain part of the population who suffer from agoraphobia, a form of social anxiety and one of the most limiting phobias I have dealt with, it is terrifying. People who suffer severely from it may not even be able to leave the house. Agoraphobia can have a number of causes; a fear of being judged, the fear of social contact or even the fear of travelling outside alone.
People affected by agoraphobia miss out on many aspects of life others take for granted. In extreme cases it can even compromise individuals travelling to their work place, potentially losing them their job. It can also be difficult for someone with this phobia to get treatment as they cannot travel to get help.
Ideally you should see a specialist in phobias, however there are a few things you can do to reduce the symptoms.
The first thing is to break the process of going outside into manageable steps, i.e. if you cannot leave your house just start by walking to the bottom of your garden, if you fear being in a crowd, avoid going out at peak times.
Most agoraphobics suffer from shallow breathing. To control this you must become aware of it and start taking deep diaphragmatic breaths, breathing in through your nose for five seconds, holding it and then exhaling through your mouth for five seconds. After you have done this for a few minutes, leaving the house may start to feel more manageable.
The next step is sometimes known as heart breathing (backed up by scientific research).
This technique allows your mind and your body to work together to reduce the phobia.
Step 1 – Start by taking deep breaths, but this time instead of breathing in your diaphragm, you breathe into your heart. Whist placing your hand over your heart, imagine the oxygen filling up your heart as you breathe slowly and evenly in and out. Repeat this for a minute.
Step 2 – Take another deep breath in and out, this time imagine your heart filling up with your favourite colour and repeat the breaths a few more times.
Step 3 – Now, as you take a few more deep breaths in and out, focus on everything you are grateful for. Ask yourself what else can I be grateful for? Think about who you are grateful for, the people in your life, the things you have to be happy about. Repeat this step a few more times.
Step 4 – In the final step, bring all the other steps together. Put your hands over your heart, focus on filling your heart as you breathe, adding in the imagery of your favourite colour, while thinking about everything you are grateful for. Repeat this step until you feel relaxed, centered and at peace.
Tapping is another useful technique to reduce your agoraphobia. By tapping on a number of acupuncture points whilst thinking about your fear, you can drastically reduce it.
Tap each of these places in order for about five seconds whilst thinking about what makes you anxious. If you want to, you can also repeat a mantra whilst doing it.
Hand – Take two fingers and tap on the part of your hand that you would use to do a karate style chop.
Fingers – Tap each finger on either side of the nail.
Eyebrow – Tap just above and to one side of the nose, at the beginning of the eyebrow.
Side of the Eye – Tap the bone bordering the outside corner of the eye.
Under the Eye – Tap the bone under an eye about one inch below your pupil.
Under the Nose – Tap the indent between the bottom of your nose and the top of your upper lip.
Chin – Tap midway between the point of your chin and the bottom of your lower lip.
Collar Bone – Tap the junction where the sternum (breastbone), collarbone and the first rib meet.
Under the Arm – Tap the side of the body, about four inches below the armpit.
Top of the Head – Tap with your fingers back-to-back down the centre of the skull.
By practicing these techniques regularly, you may find that your Agoraphobia will drastically reduce and spring may yet become your favourite time of the year.
Christopher Paul Jones,
Anxiety and Phobia Expert,