Though mainly a fear of open spaces and crowds, agoraphobia can have a few other tricksy tricks up its tricksy sleeve. It’s not nice. A prior sufferer explains how they learned to overcome agoraphobia.
Contrary to popular belief, agoraphobia is not the opposite of claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces). Agoraphobia, though it primarily consists of a fear of open spaces and crowds, can also include fear of unfamiliar places, people, situations and in turn lead to a fear of leaving the safety of the house.
Agoraphobia can often (but not always) come alongside panic disorder, in which the sufferer has a series of panic attacks whenever placed in a difficult situation.
I suffered from agoraphobia, but with a bit of help from my friends and a lot of believing in myself, I have overcome it. I was 16 when I first got panic attacks, but I had noticed the insecurity before this and I regret not doing something about it sooner.
Coping tips for DIY agoraphobia treatment
1. Here’s a subtle breathing technique to help that suffocating feeling. Concentrate on what you can feel under your feet/ what you’re sitting on or against. Keep focusing on it, take a deep breath in through your nose and count four seconds whilst breathing in. Hold it for no more than two seconds, then slowly release the breath for six seconds out your mouth. Repeat until you feel relaxed.
2. Don’t curl up if you panic. Be sure to keep your chest open so the air can get to your lungs; it will hurt more if you scrunch into a ball. If you feel dizzy, be sure to sit or lie down.
3. Try something new. When I was trying to recover from agoraphobia I put myself in crowded situations such as parties and tried socialising. Talking to people you don’t know at social events can be a really great help, and you might find a rewarding friendship. Though do be sensible; have a friend with you and be safe.
4. Avoid stimulants and alcohol. Though drinking at first may help loosen you and make you feel more relaxed, it can turn on you. I had a lot more panic attacks when drunk. Alcohol is also a depressant; it won’t make you feel better. Try not to have too much caffeine either – caffeine will give you rushes of energy that you might struggle to keep up with and in turn lead to more attacks.
5. As simple as it sounds; talk to someone. I left it far too long just to tell my friends, let alone a counsellor. Don’t suffer in silence; you can be helped.
Helping an agoraphobic friend or relative
1. Be supportive. I never would have got through agoraphobia without the help from my friends and sister. Encourage them to leave their safety zone; they will probably feel more relaxed around familiar and friendly faces too.
2. If they’re having a panic attack the worst thing for you to do is also panic. Take a few deep breaths, then sit them down and talk them through the breathing exercise I offered. Some people can get violent when having a panic attack, so don’t be forceful. Offer them water, but only when they have calmed down; hyperventilating can easily lead to choking. They might need a bucket too; nausea and vomiting is very common.
3. Encourage them to seek help. Agoraphobia is a serious disorder and can’t be ignored. Admitting it’s taking over your life is a very terrifying prospect, so try to get your friend or relative to see a doctor or counsellor before the agoraphobia has a chance to develop further.
Agoraphobia can come out of nowhere but don’t let it take over your life. It’s not worth wasting your years in fear. I am now 19 and have completed my first year of university. If I can do it, so can you. You can get over this. Good luck.
Art by Lidor Wyssocky