Overcoming panic attacks and agoraphobia - Part 1

When your life is limited by panic attacks and agoraphobia, it can be easy to despair, and to wonder whether you will ever feel free of panic and anxiety again.

A common definition of agoraphobia is the fear of leaving the safety of home, or another "safe" place, in case one has a panic attack in a place or situation where one cannot readily seek assistance. Some people report agoraphobia without panic attacks, but in my experience in working with people who suffer from agoraphobia, most people experience agoraphobia in conjunction with panic attacks.

Each person's experience of agoraphobia is unique, but there are common factors shared by others. These factors include, the fear of future panic attacks after the first full blown panic attack, using avoidance strategies such as staying home, not driving the car, sticking to the same routine, and using distractions, in order to try and avoid future panic attacks, and the feelings of distress and vulnerability that ensue.

The severity of agoraphobia varies not only from person to person, but also from day to day for each person. There might be days when you can fairly easily leave the house, and other days when you can barely make it out the front door and wonder if you will ever be able to leave your home again. Or you may be able to continue your life outside the home, so that to all appearances, to other people, your life appears quite normal, and no one would know how anxious you feel inside. In this situation, you continue your life seemingly normally, and you attend your paid or unpaid work, but you stick to the same path, or schedule, each day, and don't veer from it, as that provides a sense of control and safety.

"Is it possible to recover and get my life back?" This is the most common question that I have been asked in all the years I have worked with people experiencing agoraphobia. My reply is always "Yes!" because panic attacks and agoraphobia are some of the most treatable anxiety disorders. A major factor that keeps people stuck is the fear of the fear, the fear of another panic attack. Through counselling and other strategies, we can work on reducing and eliminating the fear of the fear.

In future posts I will outline ways that you can begin to reclaim your life from panic attacks and agoraphobia. I will explore topics such as how to find courage amidst the fear, how to take those first steps to freedom which will be different for each person, finding your passion and using it to heal, accepting and celebrating anxiety, the practice of meditation, and counselling methods that are effective in overcoming panic attacks and agoraphobia.

A thought for today:

We often think that in order to change our lives that we need to make big changes, and sometimes we do. But by making one small change each day, this is gentler, and possibly more empowering, as it is easier to succeed when we start with small changes. It might be something as simple as changing our morning routine in some small way. Small daily changes add up, and before we know it, those small changes that caused little discomfort to make, have added up to bigger changes. What small and easy change can you make?

Thank you for reading my post. I will be publishing more posts in the weeks to come.

(c) Voula Augerinos 2016

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