Cure Agoraphobia and Reclaim Your Life in 10 Steps
I am a recovered agoraphobic. I also suffered from anxiety/panic attacks, postpartum depression, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)—all at the same time. I have been cured of my agoraphobia for close to 7 years now.
Agoraphobia makes you a prisoner of your own fear. You associate your anxiety with certain surroundings. If you felt anxious or had a panic attack at the mall, you stop going to the mall believing that if you go there, you will trigger another panic attack. This continues until your world dwindles down to your own home and not wanting to step out for fear of triggering a panic attack.
The 10-step program I will share with you helped me to overcome agoraphobia, but the truth is that I credit my Heavenly Father for giving me my life back. I hope I can help you get your life back, too.
Do you suffer from agoraphobia?
Step 1: Take Time to Heal Your Body
If you are suffering from agoraphobia you have probably suffered from anxiety/panic attacks long enough to frazzle your nerves. One of the first and best things you can do for yourself is to get your body back on the path of healing.
Length of Time: 3-4 weeks before proceeding to Step 2.
Why You Need to Do This: When your body is under any kind of stress, it will use up valuable vitamins and nutrients faster then when you are calm and relaxed. Stress is very hard on your body and when you suffer from agoraphobia or panic attacks/anxiety for a long stretch of time, your nerves are raw and your body will feel out of whack.
By getting on track with your nutrition, exercise and sleep, you will give your body a fighting chance to get back to a more relaxed and calm state. Think of this step as building a solid foundation for your recovery.
Take a daily multivitamin
If you are not doing so already, I strongly urge you to begin taking a multivitamin with minerals. Check the expiry date on the bottle and throw it out if it has expired, your vitamins will be less effective. I also suggest investing a little extra money into a good quality vitamin. There are many brands on the market, do a little research and see which are best for you.
Take supplements if possible
I found that taking supplements made a huge difference in how I felt. In combination with taking a multivitamin, it made me feel more like my old self. It may do the same for you. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.
Supplements that help:
- B Complex
- Vitamin C*
- Vitamin E
- Omega 3
- Fish Oils/Cod Liver Oil
- Vitamin D
* If you have a nervous stomach as I did, you may want to eat foods high in vitamin C rather than taking a supplement. I found that vitamin c supplements upset my stomach.
Caffeine and Sugar
If your diet contains caffeine and high amounts of sugar, I suggest slowly weaning yourself off them until you no longer have caffeine in your diet and you are only consuming 6 grams of sugar per serving or less.
Cutting down on sugar will give you tremendous health benefits and stop your blood sugar levels from spiking in your body. Going cold turkey is hard on your body and may trigger higher levels of anxiety and make things worse. Go slow and easy.
Foods that are treated like sugar in your body are white bread, white rice, soda, juice, sweet fruits like ripe bananas, certain vegetables like carrots grains such as corn.
When you have high levels of sugar in your system it can make you feel anxious and jittery. By watching the amount of sugar you consume, you are helping your nerves to heal because you will be experiencing less anxiety/anxious feelings due to what you have eaten. Caffeine has the same effects and can also cause jitters and feelings of anxiety.
Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
You don't have to go overboard here and don't get stressed out over this. Just try adding a salad with one of your meals, or an extra serving of fruit with breakfast such as an apple.
I can't stress enough how important it is to eat 3 meals a day and have 2 snacks; one before lunch and one before dinner to keep your blood sugar levels stabilized.
If you miss a meal your blood sugar levels will drop. If they drop too low you will experience anxiety and may trigger a panic attack. I know this because this is what happens if my blood sugar drops.
Finding the motivation to get out of bed or get off the sofa and exercise can be difficult, I know. I've been there, and I understand. Exercise boosts endorphins which puts you in a better mood and will give you more energy.
What I suggest is incorporating just a little bit of exercise to start, and slowly add more as you are able.
If even the thought of any physical exercise is too much for you right now, do some light stretches, especially before bed. When you are anxious your muscles tend to tense up. By doing stretches you will help your body release that tension and help you to relax and even sleep better.
Exercises you can do in your own home:
- Stairs, if you have any or step up and down on a sturdy box or even a large hardcover book will work.
- Do some sit-ups, push-ups, or squats during TV commercial breaks.
- Watch a DVD workout in your living room.
- Skip rope
- Run/jog on the spot
- Callanetics (see link to the right)
- Instead of walking around your house, try doing lunges forward instead, alternating with each leg.
- When you do your housework like vacuuming, try doing it a little quicker and keep your tummy sucked in and your spine elongated.
- Use free weights if you have them or soup cans/water bottles
Get Plenty of Sleep
When you are sleeping your body is able to heal and it is the time when your brain sorts through everything that happened during the day.
Getting adequate sleep is very important for healing your body. Aim to get to bed before 11 pm (there is something about the quality of sleep you get before midnight).
Establish a set routine for yourself before you go to bed. This can include a hot bath, listening to music or reading before going to bed.
Avoid watching TV, spending time on the computer or playing video games before bed. I would also recommend avoiding physical work of any kind and stay away from sweets too close to bedtime.
If you are still drinking tea, coffee or anything with caffeine, be sure to cut yourself off before 4 pm.
What are the things that gave you joy that you no longer experience in your life anymore?
- Watching old black and white movies
- Puzzles/word puzzles
- Chess/strategy games
- etc., etc.
Step 2: Rediscovery
“Know thyself?’ If I knew myself, I’d run away.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." - Matthew 7: 7&8
Length of Time: 1 week
Why You Need to Do This: It's necessary to start shifting your focus on things that will have a positive effect in your life to begin to combat all the negativity and anxiety that you are experiencing day to day.
One of the casualties of agoraphobia is part of your soul. As with depression (postpartum or otherwise) we tend to forget the things in our life that brought us joy.
Step 2 is about asking yourself: Who am I?
This not a question you can answer in a day. This will take some time. Discover what used to bring you happiness, joy and peace in your life. You can do this through going through old photo albums, daydreaming, and just reminiscing.
Once you have rediscovered at least one or two things that you would like to do again that you are able to do in your own home, find the time to do it at least 2 times a week.
As for any hobbies that you used to do outside your home, hang onto these! You will be able to incorporate these into Step 4.
Making my own dreamboard
Step 3: Dare to Dream
“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - Philippians 4:13
Length of Time: 1 week
Why You Need to Do This: This exercise will help you to rediscover the world outside your front door and reconnect you to the dreams and goals that you have. When you suffer from agoraphobia, the world outside your front door may seem more like a black abyss that is big and scary. By putting onto paper the goals that you have, you are creating your own beacon of light out there in the world for you to reach towards.
This week I want you to do some more brainstorming and come up with all the goals or dreams that you have for your life. It can be as basic as wanting to finish your college degree or exotic as taking a trip to Italy. They should be things that make you excited when you think about them. Don't place restrictions on yourself or even consider if you can do it or not. Just push all your negative thoughts aside and let the sky be your limit.
There is no limit to all the dreams and goals you can come up with. Let your imagination guide you and spend a week coming up with them.
Once you are finished, you can create something called a vision or a dreamboard if you like. Or you can find pictures of your dreams and goals and put them on the fridge, your vanity mirror, anywhere that you can see them each day. You can even just write down your goal with a big marker or pen and place it where you can see it.
Over to the right I photographed a dreamboard I made for myself so that you can get an idea of what they are. I have to admit, I'm not much for these things. It brings back memories of all the cutting and pasting I had to do in art class. If you like having something visual, then by all means make yourself one too.
Step 4: Find Support
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
― C.S. Lewis
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." - Matthew 11:28 & 29
Length of Time: Ongoing
Why You Need to Do This: When you suffer from agoraphobia, your social network gets smaller and smaller because you leave the house and less and less. It's also hard to maintain friendships because sometimes people just don't understand what you are going through and think that you're just not interested in their friendship because you never want to go out with them. You need to have at least one person in your life you can look to for support to help you overcome your agoraphobia.
Life in your house can be a lonely place. I know because I've been there too. Having no interactions from friends and family added to my depression. It's a bit of a vicious cycle; you feel anxious/scared so you stay home, which in turn causes you lose opportunities for socializing with friends and family, which then adds to your feelings of anxiousness and/or sadness.
Looking for a source of support when you are stuck at home is like trying to get a job when you have no job experience and that's what you need to be hired.
My suggestion is to join an online community group or forum. They're great places to vent and/or interact with other people from the comfort of your own home. There are forums for moms or parents, or just for women. Find a community that you feel comfortable with and go from there.
Even if you have friends or family that you can count on for support, it's still beneficial to increase your social network, even if it's just online for now.
If You are Truly Alone: I want you to know that you're not. For starters, there are many people out there going through the same thing as you. If you are a fellow Hubber like me, drop me a line and I will be more than happy to be your support. If you are a Christian; you have one of the best supports in Jesus Christ. He was my source of support and the reason why I am cured. Lean on Him as much as you want and He will see you through to the end.
My Own Denial
I spent years in denial, that's right, years. I knew I was just coping, and not really living but I was too afraid to face the facts.
Deep down I knew that one day I would have to face my fear and it wasn't until I fully realized what I was missing out on in my life that I gained enough courage to make a change.
I wanted to live my life, not be afraid of it.
Step 5: The Cost of Fear
"Over time, the hurt doesn't hurt. Only regret does." -Terri Guillemets
"Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed." - Hebrews 12:12 & 13
Length of Time: A few days or up to a week
Why You Need to Do This: When you suffer from anxiety and agoraphobia your world shrinks around you until all you have left is a tiny little bubble of just you. When you are afraid you are very focused on yourself; what you are feeling and what your body is doing. What you may not have noticed are all of the things in life that have passed you by.
If you are suffering from agoraphobia and are limited to staying in your house and you think everything is OK in your life, you are in denial. You will never overcome agoraphobia until you make the realization that it is NOT OK to live your life in constant fear. That is not living, that's surviving.
Part One: Make the List:
It's time to make yet another list. This one is going to be painful. I want you to compose a list of all the things you have missed out on by being afraid and confined to your home. I want you to see with your own eyes just how much of a toll fear has taken on your life.
How many of your children's school concerts have you missed because you were afraid to go to the school?
How many job opportunities have you missed because the thought of getting on a bus or in your car to go anywhere terrified you?
How much fun have you missed out because you haven't been able to hang out with friends or go to any social gatherings?
How many beautiful days outside have you missed because you were scared to step out your front door?
What has fear robbed you of in your life?
Part Two: The Answer
Once you have made as thorough a list as possible, I want you to answer this question:
Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to overcome your agoraphobia once and for all?
If your answer is no, I want you to take this list you just made and stick it somewhere you will see it and wait a few more days before asking yourself again.
If your answer is yes, congrats!! It's not an easy question to answer, and by realizing what you have lost, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step 6: Letting Go
"Without freedom from the past, there is no freedom at all..." - Krishnamurti
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
Length of Time: 1 day or up to a week
Why You Need to Do This:
Aside from greater peace of mind, you may discover some of the triggers to your anxiety/panic attacks and realize that your feelings of insecurity, perfectionism and/or fears of failure (if you suffer from these as I did) didn't come out of nowhere, they are coming from either events in your past or how you deal with things emotionally now. By discovering these things and then letting them go, you will enable yourself to move forward with your life.
if you have experienced something traumatic in your life, the aftershocks may affect you more so than the event itself and may manifest days, weeks or even months after the event.
My father's death for example. He had been sick with Hepatitis C for over 7 years. I knew that he wouldn't live forever and I thought I was mentally prepared for his death. After complications from a second liver transplant operation, my father passed away. I was terribly sad, I cried, but for the most part I thought I handled it OK. Five months later and I remember waking up one night shaking, sweating and having a bad panic attack. Then I had another and another all in a row. I had no idea what had come over me until I realized that it was just my body's way of physically dealing with the loss of my dad.
People who suffer from anxiety worry a lot as the term anxiety would indicate. Worries about anything and everything begin to pile up after a while and when you hold on to painful memories and develop an unhealthy way of dealing with the stress, your body tries to find a way of letting it go physically in the form of panic attacks. Your nervous system can only handle so much.
The Backpack of Burden
Do you want to know what carrying around all these worries mentally feels like physically? Each worry that you hold on to is like a weight that you carry around with you, burdening yourself more and more until you are so overcome that you can no longer move forward.
Find yourself a backpack or if you don't have one some plastic or fabric shopping bags will do. Round up any and all items that have weight to them in your house (that are not breakable) such as soup cans, heavy books (not too heavy), full bottles of shampoo, whatever you can find.
Now find a quiet spot in your home, or if you are by yourself then turn off all distractions and place the backpack or bags in front of you and have all the other heavy items ready to go within reach. Think about everything that you are currently worried about and for every worry place an item in a bag. Keep going until you run out of worries or the bags are full.
Now stand up and put the backpack on your back and walk around the house for a while. If you don't have a backpack, walk around with your heavy shopping bags. How do you feel? How difficult is it to walk? Can you walk at all? Is it painful?
Do you remember the commercial on TV in the 1980s that showed you a pan of frying butter then a voice that said "this is your brain"? Then raw eggs were put in and they fried. Then the voice said, "this is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" Consider your bags or your backpack to be your nervous system. The weights you put in it are all the worries it has to try to deal with every single day. Even though a worry may not weight anything literally because it is just a thought, it does weight you down spiritually and mentally.
Replacing Negative Self Talk
Here are some great replacements:
- I can't do this = How can I do this?
- This is impossible = Where there is a will, there is a way
- I'm so stupid = Everyone makes mistakes, I'll do better next time
- I'll never...(fill in blank) = Brick by brick... Rome wasn't built in a day either
- I'm such a loser = I so rock
- I can't do anything right = Tomorrow will be a better day!
Dr. Phil once made a great analogy on his TV show. He likened trying to keep an inflated beach ball under water to trying to control everything in your life without letting go. He says:
"All of these things that you're feeling: all the guilt, all the shame, all the anxiety, you're constantly using all your energy to hold that down. And then when you get tired, or it slips up " which is happening more lately " you go, Oh, my God, I've got to go get all that and shove it down, because I don't know how to deal with it.' That's what you need to learn how to do."
So how do you let go? Let me count the ways:
- Start keeping a journal and write down your feelings and thoughts daily. This will enable you to start getting them out of your head and away from yourself. This works great if you have difficulty falling asleep too.
- Do a purge of your home one room at a time and toss out or donate items you never use and consider donating or tossing out items that hold you back in the past and cause painful memories (do not worry about what other people think, just take control and do what you need to do).
- On small pieces of paper, write down a negative feeling you experience regularly such as 'fear' and then rip up that paper in as many pieces as you can and throw it away.
- Physical exercise (even if it's just vacuuming) can help you get rid of negative energy and help decrease your stress level.
- Write a letter to someone in your life that caused you great pain or did something to you that you have hung on to up until now (even if they are no longer living. Fully express yourself and let it out on paper. Once you are finished destroy the letter and vow to leave what happened in your past firmly in the past and move on.
- Listen to music that either helps you relax or makes you feel empowered.
Keep in mind that you can do one or all of these suggestions, because the more you let go, the better you will feel.
For Christians: One of the best things you can do is to pray to God and ask Him to help you identify the sources of pain and anxiety in your life and the strength and peace to let it go. This involves forgiveness, even if this person is no longer living or the event took place when you were a child. Forgiveness is not about making what someone did OK, it's about giving the injustice, pain and the hurt to God to deal with and letting go.
Praying was one of the ways I strengthened my relationship with Christ and eased my burdens onto Him. I also prayed for the strength to forgive others who wronged me or hurt me in my life so that I could finally let go of the pain and move on with my life.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4: 6&7
"Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." - Matthew 18: 21&22
Step 7: Facing the Bully
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”- Winston Churchill
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." - Ephesians 6:13
When it comes to bullies, one of the worst things you can do is not fight back because they will continue to bully you. When you suffer from anxiety/panic attacks/agoraphobia fear is your number one bully. If you want to overcome your fear and reclaim your life, you must face this bully.
As you know, with agoraphobia you associate your panic attack with where you were and try to avoid that spot afterwards believing that where you were has something to do with having the panic attack. You think that by avoiding that area in the future, you can therefore avoid a future panic attack.
Facing the Truth
The truth is where you were and the fact that you had a panic attack in most cases was unrelated. The bakery did not trigger your panic attack. The mall did not cause the panic attack. You get the idea.
Going back to those areas that you had the panic attack as an attempt to over come your fear is good, but that's only part of the solution. The cure is to stop being afraid of feeling afraid, to stop worrying about losing control, being perfect, being afraid of failing and so forth.
A panic attack is nothing more than a combination of your body's response to having adrenaline dumped into your blood stream and an over worked nervous system that is is hypersensitive to what you are feeling at any given moment.
It's normal, it doesn't kill you, it's one way your body is able to regulate itself after being over stimulated. That's it. When you are at the peak of your panic attack, it only lasts for a few seconds, even though it may feel like an eternity.
When you start constantly thinking about panic attacks and stay focused on every little sensation your body is feeling every single minute of the day, you are feeding the fear you have about having a panic attack. Instead, your focus should be that your body just needed to blow off some steam, that you are OK and get your mind focused on something else (positive).
How to Stand Up to the Bully
The key to this step is not to just go through the motions and say to yourself, "yeah, yeah, I know I have to deal with my fear." You have to get mad. A little towards yourself, but mostly towards the fear itself as if it were a living breathing person who has been tormenting you for so long.
Why a little anger? I'll let you in on a secret; it is next to impossible to be both angry at fear controlling your life AND afraid at the same time. By that I mean, if you're sick and tired of fear controlling your life, you're not going to be afraid of it anymore.
If you're not at a point in your life where you've had enough of being bullied and pushed around by fear, you are not ready to move on. You MUST come to the point where you can stand up to fear and say to it:
You no longer have the right to control my life. From this point on I will be in charge, not you.
Go back to Step 5 and look over your list of what you have missed out in your life to help you. How much more are you going to give up to fear?
You can face your fear (personified as a bully) in a letter, or by looking in a mirror (this is what I did) or in your journal. You can do it by visualization, or by talking to a pillow or a stuffed animal, a picture of someone you really don't like, it doesn't matter how you do it, just do it.
Make the conscious decision that you no longer want to be afraid of your own body, and the next time you start feeling anxious, recognize those feelings and stop for a moment. Remember that you're not going to be pushed around by fear anymore. Stand strong in the face of that fear and those feelings of fear will disappear, I promise you.
Hints for Success
- Pick a time of the day when you feel your best to step outside and complete your daily challenge.
- Relax and stretch before stepping out. This will reduce any tension that may be in your shoulders or elsewhere and help you feel less anxious.
- As much as possible, try to get outside every day. The success you had the day before will give you an extra boost of encouragement to face your fears the next day.
- Don't start your challenges if you are under the weather or dealing with something very stressful. Wait until you have your plate clear as much as possible before moving forward.
- Stop negative self talk and think positive thoughts instead.
- Have a buddy you can call or text to give you extra encouragement if you need it, especially once you are venturing out further from your home.
- Try listening to music you like or a lecture or the radio on headphones while you are out if you find it more comforting.
- Keep in mind that you will have setbacks and there will be days you just won't be able to do it. DO NOT beat yourself up over any set backs!! Recovery from agoraphobia is always 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
- Take pictures with you that give you strength. They can be of your family or nature or friends, whatever inspires you! Look to them when you need a boost of encouragement.
- Reward yourself for each and every victory over fear, no matter how small it is. All victories are important!
- Finally, if you are Christian (or just want to) pray to the Lord before stepping out. If you don't know what to ask for, ask for strength and encouragement and pray for His Holy Spirit to guide you and strengthen you.
Step 8: Challenge Accepted!
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt
"Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." - Dale Carnegie
"In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21
Length of Time: Everyday of your life
Why You Need to Do This: You can't overcome agoraphobia by sitting on your sofa. Everyday presents a new challenge for you and the prize is getting your life back.
The First Steps
The first thing you do after accepting your challenge is to make a small and attainable goal for yourself. For example, "Today, I will take 3 steps outside my front door!" Then do it!
Don't get too ahead of yourself and make your first challenge a walk to the library 5 blocks away. Take baby steps forward.
As I state in the the column to the right regarding hints for success, try to get out every day as much as possible. Make each challenge a tiny bit more difficult then the last. For example, if you took 5 steps outside your door yesterday, try taking 10 today.
Always, always, celebrate each and every success you have.
The What ifs and the Yeah Buts
Sounds like a book title by the children's author Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein doesn't it?
When it came to self talk, one of the most common lines I would say to myself was "What if?" As in what if when I get on the bus I start to have a panic attack? What if I feel scared in the grocery store? At first my response was always, "Oh no," followed by a big rush of anxious thoughts and feeling of dread.
Then there was the yeah buts. I would say to myself, "I should go to the store and pick up some more milk," and "Yeah, but I might have a panic attack while I'm in the store," would follow shortly after.
When it comes to What ifs and Yeah Buts you have to turn them on their head like you do the negative self talk. How do you do that? Like this:
- What if I start to have a panic attack while I'm at the store = What if I get to the grocery store and enjoy being out of the house and maybe even find some great deals too?
- What if I have a panic attack while I'm walking to the library? = What if I enjoy my walk outside and see some people I know?
- I really want to take a course. Yeah, but I might suck at it and look stupid = yeah, but I might discover that SQL really isn't my thing and discover what course might work better for me.
- I'd like to go downtown to that cool new clothing boutique. Yeah, but I might have a panic attack while I'm in there = yeah, but I might not be afraid and have a really great outing, find some fabulous clothes and have fun.
You get the idea. Turn the negative question into a positive question. It's time to stop automatically assuming that everything you do or try will result in feeling anxious or having a panic attack. Instead, you may actually enjoy yourself and have a good time! In fact, by focusing on all the positive things that could happen, the chances of those positive things coming to fruition goes up 100%.
A Tale of Two Banks
Imagine that inside of you there are two banks. One is the Bank of Negativity and the other is the Positive Bank, or as I like to call it, the Victory Bank.
Every time that you have negative thoughts that result in anxiety or fear so that you can't do certain things, you make a deposit at the Bank of Negativity. When you have agoraphobia, your bank account at the Bank of Negativity is very full. You are their favourite customer! When you make a deposit at this bank, you don't earn interest on it, they take interest from you in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness, frustration, despair, etc.
Here is where your daily challenges to overcome fear come in; Every time you set a goal for yourself (no matter how small) and succeed, you make a deposit at the Victory Bank. The Victory Bank does not distinguish between small and big deposits. Each victory is worth the same, for the most part. Walking 15 steps from your front door and walking to the library and back are worth the same. So quality of deposits don't count as much as quantity. The more deposits you make, the more interest you will make.
What is the interest at the Victory Bank? Self-esteem, inner strength, peace, joy and happiness to name only a few. At the Victory Bank, they pay you the interest, they don't take it. What is even better is that for every deposit you make at the Victory Bank, a withdrawal from the Bank of Negativity is made. How great is that?
Step 9: Plan for Success
"You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win." - Zig Ziglar
"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." - Anatole France
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it... Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Length of Time: When you are ready and have been getting out of the house regularly for at least 3 weeks.
Why You Need to Do This: As I said earlier, every success no matter how small is important. After a few weeks of regularly getting out of your house a few steps at a time, it's time to make a plan to get to a destination out of your comfort zone that is not too far, but also not just at the end of the street either. When you achieve success with getting to a destination outside your current comfort zone, you will enable yourself to have continued success with other places you want to get to that are further and further away from your home. You will also be able to gain more confidence, and you will feel more empowered that you can in fact do whatever you set your mind to.
Remember when you made a list of hobbies that you wanted to start doing again? For inspiration you can go through them and see if any jump out at you. Which one do you want to do more than any of the others? Is it baking? Cooking? Painting?
Once you have a goal or hobby in mind, it's time to formulate an action plan to make it come true. There is hitch though, you must pick a destination that is not too far (such as 20 minutes away) or too close (at the end of your street). For example, if you want to learn how to bake pastry, rather than just looking it up on the Internet from your home, see how far your local library or bookstore is and make that your destination.
The key to this step is making sure that what you pick excites you. The excitement you feel must be stronger than any fear you might have about having a panic attack. Even if it's by only a slim margin.
If the hobby or goal you have requires a short trip on the bus or in your car, do not write it off as impossible. Here is what you can do;
- ask a friend or family member to come with you on the bus or car on a short trip somewhere a little closer than the destination you have selected for your plan of action.
- Or if a friend or family member is going on the bus or driving somewhere close by, ask if you can go with them.
This is important if it has been a while since you got on a bus or in your car. You need to re-familiarize yourself again and dispel any fears that may have built up in your mind since the last time you took a bus or car. You will see (with the comfort of having someone with you) that its not so scary after all. Do this as many times as you need to, until you feel relatively comfortable with the thought of getting on a bus or in a car by yourself.
Items of Security
By security, I mean things that give you a sense of security by having them with you. When you are on the road to recovery from agoraphobia, security items are a big help. You will probably need them for a while, but as you get out more and more and are less afraid, you will need these items less and less. They help you to transition from a place of anxiety and fear to a place of relaxation and peace.
They can be anything really, A key chain, a photo, even a small Bible or book of Psalms, or some other kind of memento. They help you realize that you are OK and that things will be OK. They are included on your checklist for your outing.
Plan of Action Check List:
- Know ahead of time the exact route you will be taking
- Know how you are getting there (walking, car, bus, etc.,)
- How long will be spending at your destination?
- Cell phone or phone number of a buddy for encouragement if you need it
- Photo or item of encouragement you can take with you such as an inspirational key chain, bookmark, magnet, etc.,
- Water or beverage in case you get thirsty or throat gets dry
- Wallet with Money and identification
- Hair brush/comb and or make-up if you wish
- Don't go out on an empty stomach
- Check the weather and make sure it's a decent day to head out
- Book or music player (Ipod, etc) if it helps you during your walk or bus ride
- A positive attitude
Moral of the Story: Get Busy Living
Step 10: Reclaiming Your Life
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- meditate on these things."
- Philippians 4: 8
"I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - Philippians 4: 11-13
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
- Winston Churchill
"Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain." - Joseph Campbell
It doesn't matter how long you have suffered from agoraphobia or panic attacks. It doesn't matter how hopeless it all seems or how dark your future looks, there is always hope.
There will always be people and events in your life that will try to take your joy from you and succeed. You must hold on to what is precious and special to you and never let them go. Tomorrow is another day as Scarlett O'Hara once said, and she was right.
On your road to recovery you will have set backs. There will be days where you just can't bring yourself to follow through and get outside, or maybe you were out and had another panic attack. Just remember that you didn't get to the point in your life you are at right now in one day, neither will you go back to the way you were before the anxiety in one day either.
Reclaiming your life is about taking back the control from fear and living your life, not merely surviving it. It will be one of the greatest things you will have overcome in your life.
What is it like on the other side of the dark and lonely tunnel? Peaceful, beautiful, hopeful.
What does recovery feel like? It's kind of a funny thing. When you begin to recover from anxiety and agoraphobia what happens is that your mind is less focused on how you are feeling and think about having panic attacks less and less. You will have days where you realize that you didn't even think about whether you were scared or not! The thought itself might scare you a little because you have gotten so used to feeling anxious. Let the thought pass and be happy that you are closer to being free!
© 2013 Carolyn Dahl