First Steps in Overcoming Panic-related Agoraphobia
If you suffer from panic attacks there's a good chance you've adapted your lifestyle to avoid situations you associate with an increased risk of panic. This can be anything,but some common lifestyle changes are avoiding shops, crowded places, standing in a line, cutting out exercise (because of increased heart rate and breathing) and sex. You probably also find that some days feel better than others. On these days you get an extra shot of confidence and you may get back in the saddle, even for a short time, but it often doesn't last.
Confidence certainly takes a battering after panic sets in. Avoiding situations you associate with high levels of discomfort is an entirely logical response. Similarly, buttoning down your emotions is very common. You feel that if you control yourself emotionally and remain vigilant to possible dangers that you will get through it, that one day things will begin to ease and with luck, you will improve.
Sadly, it doesn't really work like that. All the time you remain aware, controlled and vigilant, are signs that things aren't improving. What you really need to do is test yourself against those very situations you fear. This will demonstrate beyond doubt that your worst fears are groundless.
Where to begin? There have always been a couple of general ideas with regard to tackling fears. One is to begin with the least feared situation and gradually progress to a point where the most feared is confronted. The second approach is to jump in the deep end. This is based around the knowledge that our fear response can only last for so long before it begins to subside. Maybe there's a middle ground?
These days many psychologists encourage people to attempt the most difficult situation you are willing to try. The point of this is to demonstrate that your worst fears won't become a reality and your progress will be far more rapid. There is also something of a risk with dealing with the least frightening situation first. It can become a ponderous situation that is hard to move forward from. And, because your least feared scenario evokes upsetting emotions and physical symptoms your most feared scenario can sometimes appear too difficult to contemplate.
What you can do is prepare yourself mentally by becoming aware of the frightening thoughts going through your mind before entering the feared situation. You may be someone who is actively thinking ’I'm going to die’ or you may require an extra step. You will be most aware of physical symptoms and emotional upset. Take these sensations and translate them into thoughts. What is it you think is happening? Now you will probably notice your predictions (’I’ll fall if I let go’, ’I’m going to faint’).
Now comes the hard part. You need to be brave and test your predictions. For example, let go of the prop. At first you may try to compensate by stiffening your legs, or feeling light-headed and you may be convinced things will get worse. They won't. And you can push the boundaries by, for instance, standing on one leg. The more daring you can be the quicker your confidence will return.