Agoraphobia is the fear of being in places or situations where escape is difficult or impossible. This may be in crowded places, on bridges or in confined spaces. Approximately one-third of those with panic disorder develop agoraphobia, often experiencing fear revolving around places or situations where they have previously had panic attacks. In many cases, this fear leads to avoidance of these places and situations, limiting where you go and what you do. For some, agoraphobia becomes so severe the person doesn’t leave his or her house.
If you suffer from agoraphobia, there are things you can do to help manage your fears: contact a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment, add exercise to your daily regimen, learn and practice relaxation strategies and learn ways to reduce stress in your life. But there are a number of things you should avoid as well:
Caffeine - You may want a cup of coffee in the morning to help you get moving. You might like the feeling of alertness and focus that caffeine creates. But caffeine can increase anxiety:
- Too much caffeine causes nervousness and agitation
- Withdrawal from caffeine can cause agitation, irritability, fatigue and increase anxiety
- Cause problems with sleeping, which in turn increases anxiety
If you aren’t willing to eliminate caffeine, try to limit to one cup of coffee or one caffeinated drink per day.
Alcohol - While it may make you feel better for a little while, alcohol is a depressant. It can increase feelings of hopelessness and depression. Alcohol may also interfere with sleep; it may be easier to fall asleep after drinking alcohol, however, the quality of sleep may be poorer. Lack of proper sleep can increase anxiety.
Denial or Avoidance of Treatment - Agoraphobia and panic disorder are treatable conditions. A mental health professional can work with you in reviewing your treatment options. If you aren’t sure of who to see in your area or are worried about discussing how you feel, start with your family doctor and ask for a referral to a specialist who can help. Avoiding treatment or denying that you are avoiding situations because of your panic attacks may cause you to withdrawal from friends, family and daily activities.
Withdrawal - As the fear of different places takes hold, it is easy to begin to withdrawal and isolate yourself but just as treatment is important, so is the support of friends and family. Sharing what is going on and asking for help is a healthy way to cope with symptoms of agoraphobia. Let friends and family know what type of support and encouragement is most helpful.
Negative Thinking and Feeling Sorry for Yourself - Do you control your anxiety or do you allow your anxiety to control you? Becoming a victim of your anxiety often brings about negative thoughts and feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, make a commitment to learn strategies to control your anxiety and your life. Make time for fun activities with friends and work on stress-relief techniques to help you relax and enjoy life.
Learning to manage your anxiety takes work, time and patience. Anxiety symptoms don’t magically go away because you want them to. Make sure to follow through with any treatment plan, get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day and get enough sleep each night. Making a commitment to these types of lifestyle changes, and avoid those that increase anxiety, will help you better cope with and manage anxiety symptoms.
"Panic disorder with Agoraphobia, Updated 2012, march 25, Updated by Timothy Rogge, M.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.