Exposure Therapy – My Steps to Beating Agoraphobia

If you’re new here you may not know I had a pretty big run in with Agoraphobia. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s essentially a fear of leaving your safe place (home). It’s also the fear of panic attacks, the attacks are the reason from not straying from the house. You’re trying to avoid them.

It’s been a little over a year since being diagnosed and recently I’ve been doing a lot of exposure therapy to get myself back to normal. Exposure is something you can, and should, practice for many different types of mental illness but mainly anxiety.

What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy is the act of going and doing something you’ve been avoiding. Ever heard the saying feel the fear and do it anyway? Well, this therapy puts that to action. No matter how big or small the task is, you need to face your fear. It’s the only way your mind will ever realise there is no need to bring that good old fight or flight mode into action! Anxiety means we fear things that will not harm us and we need to re-wire our brains and teach them, there is nothing to be scared of. Everything will be fine. This time last year, my exposure therapy started with going to a supermarket for 10 minutes. Yep, 10. That’s how scared I was of leaving my home.

Exposure therapy can bring on panic attacks. You need to work through them or, try and settle them. I’ve written my 5 most effective ways to calm panic attacks.

Where am I Now?

Well, I can go to the supermarket for as long as I need now. I’m able to drive around where I live again and do small things I was unable to do last year. I’ve made progress but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I still struggle with going out for long periods of time or into busy places. I still cannot sit in a restaurant and have a meal nor can I go to many places alone like shopping in centres.

There are many things I want to do, so I’m putting them all in this post. By this time next year, I will have practised every single one of these things and, hopefully, be able to do them with ease! Agoraphobia is notoriously hard to recover from, which is why it’s taking a long time. There are constant set backs and to be honest, some days you don’t feel like doing any exposure exercises. A year may seem like a long time but I’m happy with the slow progress.

What do I want to do?

I’ll be honest and say there are a lot of things that I struggle with. However, I feel that these steps are the right ones to take to give me a good base to work off. I’ve already mastered little things like going out for walks, supermarkets, walking around town (accompanied by friends) and driving more.

Exposure on my own – Busy Places

One thing I haven’t quite managed to get down yet is doing everything by myself. I want to be able to go out on my own without worry. I usually have a ‘safe person’ with me. Things like going into town and doing a bit of shopping or going and exploring a new place alone. If I can get myself out on my own into busier places it’s a great start for bigger things as well.

Long Distance Driving

I’m not scared of driving, I have never been! I have been driving for 5 years in October, passed my test first time and haven’t looked back since. I used to be the most confident person on the roads, always going on long trips. The problem is, my agoraphobia really didn’t allow me to travel far from home so now I’m not used to it. I’m actually pretty excited about this one and don’t dread the thought of it. I’m taking baby steps and working my way up!

Tackling Public Transport

Nothing, I mean nothing, petrifies me more than the thought of having to take a bus or train. I’m even a little nervous about taxis. When I was in college I used to have to get a bus and train every single day. I also have always had many friends in London where I need to get a train into. For some reason, the thought of doing these things now scares me. I’m definitely going to have to start this one with a very short trip and a safe person but I’m confident I’ll be able to do trains again. As for busses, well… I’ve just always hated them. They’re too crowded and bumpy and it takes 10 times longer to get to where I need to be!

I’ll start by getting the train to the nearest town then back and keep pushing it a little further each time! I don’t really need to get the train anywhere in my normal life. I drive everywhere and petrol costs much less than trains sometimes!

Exploring new Places

This makes me more nervous at the thought of doing it on my own. New places scare me because I don’t know the layout, I don’t know where anything is so I can’t really plan. This is actually a good thing as it’ll get me out the habit of planning every exposure trip I take! I’m most excited to visit friends in new places and boost my confidence outside my comfort zone.

These are the four things I’m going to working on from now. Exposure therapy is nerve wracking and it does make you anxious the first few times you do it. If you can stick out the uncomfortable emotions and physical feelings, you’ll overcome your fear. The only reason I’m so certain is that this time last year I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to do the things I can now. Stick it out and keep going. Stay motivated. You can do anything you put your mind to. Including overcoming anxiety, agoraphobia or anything you may be going through!

Abbie x

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