Agoraphobia, anyone?

Adventures of an eccentric recluse.

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder. A person with agoraphobia is afraid to leave environments they know or consider to be safe. In severe cases, a person with agoraphobia considers their home to be the only safe environment. They may avoid leaving their home for days, months or even years.

from the Better Health Channel published by the Government of Australia

Have you ever had that eureka moment when someone, usually a doctor, informs you that an experience or behaviour you thought was completely normal actually is a symptom of some pathology?

Well, today presented such an opportunity for me when I decided to google "agoraphobia" and stumbled upon that definition above.

Apparently, how I've been living my life since the pandemic started is considered "severe".

Luckily, there are treatments! Recently on a (remote) session with a therapist, I learned some practical tips for training oneself to overcome The Fear. For anyone else who might benefit from reading about it (including my future self) here it is.

Step 1: Small Moves, Ellie

(Carl Sagan, Robert Zemeckis, Jodie Foster, anyone?)

Left unchecked, agoraphobia is like an ever-closing trap. One day you don’t want to leave your house and some subsequent day you might find that a particular room in your house is the only acceptable place to be. Fast forward to the logical extreme and you are living in your closet.

On a personal note, I’ve eliminated the front porch from places where I feel safe, and that’s really too bad because our porch is very nice, otherwise.

The idea with small moves is to reverse the downward spiral by challenging the innermost concentric circle first and gradually move outwards, ring by ring. Try the porch first, next the sidewalk, then walk past the neighbour’s yard, and so on.

It goes without saying that I would do this wearing a mask and in accordance with all laws and health authority guidelines!

Step 2: Notice Anything Different?

Each time you push your boundaries it's expected that The Fear is going to rear its ugly head—but that's ok. It's just doing its job albeit in an overly enthusiastic way, like that new hire at the office who won't stop running around doing things.

It can be helpful to re-frame this situation with a simple linguistic trick. For example, while standing on the porch, I might be thinking, "I'm being infected with COVID right now!"

If I can remember to prefix that thought with "I feel like", it has a subtly different effect on my emotional state. "I feel like I'm getting infected..." is ever-so-slightly less alarming.

The next level is meditation-fu. "I notice that I feel like I'm getting infected..." which almost has a calming quality to it.

"Hmmm isn't that interesting I'm just noticing this feeling arise and yet experiencing perfect equanimity I think I'll go make some tea and do yoga"

Step 3: Breathe

Apparently (as of today I've done this once, but it does seem helpful) another way to overcome The Fear is to breathe. Doh! Should’ve thought of that!

Not just any deep breath mind you, but like this:

  1. Breathe in for a count of 2, hold for 1
  2. Breathe out for a count of 5, hold for 1
  3. Rinse and repeat, like how you wash your hands

At this point it may be worth pointing out that nothing on my site is in any way meant as medical advice of any kind. Please seek professional consultation.

The longer out-breath is supposed to cue your body to relax, physiologically. That seems like it could be beneficial whilst slaying dragons or sipping tea.

Well hopefully this is helpful for someone (but not advice, remember no advice here nothing to see hehe)