With a year of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are pretty used to staying home right now. We have become so accustomed to the ‘new normal’ of being indoors that it may feel a bit weird or uncomfortable thinking about going out and about again. What will it be like going into a post-pandemic world where you can move about freely and can have conversations with people again? You may feel overjoyed at the thought. However, what if this prospect fills you with dread?
Mild fears of going out again may be on a spectrum of ‘normal’, given that we’ve established new safety habits over the past 12 months. But what if you – or someone close to you – starts to panic at the thought of leaving the comfort of home and going out alone? Could they be agoraphobic?
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that can leave someone feeling panicked and scared about being outside their home – or being trapped in a situation that they can’t get out of. They can become incredibly fearful and begin to live a limited lifestyle in order to maintain the illusion of safety. To be diagnosed with agoraphobia they would have to meet a whole list of psychiatric criteria in the DSM-5, the manual used to diagnose mental health conditions. However, if you’re concerned that someone might be struggling, here we outline how you might recognise some agoraphobic traits…
- They’re scared to go out. Not only do they prefer staying in, but they may exhibit symptoms of panic and anxiety if they have to go out.
- They’re anxious about having a panic attack. Going out can be distressing, and the anxiety about becoming panicked can overwhelm them. The panic and anxiety may seem out of proportion to the actual ‘threat’.
- Symptoms of panic in someone can be a raised heartbeat, feeling sick and dizzy, breathlessness, sweats, and catastrophic thinking.
- They’re scared to go out of their house alone and may need someone to accompany them.
- If they do experience panic or anxiety symptoms when out and about, they fear the shame and embarrassment of experiencing them when no one is around to help them through it.
- They make excuses not to go out or will go out of their way to avoid situations where they fear their anxiety or panic will be triggered.
- They fear wide open spaces, and fear of enclosed spaces is just as bad. This fear could even arise in places such as shopping centres or cinemas.
- They’re terrified of getting stuck or trapped somewhere and not being able to escape.
- Being around people can also be a trigger, especially in a crowd, standing in a queue – as well as using public transport.
Someone with agoraphobic traits can learn to self-regulate when they feel triggered through diaphragmatic breathing techniques, for example, or by other ways they can self-soothe. They may want to speak to a GP to discuss their symptoms and explore options for medication. Working with a counsellor or psychotherapist can also help to understand symptoms and causes and to identify ways to manage their distress and live a more fulfilling life.
If you’d like to talk your concerns through with a professional therapist, then get in touch. Call us on 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] We’re currently offering sessions face to face or remotely via online video or phone.