Q: I’ve not been able to leave my house for about two weeks now. Whenever I get close to the front door I have a panic attack and turn back. Because of my anxiety I just don’t feel like I can face the outside world. I’m scared time will keep going on and I won’t ever be able to leave my house again.
A: I was agoraphobic for over 3 months, and like you, I had a fear of leaving my house that induced a panic attack whenever I tried.
What helped me get over the fear was discovering exactly what the fear was. For a long time, I thought leaving my house was my fear, but I was wrong. Using my ‘WHY?’ technique, I discovered that my actual fear was having a panic attack and feeling trapped away from my home (my safe place), and what the panic attack would do to me if I did leave my home. I felt like I could cope with a panic attack at home, but what would happen if I had a panic attack somewhere I wasn’t familiar with? What if I had one in front of people? What would they think? Would I be able to cope? Would I be able to escape? These fears were enough to keep me housebound.
If you keep telling yourself that your fear is ‘leaving your house’ it’s too big a problem to deal with, so you won’t deal with it. It’s too ambiguous – there is nothing specific to overcome. If, however, like me, you break your fear down and discover it’s based on you having a panic attack and feeling trapped if you leave your home, you’ll be able to do something about it and deal with it. You’ll have something to work on, and you can set your goal based on overcoming that fear.
I found using a set-by-step process worked best for me. The first day I decided I would sit outside in my garden. The next day I would walk down my street a little. If I completed each step I would move onto the next until I reached my goal (my goal was to go to my local convenience store within 7 days). By building my momentum, confidence, and self-belief, I was able to complete my goal within six days. It wasn’t easy, and there were wobbly moments, but you can’t expect real change to happen without a bit of time and practice.
It will also take you a little time and practice, but by setting your goal, you’ll be making your first step to overcoming the fear of leaving your home.
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