Let me say straight away that while anxiety attacks are considered an anxiety disorder, agoraphobia is not. It is a learned response.
Your inner fish (your amygdalae) remember every emotion you have ever experienced since before you were born and have tried to keep you safe from danger, whether real or perceived, by alerting you to any possible threat to your person. A panic attack is simply an alert to a threat and stress is perceived by your body as a threat.
When you suffer from agoraphobia it means you have learned to fear the sensations your body experiences when it is alerted and feels panicked.
Normal Fear Response
Imagine, as a child, seeing a snake as slither away harmlessly. Imagine being terrified anyway and running away. Your inner fish (your amygdalae), by way of the workings of the brain, file this information away to be used whenever necessary to keep you safe in the future. The next time you see a snake, no matter the circumstances or whatever age you are your innerfish will respond by making you want to run away. This is a normal response.
Fast Track Fear Response
Since your innerfish (your amygdalae) remember everything you have ever feared they can create what’s called a fast track response. A fast track response may happen the second time you see a snake. Since your snake experience was already on file in your memory you'll react a bit faster to get away from a snake the next time or you will freeze in your tracks. Either way your reaction time will be faster.
Here's the thing. Your fear response is a built in physical device related to emotions, so anytime you feel any amount of pressure (stress) your inner fish responds by scanning for threats and throwing the fear response out there in front of you, whether you need it or not. It doesn’t have to make sense. No questions asked. Fast track fear responses can cause general anxiety and panic attacks because the inner fish threw the fear response out in front of you in an exaggerated response.
Some panic attacks are situational. They often occur at the same place, such as the mall or the dentist’s office. Other panic attacks are more spontaneous and can occur anywhere at any time.
For example, you see a snake out of the corner of your eye. You immediately realize it is just a harmless one, but your inner fish signals a fast track response and even though you are all grown up and know better you panic. This kind of fast track response is what causes phobias.
Here's another example. The babysitter is late this morning. Then, you get a flat tire on the way to work and you fear your boss is going to be mad. This leads to thoughts of being fired and not being able to pay the bills or the rent? What if you get evicted? Where will you go? The pressure is on and your inner fish is gulping for air and you are on your way to having a panic attack. You’re feeling nervous and sweaty. Your hands are shaking and you feel you can't catch your breath. Your'e standing on the side of the road looking down at your flat tire and feeling slightly off balance. You can't get your thoughts straight. That’s your innerfish going haywire.
Your inner fish also file away all of your catastrophic thoughts as truths, by the way. causing false startles down the road.
When your inner fish senses stress and goes into overdrive unnecessarily while trying to protect you from things you don’t need protection from, you have a problem.
An example of this might be finding yourself standing in the grocery store check-out line and suddenly experiencing a feeling of terror, as if your plane is about to fall out of the sky. The 'fight, flight or freeze 'response has kicked in and you don’t even know why. It makes no sense and this frightens you even more. Your heart might begin to beat irregularly and trip over itself. You may even overly warm, get tunnel vision, and worry about passing out. All you know is that you feel like a fish out of water and it’s time to go! You are now fully engaged in a false startle and are considering abandoning your shopping cart right where it is.
After an experience like this you know only one thing for sure. You don't want to feel this way ever again! You may even begin to avoid places, objects, people and situations that remind you of how you felt for fear you will feel it again. No one likes feeling like afish out of water.
The Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack
Anxiety disorders are evidence of your inner fish being hypersensitive and out of control. In other words, your innerfish is working overtime and beginning to assume things, like assuming waiting in a grocery store line is something to fear, which to the amygdalae makes perfect sense, but to the person experiencing a panic attack it does not.
During a panic attack, what’s actually happening physically is the amygdala, one of your innerfish, has sent the message that you are in danger. Your sympathetic nervous system activates certain hormones, such as adrenalin, and send instantaneous blood flow to and from various parts of your body. This causes a reduction of oxygen to tissues, leading to symptoms, such as tunnel vision, light-headedness, dizziness, shakiness, and heart speed changes. You will probably never really pass out. But, if you ever do, your feelings of panic will instantly subside, your breathing will return to normal, and you will wake up after a couple of minutes, probably embarrassed and frighten, but OK.
Highly Sensitive People are at particularly risk for stress disorders simply because they are so sensitive. Why is this? It’s because of the hypersensitive connection between your inner fish (your amygdalae) and the sympathetic nervous system.
if you are suffering from agoraphobia you may not leave your home without someone going with you or not even then. 30 years ago or so, panic attacks and phobias, such as agoraphobia, were not much understood by the average psychologist, much less the average person. Many people spent years in therapy without ever being cured. Often they were considered crazy and left to believe that they were damaged and broken beyond repair.
Many counselors and therapists are still trying to get to the root of panic and anxiety through psychotherapy and by prescribing anti-depressants in the hope that by coming to terms with your past, you will, somehow, get better and be able to create new memories uncontaminated by negative emotions in the present. But more often than not, it doesn’t work.
What is important is that you understand your fear of fear really in physical terms (and by now you should understand you are reacting to your own physical sensations and why), and focus on making physical and mental adjustments.
Agoraphobia is avoidance of being in public and is a matter of conditioning.
For example, let’s say you went to your favorite restaurant with your friends and had a wave of panic wash over you while ordering dinner. You brush it off as a reaction to being hungry, but you can’t stop thinking about it. A week later you are back at your favorite restaurant with friends and have another wave of panic in the middle of dinner. This time you know you weren’t hungry and can’t explain your feelings away. This greatly disturbs you. You were able to excuse yourself and go splash some water on your face, but you felt anxious the rest of the time you were there. The next time your friends want you to go to the Olive Garden to eat you say no because you are afraid of having another panic attack there. You agree to go eat somewhere else only the same thing happens again, but worse. This time you had trouble breathing and thought you would pass out before you got to the restroom. Over the next few weeks or months you have panic attacks at other places as well, the store, the office and at the park that day while walking through the community art event. Without even thinking about it you have already decided not to go to those places again. This is the beginning of agoraphobia. This pattern of avoidance becomes a prison where your home and the walls you are confined in are your only sense of security. You won’t leave and if you do it will only be with another person to steady you emotionally.
Anyone can suffer from anxiety, panic, phobias, and depression, as well as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is stress felt after the fact. Those who have suffered abuse, trauma, torture or situations of extreme fear, boredom (drudgery) or deprivation, can experience delayed responses to stress, sometimes, years later. When this happens, the sufferer may not be aware of what they are reacting to emotionally or physically. Life has become a series of false startles causing anxiety and panic attacks.
Artwork: Ophelia by John W. Waterhouse
Coping Strategies for Agoraphobia
Some people think coping skills are crutches and don't believe in them. I am not one of those people.
I wish someone had given me a set of coping skills for dealing with agoraphobia. It may have saved me from spending 10 long, panic attacked years confined by fear to my house. It is coping skills that helped me to finally get out of my house and get my life back. I still use them to this day whenever I am feeling stressed or haven't gotten enough sleep.
Certainly, becoming an independent recluse or completely dependent on others is not the sole purpose of the coping strategies I provide below.
They are meant only to help you to regain a bit of control over your circumstances and to help eliminate some of your worry and panic over being able to function in the world you live in as an agoraphobic should you be struggling with the belief that you hold your own cure within your own mind.
If you are struggling with agoraphobia (fear of leaving your home) it can be of benefit to get counseling by someone who specializes in agoraphobia so you have a mind-based therapy to support you while you are working with sense-based activities. Of equal helpfulness is belonging to a group of people just like yourself, so that you don't feel isolated and alone (see Resources below).
Find a support person, someone you trust, that can go with you to doctor appointments and other outings. This can be a friend or relative who understands your condition and won't leave you standing in the freezer section or the checkout line all by yourself.
Structure & Routine
Provide yourself structure and routine. Get up and go to bed the same time each day. Be sure to plan regular outings, even when you don’t feel like it, unless you are ill. Your outing could be something as simple as walking out your door to check the mail or as elaborate as attending a function with your support person, but step out of the house each and every day. A healthy diet should also be a part of your daily routine for calming your inner fish. See Nutrition & Diet.
Consider a Companion Animal
Consider getting a companion dog. Dogs make wonderful support companions and give you purpose. The idea is not to become dependent your animal, but to give yourself some support that allows you a degree of independence while you are working on goals to overcome your anxiety. If you are concerned about shopping for your dog, you can always order dog food and supplies online. On days you just can’t get out, you can play with her in the yard or hire someone to walk your dog if need be.
Visit online groups or forums that talk about anxiety and phobias. Type the words 'Agoraphobia Forums' in your search bar to view available forums online.
Use online bill pay for credit cards and other bills. Visit your store or office online and simply follow their instructions for making payments online.
Order groceries or take-out and have them delivered to your door. You can make your check out in advance or even pay online before delivery.
Call the library, or go online to see what books or movies are available. Place them on hold, so you can immediately pick them up at the counter.
Use a service, such as NetFlix, to have movies delivered to your mailbox, or use pay-per-view through your cable company.
Online shopping for anything and everything is a breeze.
Calming Your Inner Fish Erasing Anxiety, Panic, Phobias & Depression in Sensitive People
Hello. Mari here. I used to suffer from severe anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia, which lead me on a downhill emotional spiral that included a host of other physical symptoms as well, so believe me when I say there’s probably nothing you have experienced that I don’t understand personally.
It got to the point where I was afraid to make any plans because I always worried about “What if?” What if I had a panic attack? What if I passed out? What if people thought I was crazy? And, if they thought I was crazy, what if they took my children away from me? What if I ended up alone in life? What if I was never ever going to feel safe or happy again? Worrying about that next 'What If?' had become my way of life.
You may be thinking, "But, I don't have severe anxiety, panic attacks or phobias." I hope you don't. Maybe you are considering reading this book to find out how to help someone else. But, if you do worry about the next 'What If?' or have any of the symptoms listed here, it means stress is winning the battle and you deserve to be free of it.
Stress affects people many different ways. Sometimes, it can be erased therapy, especially if you have PTSD. But, usually natural remedies, lifestyle changes and changing the way you think is all that is needed.
In this e-book, I cover the causes and symptoms of stress, natural remedies for stress, coping and management techniques for erasing anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, which is ‘fear of fear’, and depression once and for all.
Disclaimer: TheCaptainsLady.com is a website belonging to the legally registered business, The Captains Lady, The information provided by TheCaptainsLady.com is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is not intended to replace any medical or behavioral care from a licensed health care practitioner, or in any way to practice medicine. Information provided is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional.
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