Many people are familiar with the sensations: tightening of the chest, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and sweaty hands. Usually, these feelings are in conjunction with situations we find most uncomfortable. Whether it’s flying, riding in elevators, driving over bridges, or public speaking, these activities produce discomfort and anxiety.
What if it could be said that all of the things we dread share one thing in common? Is it possible to break free from our fears? How long would it take?
What Is A Phobia?
The Greek word for “fear” is phobos, which is where we get the word “phobia.” Therefore, any time we see a word ending with “-phobia,” we know that we are dealing with a fear of something or some event. Below is a list of known phobias.
- Acrophobia: Fear of heights
- Hydrophobia: Fear of water
- Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
- Claustrophobia: Fear of being in closed spaces
- Agoraphobia: Fear of Crowds
What Is Agoraphobia?
Those who suffer from this phobia (Fear of Crowds) have an unnatural fear of being out in public, or away from home. They fear that something bad will happened to them that would cause humiliation, dread, or terror. For example, a person in a crowded theater might feel they are having a heart attack. Since they are in a crowd, they feel as though there is no escape.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
When an agoraphobic individual is out in public, they may experience the following symptoms.
- Racing Thoughts
- Fear of Losing Control
- Fear of Public Ridicule
- Fear of Having a Heart Attack/Stroke
Agoraphobics will offer excuses as to why they won’t go out in public. They may say they feel sick, have chores around the house to complete, or would prefer to “just stay home.”
Avoidance: The Real Culprit
Regardless of the fear, all have one thing in common: avoidance. We avoid taking the elevator because we fear we will be trapped, suffocate, and die. If we are at a restaurant, we fear we may be having a heart attack, faint, or go crazy. Therefore, we must avoid going out in public. It’s better to take the stairs than the elevator since we won’t be trapped inside.
We erroneously believe that if we avoid what makes us fearful, then we won’t have to experience those feelings. However, the truth is that when we avoid those situations, we are actually reinforcing our fear.
Breaking the Cycle
To be free from whatever phobia we may experience, we need to know the truth about our feelings and how to overcome them.
Like Pavlov’s dog, we’ve conditioned ourselves to be fearful. So the only solution is to recondition our thoughts and accept the truth rather than our misbeliefs.
Below are a few tips to achieve freedom from our fear.
1. Panic attacks as a result of agoraphobia or any king of phobia does not lead to insanity. Those feelings may be uncomfortable, but you can overcome them.
2. Do the 3-4-5 exercise. Breathe in for three seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, then exhale for five seconds. Repeat this at least four or five times.
3. Utilize desensitization techniques. Break down your fear into baby steps. Instead of leaving the house, walk to the end of the driveway. Stay there for a few minutes until you feel better. Next time walk to the end of the block. If you feel anxious, just practice the breathing exercises, and tell yourself the truth.
4. Replace the fear of being in public with the fun of being in public. Imagine spending time with friends and family, whether you’re at a restaurant or at a symphony.
5. Play the Even-If Game. Instead of asking, “What if . . . ?”, say, “Even if this happens, I might not like it, but I won’t die, lose control, or be humiliated. At worst, I’ll feel a little uncomfortable, that’s all.”
The key to avoidance is by doing what we fear. Irrational thoughts are the foundation of all phobias. We have to break the pattern by associating what’s fun and pleasurable about being out in public rather than what might happen.
Some may ask how long it takes to be set free from agoraphobia. The answer depends on the willingness and courage of the individual. By repeatedly subjecting ourselves to what we fear, combined with the proper mindset, we can break this fear forever.