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Coping Skills for Agoraphobia

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you or someone you care about struggles with agoraphobia, you might feel desperate for help. This lesson offers some skills and strategies for coping with this problem.

Understanding Agoraphobia

Do you know someone who tends to avoid crowded or small spaces? This person might describe feeling trapped or panicking when in tightly enclosed spaces or when surrounded by people. Often, he or she will describe tremendous anxiety and might have developed a whole series of excuses for avoiding triggering situations.

The name for the fear of crowded and small places is agoraphobia. Agoraphobia can be caused by many different things. Some people who struggle with agoraphobia have a history of trauma, while others might have generalized anxiety or depression. Sometimes, it can be truly hard to know what exactly is at the root of agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia does not have an easy solution, but people who struggle with it can develop skills for coping. This lesson offers you some ideas for skills and strategies that individuals with agoraphobia might use. The lesson cannot replace work with a trained mental health professional, and if you or your loved one is suffering so much that it has become an impediment to living a full life, consult with a doctor or therapist to explore further treatment options.

Some Coping Skills for Agoraphobia

Self-Talk

One great way to cope with the anxiety that comes with agoraphobia is to develop a dialogue that a person can have with themselves in situations that induce panic. Teach the person a list of questions he or she can ask himself. Questions include:

  • What exactly am I afraid is going to happen?
  • How many times have I been afraid of this thing before?
  • How many times has this thing actually happened?
  • How many times have I had this scary thought?
  • How many times has it actually come true?
  • What is the real likelihood that the thing I am scared of will come true?

This kind of self-talk can be very soothing and help a person gain control of an anxiety-provoking situation by reinstating a sense of reality. Learning these questions by heart will help them become automatic and easier to access in scary situations.

Help in the Pocket

People who struggle with agoraphobia sometimes worry about leaving the house or other very familiar environments at all, because they never know for sure what they will encounter. One thing that can help is to keep something in their coat pocket or purse at all times. This thing should be something that is easy to access, subtle, and helpful in a panic-inducing situation.

The helpful object will be different for every person. Some examples include:

  • A stress ball that can be squeezed very hard
  • A photograph of a loved one
  • A small teddy bear or other loved toy
  • A cough drop or sucking candy
  • A note card with a helpful quote or phrase

Facing the Scariest

If agoraphobia is caused by a specific trauma or bad experience, it can sometimes be helpful to face the particular scary scene or place. For instance, if a person is scared of elevators or parties because of something bad that has happened there in the past, he or she might benefit from going to an elevator or party and learning that the bad thing is not indelibly associated with that circumstance. Facing fears can also give a person back their sense of control, pride and confidence.

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