Treating Anxiety Attacks & Agoraphobia Exposure Therapy

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Before delving right into treating anxiety attacks and agoraphobia, one must ask the question: what is a good way to think about agoraphobia?

The Mayo Clinic’s website indicates that Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you avoid situations that you’re afraid might cause you to panic.
You might avoid being alone, leaving your home or any situation where you could feel trapped, embarrassed or helpless if you do panic.

Simply put, though, agoraphobia is fear of fear.  In other words, people who suffer from agoraphobia are scared of being scared.  People suffering from agoraphobia and panic attacks will avoid doing things that cause them fear.

If for example you fear going to the mall, then you’ll likely get into the habit of avoiding the mall.  This fear usually spreads to other situations.  You might start by avoiding other things and staying at home.
This is where the power of exposure therapy as a treatment for anxiety attacks & agoraphobia comes in….
As a sufferer of agoraphobia and anxiety attacks you might be surprised to learn that being placed in a scary situation can actually be helpful in resolving your agoraphobia and panic attacks. Even though your typical reaction is to avoid such situations.

Exposure therapy for agoraphobia and panic attacks anxiety is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that allows you to go into a situation, that normally, just thinking about, would cause you to feel anxious and fearful.

Exposure therapy for agoraphobia is done within the confines of a controlled setting. In other words, normally the therapist will be present while the anxiety sufferer goes into this situation.

Let’s look at an example of exposure therapy for anxiety.

As a sufferer of agoraphobia and panic attacks, referring to the above example, the mere thought of going to the mall makes you incredibly anxious, your palms sweat, and your heart races really fast.

You continually tell yourself that you’re unable to go to the mall. This is because you are scared of the consequences of doing so.  For example some people fear that they might get so scared or mixed up that they will go crazy, lose their mind, or simply do something very embarrassing and everyone will look down on them.

What a therapist does during exposure therapy is gradually expose you to your fears.

For instance, the therapist might start you off by just having you get in your car and drive to the mall.  But he/she might only get you to drive to the parking lot and then go back home.
The next time, you might go into the mall briefly.
The next time you might stay a little longer, and so on.
This continues until you can face your fears. Being exposed to these “fearful” situations slowly over time allows you to confront your fears instead of being controlled by them.   This is referred to as systematic desensitization.

Once you see that nothing will happen in a particular situation, your anxiety about the situation decreases. It is postulated by researchers that by completing this process you are forming new connections in the amygdala, the fear center of your brain.
This would certainly explain why exposure therapy can be very effective for treating anxiety attacks & agoraphobia.  Without actually carrying out exposure therapy for your own fears though it’s probably hard for you to fully appreciate its effectiveness.

I would like to share with you more techniques for agoraphobia and panic attacks.  Please sign up for my newsletter directly below.

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References (Treating Anxiety Attacks & Agoraphobia: Exposure Therapy)

1. Borchard, T. (2011). I Am So NOT Sorry: An Exercise in Exposure Therapy. Psych Central.
Retrieved on February 26, 2012, from
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/07/11/i-am-so-not-sorry-an-exercise-in-exposure-therapy/
2. Exposure Therapy. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_therapy
3. Mayo Clinic. Agoraphobia. Retrieved on September 2, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/agoraphobia/DS00894

The mission of this site is to provide comprehensive, easy-to-understand information to help those with panic attacks, panic disorder, anxiety, and agoraphobia.