I’ve always been a bit reluctant about having to run errands, but this year I reached a place where my inability to leave home was creating serious problems in my life. I was a bit stunned to find myself talking to my therapist, the one I had sought out for grief counseling, about this new phrase I had learned: agoraphobia. I shared about it on the blog for the first time recently.
My husband and I tried (with little success) to avoid enabling routines and choices. We were finally making some making progress; until we changed our lives by moving to Germany. Now I have found myself in a new and unfamiliar country, often alone. I decided that trying to ‘suck it up and just do it’ wasn’t a good strategy anymore. Instead, I’m trying my best to understand, treat, and conquer anxiety, agoraphobia, and depression in my life. Here is my 13 point battle plan on how to leave your agoraphobia at home.
Before you depart:
Make a plan. Having a list of the places you are going or things you will purchase can help you stay focused. Many times I don’t stick to my plan, but having one in the first place provides comfort and a reason to get out the door.
Check the traffic along your route and for any alerts or deviations from the norm. Unexpectedly running into a street-clogging festival or traffic jam can weaken your resolve to keep going. It gives you time to think about why it would be so much better and safer to be at home.
Focus on familiar places. Perhaps it’s twice as far to drive to Publix then to the local grocery store, but you feel more comfortable there. Go for it. It’s always better to go the extra mile if it means you will actually follow through and create a good experience.
Don’t wait. If you think you can handle going out, then do it as quickly as possible. This morning I realized that I was feeling up to a trip to the grocery store, so I threw on a hat and boots and went out the door. I may not have looked good – but it was more important to accomplish a task that was hard for me. You’ve got to seize those moments of strength. It also helps to do things early in the morning, rather than spend the day stressed about leaving and end up canceling or delaying.
Create a good support system. For a long time my husband was the only one who knew about my struggle to leave home. Even when I started telling others about it I didn’t always get the reactions that I wanted or needed. Don’t be discouraged and don’t rely on someone who trivialized your situation; instead search for the ones that will be willing to meet up or check in with you to see how you’re doing. Mr. Meena and I used a friend locator app when we lived in the States that would automatically notify him when I left home and returned. This was a motivator for me but also provided an additional sense of safety.
Once you are out:
Congratulate yourself on the first step out the door. That first step is often the hardest. No matter how far you make it, even if you only go halfway to your destination before turning around, it’s better than nothing at all.
Start small and work up. You might not be ready for big chunks of time away from home or intimidating tasks. Do you just need dog food? Maybe head to the dollar store instead of dealing with the madness of Wal-Mart that day. However, if you must to go somewhere that makes you uncomfortable, then try walking or driving by it prior to your appointment or deadline.
Make your experience outside of the home as positive as possible. Go to your favorite places as often as you can. Avoid stressful situations, like having a fight with your spouse in public. Becoming upset or stressed can taint your trip and make it harder to go out next time. Communicate to your spouse or the person you’re with about what makes the journey better for you.
Focus on all the benefits. My best brainstorming sessions happen when I am walking outside. I can hardly write my thoughts down fast enough when I get home. What do you gain by leaving your home? Perhaps the only benefit of your trip was getting food to feed yourself this week. That’s still an accomplishment.
Develop habits. If you can go to the same gas station, bank office, or other location regularly, you will become more comfortable doing so. Take it to the next level by befriending someone who works there, and who knows – maybe you’ll even look forward to returning!
Reward yourself. This can happen while you were out or later on, but you should practice positive reinforcement. Do some online shopping or take some time to play your favorite game. Maybe your reward shouldn’t always be a pint of ice cream, but I’m sure you can think of something.
When you’re back home:
Focus on your triumph. Feel empowered and strong, brave and courageous, capable and elated. Recognize that you did something that was hard for you and celebrate that.
Make a note about why you should do it again. Did you see something funny or inspirational while you were out? Discover a new coffee place? Remember that, and use it to fuel your motivation next time.
While Mr. Meena was in Hungary for seven days this past week I was able to use some of these techniques to leave the house twice. I had never gone outside in Germany by myself before, so this was kind of a big deal. The first time I mostly went out because I was running out of water but I’m still counting it as an accomplishment (focus on your triumph!). In our German home (insert post) we have to unlock the door from the inside with our key in order to leave. It’s strange to be locked inside like that sometimes (like when I’m trying to answer the door and I can’t find my key) but it’s also symbolic of how agoraphobia can feel.
I hope these tips can help you to move forward and stay active. If you want a more in-depth resource, I highly recommend The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. I’m halfway through reading it, and it has helped me to understand why I am afraid or anxious, which ultimately goes a long way in helping me fight those feelings. It also has many tips about how to change your lifestyle and equip yourself in order to reduce your phobias and anxiety. Of course, combining resources like this with therapy would be the most helpful strategy.
How do you conquer anxiety and agoraphobia?