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Tips for Coping with Agoraphobia ...

Agoraphobia is a much misunderstood condition, and sufferers are often mocked or told they should 'get over it'. It's not, as is often thought, a fear of open spaces, but rather a fear of being in public places and away from the safety of the home. I used to suffer from agoraphobia, and it's horrible. So if you're agoraphobic, here are some tips that may help …

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1. It Exists Just as Any Physical Illness Does

People will often tell agoraphobics that it's "all in their mind". This ignores that the symptoms are very real. Agoraphobia exists just as any physical illness does. So don't feel that you're imagining it or 'making it up' - you have a condition that is not your fault.

2. Seek Help

It's going to take a lot of effort and work to deal with your agoraphobia, but it can be done. You don't have to do it alone though. Seek help from professionals. There are different forms of treatment available. Some find CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) very helpful; it teaches you to think in a different way and improve your state of mind.

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3. Don't Avoid Places, but Gradually Push Your Limits

Sufferers of agoraphobia often avoid certain places because they suffered a panic attack in that situation before and fear the same thing happening again. It's best not to avoid places; try to confront your anxieties instead. I found it very helpful to slowly increase my limits and stretch myself a little further each time. For example, I would stay out a little longer or go a little further than the time before. This gradually desensitises you and makes you more comfortable.

4. Look for Support Online

Agoraphobia is naturally very isolating for the sufferer. When I went through it, it was long before the days of the internet. Now there is so much support available online that you needn't feel alone. There is tons of advice, online CBT courses, and forums where you can talk to people who understand what you are going through.

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5. What You Fear May Not Happen

Agoraphobics avoid places because they are afraid of what might happen, such as having to run away or not being able to cope. Often it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, as your anxieties make you panic and so your fears come true. Yet what you fear happening may not actually happen, so try to trust that you'll be ok.

6. Learn Relaxation Techniques

Often agoraphobics are so anxious about a situation that they become very worked up, which causes stress in the body. Learn relaxation techniques to help you try to maintain calmness. Distraction can also prove useful; if you feel yourself growing nervous, recite a poem, read a book, comment to yourself about things you can see - anything that takes your mind off your worries.

7. Enlist the Help and Support of Friends & Family

Finally, the support of family and friends is very important. They may not understand what you're going through, but they should try to appreciate that you do have a very real condition. Supportive people can help you attend appointments, slowly increase your activities and feel less alone.

Please don't feel alone if you're agoraphobic; look for help and work on getting your life back. It's tough - I know from experience - and it takes a lot of work, but you can live a full and happy life. You can do it!

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