Agoraphobia at Christmas: how to manage the holidays with an anxiety disorder
What is agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a debilitating and life challenging condition, an anxiety and panic disorder leaving sufferers avoiding certain social situations for fear of panic, embarrassment or lack of escape. Often thought of as a fear of leaving the house, or a fear of open spaces, an individual suffering with this condition may actually struggle with much more complex situations including:
- visiting a shopping centre
- travelling on public transport
- a fear of small spaces (lifts)
- being surrounded by lots of people or crowds
- being too far away from home
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Many of these symptoms can be heightened at Christmas, with the festive period involving social gatherings, work parties, busy shopping centres and leaving the house to do the festive family duties. The panic element of agoraphobia can leave an individual with often terrifying symptoms they’re unable to control and left untreated may lead to further mental health issues.
Common symptoms include:
- feeling sick
- feeling overcome with heat
- starting to sweat
- rapid heartbeat
- uncontrollable crying
- the urge to run
Hypnotherapy for agoraphobia
In the UK around two in 100 people struggle with a panic disorder, but around a third of these people eventually overcome these symptoms and remain symptom-free for life. With many techniques to overcome agoraphobia, including CBT and medication, hypnotherapy is an effective technique in helping individuals struggling with agoraphobia. Hypnotherapy can unlock a practised state of calm in the mind or ‘relaxation technique’ in times of distress.
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Your hypnotherapist will work with you on your ‘goal scenario’ (what you want the outcome to be from hypnotherapy treatment for your agoraphobia) using relaxation techniques to access your unconscious. Using the power of suggestion, they’ll work with you to create a sense of calm that can be accessed mindfully when your anxiety triggers. You’ll learn new reactions to certain situations that often trigger your anxiety and ‘unlearn’ reactions that have been holding you back.
National mental health charity Mind share eight tips for help with relaxation.
Self-care tips over the Christmas period
- Share with a family member
Share you thoughts and worries with a trusted member of your family, someone you feel comfortable with. If an event gets too much, you’ll have someone to support you, spot the signs of your heightened anxiety or what is going to trigger it and comfort you if needed. In sharing your worries, you can also manage your family’s expectations of you over the Christmas period.
- Learn to say ‘no’
Knowing your boundaries is particularly important at Christmas as increased social interaction and ‘forced cheer’ can increase the pressure you put on yourself to portray the perfect Christmas attitude. But if a certain social event is bothering you, or there are simply too many events going on, politely decline the event you don’t wish to attend.
It’s perfectly acceptable not to attend an event, but be mindful that you don’t fall into a vicious circle of not attending anything, feeling guilty or embarrassed for missing out and as such remaining at home for another event. Take small steps to push your boundaries but be aware of the triggers.
- Don’t compare yourself to others
A lot easier said than done, Christmas can be a particularly difficult time if you struggle with comparing yourself to to others. Christmas party dresses, Christmas presents, social gatherings etc. can add to a catalyst of low-self confidence and lack of self-esteem. Be gentle with yourself. If you’re in the presence of other people, you have already taken a big step forward in your recovery and that is worth celebrating.
- Make sure there is ‘you time’
As with any part of life, ‘you time’ is particularly important to rebalance yourself, de-stress and spend some time doing the things you enjoy as just you, as opposed to ‘we’. As the everyday routine of life is often disrupted at Christmas, ensure you have some uninterrupted time and a space where you can retreat to to ensure you reconnect with yourself, your needs and relax in a comfortable space.
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