Imagine that this current pandemic is like an empty ice cream cone. Add scoops of anxiety and phobias on top until it’s a towering, just waiting to topple over. As this pandemic winds down, more and more people will be precariously balancing their ice cream cone towers, shielding them from the sun’s heat, a gust of wind, and anyone else who wants a lick.
Someone with a phobia thinks, “The world has become dangerous, so I shouldn’t stray far from home.” In essence, they want to be in control. For someone who fears crowded places, they want to be in control of their environment and the people surrounding them. The man who is afraid of untrustworthy strangers will stop venturing far from his home. The woman who believes her neighborhood is a safe haven won’t go anywhere besides her grocery store, pharmacy, and hairdresser.
But phobia treatment does the exact opposite: it convinces the individual that they never had control. There is no way that one man can enter a room and manipulate every single person around him. It’s impossible for one lady to herald germs away from her neighborhood.
It’s like someone saying that she can prevent an ice cream cone with five towering scoops from melting on a hot summer day. In reality, we all know that the ice cream will eventually melt.
WHAT IS AGORAPHOBIA?
The Greeks coined the term agoraphobia to mean “fear of the marketplace.” Essentially, agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your home.
Someone diagnosed with agoraphobia swells with anxiety in at least two of the following situations:
- Being in an open space
- Being in an enclosed space
- Being away from your home alone (without a companion)
- Being on public transportation
- Being in a line or crowd
Post-pandemic, each of those situations have a new tint of germs that invoke a fresh wave of fear. Can you read every citizen’s mind wondering, “What if the virus is still lingering here?”
Because of those five fears, someone with agoraphobia will avoid those situations or will only go there with someone else. Although the reality of their fears is low–such as getting stuck on a subway train or getting exposed to a deadly sickness because they were in a crowd–those circumstances provoke extreme anxiety or panic attacks nonetheless.
HOW TO COMBAT AGORAPHOBIA
There are two core methods to reverse agoraphobia:
1. Make the individual enter into a fearful situation. With guidance, the person enters into a situation that prompts anxiety, such as entering a crowd.
Does that make you feel panicky just thinking about it? That’s normal. You’ve built a hedge of protection around yourself and now you’re being asked to tear down your carefully constructed walls.
First, imagine what it would be like to enter that situation. Where are you? What do you see and hear? How do you feel? What can you control? What’s the worst that could happen? What is the best-case scenario? After a few dress rehearsals in your mind, you will feel better equipped to attempt it in reality.
2. Master the fear of panic to gain a sense of control. Continue these exercises (with guidance from your counselor) in order to grasp that you do have control and your worst-possible fears are far from reality.
You will eventually recognize that your barrier of protection is unnecessary and, in fact, crippling. With further help from your counselor, you can cope with your anxieties and manage your fears–leading to a fully-functioning and freeing life! Can you envision the day when you forget what it feels like to have a panic attack every time you emerge from your home?
HOW TO PREVENT A FEAR OF CROWDS FROM DEVELOPING POST-PANDEMIC
Are you worried that you’ll be fearful of germs, crowds, and public places after this stay-at-home order is lifted? Just like a musician prepares for a concert with a dress rehearsal, you can prepare for post-pandemic life by rehearsing these scenarios in your mind:
- What is a positive benefit of being a crowd? For example, you get rewarded with an entertaining movie or get to joyfully celebrate your child’s school accomplishments.
- Go with someone who knows about your fears. There is comfort in numbers, so ask a trusted friend to go out with you. In advance, tell your companion about your anxieties so he or she can best help you out in the moment.
- Ease into it. Plan one outing per week and gradually increase the frequency so you don’t overwhelm yourself too soon. It will feel like a huge life change to go out everyday after staying at home for weeks.
- Don’t go during peak hours. As you ease into post-pandemic activities, try to go out during non-peak hours, such as the early morning or late evenings.
- Plan an exit strategy. If you begin to grow uncomfortable in a public place, you can take a break or leave. Sit near an exit, be aware of the nearest door, and know where you can step outside for a short hiatus. If necessary, keep the car keys with you so you can calm down in your car. Have someone else there to watch your kids or snap photos of a special moment.
- Stay occupied. Listen to music or an audiobook while you’re in public to keep your mind distracted from your anxieties.
- Breathe deeply. Deep breaths keep both your mind and body calm. If your fear of crowds is growing, slow down your breathing.
- Know the crowd. Learn the basic warning signs of an unstable crowd and what to do in the scenario. Your counselor will help define a stable vs unstable gathering!
- Journal. We’re living in a unique season of history, which only seems to happen every century or so. Track your anxiety patterns, fearful thoughts, and relevant triggers as you transition from stay-at-home to back-to-normal.
- Counseling. A counselor can regularly meet with you (in person or via telehealth) to walk you through agoraphobia. Once you acknowledge your anxieties and run through a few mental dress rehearsals, you’re ready to partner with your counselor to overcome your fear of crowds. We’d love to walk through that process with you.
WILL YOU BE AFRAID OF PUBLIC CROWDS AFTER THE PANDEMIC IS OVER?
Over the past few months, people have been enjoying their tall ice cream towers inside the safe walls of their home. But as the world returns to a steady normal, those five-scoop ice cream cones will begin to topple over.
If you are experiencing anxiety about leaving your home, you’re not living life to its maximum capacity. Our counselors are here to guide you through this monumental transition from stay-at-home to post-pandemic.
We Are Here to Help!
Redeemed Life Counseling
Teen Social Anxiety