Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New Website for Agoraphobia Help

Need help with agoraphobia? If you haven't already, I would like to invite you to visit my new website for help with agoraphobia.

This new website features:

Free "Keys to Freedom" 7-Part Video Series in which I talk about the most powerful self-help techniques for recovering from agoraphobia.

Check out the new website and sign up for the free videos today! I care about your recovery from agoraphobia.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Beat Agoraphobia with Your Eyes Closed

Have you noticed that people who have agoraphobia often have
powerful imaginations?

That's probably because it takes an extraordinary imagination to
create mental pictures that are vivid and fearful enough to
trigger panic attacks. Those of us who have panic attacks can
become quite good at scaring ourselves with what we see in our

When I had agoraphobia, I could bring on a panic attack just by
picturing myself in a classroom. I would imagine the doors and
windows of the classroom locking, and the air leaving the room.
Just imagining this left me feeling trapped, panicked, and
gasping for breath.

There is a positive side to having an imagination powerful enough
to trigger panic - its power can be harnessed and used as a tool
for recovery.

Your imagination has a major effect on your emotions because
visual images are housed on the right side of the brain. Brain
researchers say the right brain doesn't distinguish between real
and imagined experiences. For better or for worse, what you see
in your mind's eye is recorded in your brain as if it actually

This means that by simply closing your eyes and picturing
yourself successfully overcoming your fears, you can program your
mind and body to do so in actual life.

By practicing positive visualization, you can put the power of
your imagination to work for you and literally beat agoraphobia
with your eyes closed - or at least make tremendous progress
toward recovery.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Agoraphobia Story: Finding a Purpose Greater than Fear

Since I recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia, people often ask me what the major turning point in my recovery was. There were many turning points, but if I had to choose just one, I would pick the night I made a deal with God in one of my darkest hours of fear. That’s because it changed the orientation of my life.

I wasn’t sure if you can really make a deal with God, but I didn’t care. In complete and utter desperation, I prayed to God that if I could be freed from suffering and have my normal life back, I would use whatever abilities God gave me in the service of other people. I told God that if I were made well, my purpose in life would be to help others in times of suffering. Though I didn’t know it then, this change in purpose made all the difference.

To that point my life had all been about me. My life had been about doing whatever I needed to do to achieve everything I wanted for myself. Though I hadn’t realized it, the purpose I had given myself actually created fear – fear of failure.

When my life was all about meeting my personal goals, fear of failure always loomed in the back of my mind. I lived with the anxiety that I may not reach my goals or get what I want out of life – and then what would my life have meant? Constantly striving, fulfillment and satisfaction always seemed to be far away in the future.

In making this promise to God that I would live to do good for others, I let go of the anxiety over reaching my personal goals and found a new sense of purpose in giving to others. This new sense of purpose offers meaning and satisfaction along the way. I have since found that when the purpose of my life is to do good for others, I have a purpose greater than fear, including the fear of failing.

The need for purpose is one of the most basic human needs. A strong sense of meaning can be powerful in overcoming a fearful situation. German psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, wrote about this in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Dr. Frankl had the unique experience of living through the horrors of the Nazi death camps of World War II. Approximately one in twenty-six of Frankl’s fellow prisoners survived. From observation and interview, Frankl discovered that the main difference between those who lived and those who died was a deep sense of meaning or purpose in life.

Simply put, the men who lived were the ones who had the strongest reasons to live. The disproportionate survival of men who practiced religious faith intrigued Frankl greatly. He watched spiritual men of inferior constitution outlive more robust prison-mates. As a result, Frankl emerged from the prison camps firmly convinced that a sense of meaning or purpose in life is as vital to our existence as food, water or clothing.

I first read about Frankl’s experience when I had agoraphobia. When I read about his experience I related to the men in the Nazi death camps because I felt like I was in prison also, only my prison was a psychological one instead of a physical one.
Agoraphobia had turned my own home into a prison. The difference between my prison and a Nazi death camp was that I had a lot more control over my release. My prison was of my own making.

I decided that if a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life could sustain a man through the horrors of a Nazi death camp, then certainly a sense of meaning and purpose in life could carry me through to the other side of panic disorder and agoraphobia. I just needed a purpose in life that was greater than my fear, especially my fear of failure.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Personal Story: There is No Fear in Love

Before I suffered from an agoraphobia many of my relationships were based on fear. I feared the disapproval and rejection of the people that mattered most. I was afraid of not meeting my parents’ expectations for me in the classroom. I was afraid of not meeting my own expectations in sports. I was afraid of not meeting the expectations of my peers and getting rejected at school. Worst of all, growing up in a religious family, I feared the disapproval and rejection of God.

When I was suffering from agoraphobia, hiding in my house every day, and afraid to go outside and suffering from relentless panic attacks, one night I turned to the Bible for help. It fell open to these words.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. - 1 John 4:16,18

These words helped change my life.

Like many agoraphobia sufferers, I was prone to feeling an excessive need to please others and an equally strong need to win their approval by living up to their expectations (or what I thought they expected of me). I feared losing relationships if I failed to meet certain expectations. Fear of losing relationships caused me a lot of anxiety.

To overcome the anxiety that comes with needing to please people and fearing rejection, I traded my fear-based relationships for relationships based on unconditional love.

When I first read the words of the Bible passage above, I took them at face value. Plainly and simply, they told me that God loved me and that if I let God love me there wouldn’t be so much room for fear in my life. I didn’t need to fear God’s judgment or worry about what God thought of me.

Please understand that this passage meant a lot to me because somewhere in my religious upbringing I had understood God as someone that could be angry with me and might punish me for something if I didn't do everything right.

God's unconditional love spilled over into my relationships with others. As I gained confidence that God loved me, I was able to love and accept myself. I became less needy for the approval of others. I still wanted to please others. I just wasn’t motivated by anxiety from a fear of being rejected. I was just motivated to share God's love.

I stopped feeling the anxiety of trying to get love from other people and started feeling the joy of giving love. With God's love in my life, there was plenty of love to go around.

Besides changing my orientation in relationships, I also made some changes in my closest, most significant relationships. I replaced fear-based relationships with relationships based on unconditional love. In some cases, as with my parents, I changed the nature of existing relationships. In other cases, I had to replace old relationships with new ones.

Feeling loved by God, loving myself, and loving other people was very freeing. I began to surround myself with people who really loved and accepted me for who I am, people for whom I didn’t have to constantly perform to earn their approval. My most significant relationships no longer produced anxiety.

Do you need to change your relationships?

If your relationships with others are based on fear of what might happen if you did not live up to their expectations for you, then it is time to make some changes.

You may need to have some serious talks with people in your life and tell them directly that you will no longer live according to their expectations for you. (Be nice when you do this). You may need to cut some people out of your life altogether. You may need to surround yourself with more loving and accepting people.

Ultimately, when I experienced unconditional love and build most of my relationships upon it, some funny things happened. I began living with the security of being loved no matter how I performed. I was free to trade the anxiety of trying to constantly win the love of others for the satisfaction of offering love to others.

When I focused on giving to others in relationships rather than trying to get it, I wasn't as needy, and my fears of disapproval and rejection faded away with my anxiety.

Here is a truth that has helped me live free from agoraphobia for nearly twenty years:
Where there is perfect, unconditional love, there is a lot less room for fear.

How to Offer Unconditional Love and Acceptance to Someone with Agoraphobia

If you want to be an effective support person for someone with agoraphobia, your first job will be to establish a relationship of unconditional love and acceptance with the person who is suffering.

It can be tricky to offer a loving, accepting relationship with a friend or loved one with agoraphobia, even if you had a good relationship with them before.
However, It is important to build this type of relationship before you start trying to help someone with agoraphobia. A safe, supportive relationship of unconditional love and acceptance can be therapeutic, and is the vehicle through which real help can be offered.

Unconditional love and acceptance is much needed by those of us who suffer from agoraphobia because we are often self-critical and have a hard time accepting ourselves. Its even harder to accept yourself when you have agoraphobia and can't function normally. That is why it is so important to have people who accept us no matter what we do or go through. Experiencing the acceptance of others helps us to accept ourselves.Offering unconditional acceptance means being non-judgmental and non-critical.

It means not thinking of agoraphobia and the behaviors that go with it in terms of good and bad or right and wrong. It means not putting the person down or voicing disapproval when they do things you don't understand. It means letting the person know that you love them, care about them, and will not abandon them whether or not they recover from agoraphobia.

Offering unconditional acceptance means not only accepting the person with agoraphobia but accepting the condition of agoraphobia as well - at least for the time being. It means not trying to fix them all the time, refraining from constantly offering advice or suggestions, and not needing to always correct their irrational thinking. It means being able to relax and have fun with them - and talk to them about subjects other than what they need to be doing to get well. It means being willing to let the agoraphobic act agoraphobic - not that you don't want to help them get well - just that there is no pressure from you to hurry in doing so. Nobody wants to feel like a project or like they are letting someone down if they aren't getting better fast enough.

People with agoraphobia need people around them who accept them just as they are. Just like someone suffering from a physical illness or injury - it takes time to heal. If you are able to show your loved one with agoraphobia that you will love and care for them without conditions and will stand by them through the ups and downs - you will have taken a big, first step towards building a relationship with them that will contribute to their recovery from agoraphobia.

Note: Offering unconditional love and acceptance does not mean enabling someone. Part of your job as a support person is to help them find their own motivation to recover. To read more on this topic, click here.

Agoraphobia Recovery: What Does Love Have to Do With It?

Actually, love has a lot to do with recovering from agoraphobia and there may be a biological basis for this. In a book entitled "A Complete Guide to Your Emotions and Your Health," Emirika Padus and the editors of Prevention Magazine suggest that when you feel loved, you experience a healthy biological reaction in your body's cells, similar to the effect of a good diet or exercise.

Dr. Bernard Siegel, who wrote "Love, Medicine, and Miracles," was quoted as saying "I am convinced that unconditional love is the most powerful known stimulant of the immune system. The truth is, love heals." Dr. Siegel is talking here about two kinds of unconditional love - both self-love and the love of another person. He believes that if you love yourself and are in a strong loving relationship, your chances of recovery are better and you can get through almost anything.

If you are a support person for someone with agoraphobia, your unconditional love may be the most powerful gift you can give someone who suffers from this dreadful psychological ailment. I am writing to encourage you by letting you know that your love and acceptance of a person with agoraphobia is vital.

As someone who recovered from agoraphobia, I know this firsthand. My parents, who were the support people who loved me through my disorder, were at times the only people I had contact with and my only link to the world outside the dark, isolated environment of the bedroom I hid in for the better part of two years.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Release-Only Muscle Relaxation

Most people who have agoraphobia practice progressive muscle relaxation. That is the practice of tensing, holding, then releasing, each of your body's major muscle groups. The purpose of progressive muscle relaxation is not only to relax your muscles, but also to learn to feel the difference between what each muscle group feels like in the tense state versus the relaxed state. That may sound like an obvious difference, but tension can often be subtle, and many people with agoraphobia let tension creep into their body and become quite pronounced before they notice its presence.

Once you have learned to feel the difference between the tensed and relaxed state of your muscles, you are ready to move on to a shorter version of progressive muscle relaxation called "release-only relaxation."

In release-only relaxation, as the name suggests, you relax all of your muscles in progressive fashion but you skip the first step in traditional muscle relaxation. Instead of first tensing each muscle group before releasing, you relase each of the body's major muscle groups.

Relase-only relaxation allows you to practice progressive muscle relaxation in half the time.

In practicing release-only relaxation, the goal is to develop the mental concentration to be able to let all of the tension go from each muscle. Developing this ability will depend upon your ability to recongize the difference between the feel of a tense muscle and a deeply relaxed muscle.

How to practice release-only relaxation:

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and in quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Loosen any tight clothing. You may close your eyes or leave them open if you wish.

Work through each of the following muscle groups each time you release-only muscle relaxation, concentrating on each muscle group and letting all of the tension go:

· Face
· Neck and shoulders
· Chest
· Back
· Stomach/abdomen
· Biceps
· Hands and forearms
· Buttocks
· Thighs and hamstrings
· Calves
· Feet

As you focus on each muscle group, practice deep, lower abdominal breathing. Breath in slowly through your nose, hold each breath for a few seconds, and then breathe out slowly through your mouth while picturing the tension leaving each muscle group with each exhalation. As you focus on each group of muscles, it may help to imagine them getting warm and heavy.

Although release-only relaxation may seem simpler than traditional progressive muscle relaxation, don't be fooled. It takes a lot more skill and concentration to release the tension from your muscles without tensing them first. You must also become acutely aware of what muscle tension feels like so that you do not let tension creep back into the muscles when you move on to focus on a new muscle group.

Here are some tips for successful practice of release-only relaxation:

1) Don't try to force your muscles to relax, just let go and let the muscles relax.

2) If you have any problems relaxaing a certain muscle group, just take a deep breath and try again. If you keep having trouble it's okay to skip it and move on, or come back to that muscle group later.

3) Don't be critical if you can't do this perfectly the first time. Most people take time to learn this skill.

4) Allow yourself at least two weeks with two practice sessions per day to master this skill. Keep practicing until you can relax your whole body in 5-7 minutes using release-only techniques.

5) Just as with traditional progressive muscle relaxation, you may want to record a script with soft relaxaing music in the background to guide you through your practice.

Learning to relax your entire body in a shorter and shorter amount of time is an important skill to learn in recovering from agoraphobia.