Monday, March 13, 2006

Coping with Agoraphobia: Enjoying The Present Moment

One time when I had agoraphobia my therapist asked me what I was worried about. I told her I was really anxious over the idea of trying to go back to school at the end of the summer and being trapped sitting in crowded classrooms.

My therapist brought up a good point, that it was still summer vacation. She reminded me that since school was not starting the next day or anything, to practice enjoying the present. Enjoying the present moment, as she called it, would distract me from worrying about the future and thinking catastrophically.

Enjoying the present moment is a good way to cope with daily life when you have agoraphobia. This is not necessarily a recovery technique, but a way to cope with anxiety about the future while you are recovering.

If you have agoraphobia then you probably feel some level of anxiety most of the time, even if you are in your safe place and are not having a panic attack. That's because most of us with agoraphobia experience some degree of anxiety about the future all the time. Learning to focus on the present moment is an effective way to cut down on free-floating, anticipatory anxiety that comes with agoraphobia.

To focus on enjoying the present moment, it is important to use all of your senses and treat whatever you are doing, or whatever is around you like it is the most important thing in the world.

For example, you can enjoy the present moment when you are eating:

- slow down and take a look at your food before taking a bite.
- become aware of how the food is aranged on your plate.
- take notice of the colors, textures, and shapes of the food
- put a small bite on your fork or spoon and take time to smell its aroma before putting it in your mouth.
- put your food on your lips first, and then on the tip of your tongue to taste it.
- when you put it all the way in your mouth, wait a moment to bite down.
- chew the food every slowly and thoroughly, noticing small changes in tastes and textures with every bite.
- move the food to different parts of your tongue, noticing subtle differences in tastes.
- when you swallow, concentrate on how the food feels going down your throat.
- repeat these suggestions, savoring every bite, and take at least 20 minutes to finish the meal.

You can also enjoy the present moment when you are taking a walk outside, although this may be a little more difficult at some stages of agoraphobia. But if you can feel safe taking a walk through your neighborhood:

- stand still and breathe deeply and quietly five times before starting your walk.
- for the first few minutes, notice every sensation in your leg muscles as you walk, focusing on your things, calves, and then your ankles.
- then, for the next few minutes, notice how the bottom of your feet feel as they touch the ground. Notice how the heel makes contact with the ground first, then the foot rools, and then you push off with the ball of your foot and toes.
- focus on the rythym of your walking, feeling the pace of your legs and swinging your arms. Continue to do this for a minute or two.
- now focus on the rythym of your breathing, focusing on how the air flows into your nose and to your lungs, Exhale each breath through your mouth.
- now move your attention betweem your feet, legs, walking rythym and breathing, focusing on each for a few minutes at a time.
- if troubling thoughts come into your mind, simply take notice of them. Watch them as you would watch clouds float by overhead and let them float right out of your mind.
- practice meditation for about five minutes during each walk, focusing on something pleasant. If your mind starts to stray from your object of meditation, gently bring it back.

The more you learn to focus on what you are doing in the present moment, the less you will focus on being anxious about the futre. Its that simple. Living in the moment is a great technique to use to get through the day if you have agoraphobia.

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