Managing agoraphobia during the COVID-19 pandemic
If you have agoraphobia or are starting to experience agoraphobia during the coronavirus outbreak, one of our consultant psychiatrists, Dr Andrew Iles, who works at Priory Wellbeing Centre Oxford, has looked at the best ways to manage these symptoms during COVID-19 so that you can stop them from worsening or becoming overwhelming.
Dr Iles has also looked at how you can go about accessing support at this moment in time. It is important to remember that there is still a lot of help for agoraphobia available to you during COVID-19, so please don’t try to cope with your symptoms on your own.
What is agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia usually develops after a person experiences one or several panic attacks. The person will typically start to feel ill, nervous, embarrassed or fearful in public places, experiencing psychological, physical and social symptoms when they are faced with situations which they can’t escape from, like leaving the home, travelling on public transport or standing in a long queue.
At this moment in time, people with agoraphobia may be finding that their symptoms are being aggravated by the coronavirus outbreak. Also, people may be finding that they are developing symptoms of agoraphobia that they have never experienced before.
Coping with new feelings of agoraphobia in this time of COVID-19
If you have been at home and have started to develop a fear of going outside as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, it is so important for you to maintain contact with the outside world. Make sure that you’re speaking to people, leaving the house (for reasons that are safe to do so), and doing some of the things that you have been avoiding. The longer you carry on avoiding them, the harder it will be to overcome them in the future.
Managing your agoraphobia symptoms during the coronavirus outbreak
During treatment for agoraphobia, a person will be encouraged to expose themselves to things that they’re trying to avoid. For example, they may be being encouraged to go out and to meet people.
Yet, we find ourselves in a time of social distancing, where we are advised only to go out for health problems, to attend to a vulnerable person, for one hour of exercise per day or to buy essential items.
For someone with agoraphobia, it is important to remember that while it may be difficult to go outside, there are still opportunities to do so. The worst thing you could do is to stay at home and avoid going out and doing things which usually bring you anxiety as it could set back your treatment. So take the opportunities where possible to still engage in day-to-day life while also keeping in line with government guidelines.
Supporting a friend or family member with agoraphobia
When supporting someone with agoraphobia, it’s really important that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. For example, if they have been accessing treatment, it is important to reinforce and encourage them to carry on with what they have been learning and doing.
Try not to do everything for the person who has agoraphobia. If the person doesn’t have any co-morbid physical health problems and is not at particular risk in this time, encourage them to go out and to do some of their shopping themselves. Encourage them to go out for their daily walk. These are important for their recovery, and you can help to get this message across to them.
Accessing treatment for agoraphobia in coronavirus ‘lockdown’
It’s important to remember that there is help available, even during the coronavirus outbreak. You can still seek help from your GP or from a district nurse. If you are already in contact with mental health services, you may want to reach out to your community psychiatric nurse or another team member such as your psychiatrist.
If you aren’t receiving any specialist support at the time, there are different organisations that you can approach. There are charitable organisations, such as Mind and The Samaritans.
At Priory Group, we are still operating and are able to support people who need treatment. We are able to provide support through our residential services where appropriate, and our outpatient therapy is now being provided through our digital platform, Priory Connect, where you are able to talk to a therapist over a video call.