The pandemic has brought about a new way of life for most of us, and you may find yourself asking “How can I connect when I don’t want to leave my house?” Being around people can still feel a little scary. While the threat of Covid-19 has decreased thanks to vaccines, there remains a fear of the unknown implications of the virus. While the threat of Covid-19 may be lower, when you turn on the news for even a few minutes, you are bombarded with a threat of another world war and talks of violence. These things can lead to the conclusion that being home is the safest place to be. While home may feel safest, what do you do when you need to get out of your home? When you need to buy groceries, go to a medical appointment, or even just get your mail?
What Is Agoraphobia?
The fear we discussed above is called “agoraphobia.” The National Library of Medicine defines agoraphobia as “anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having an unexpected or situationally predisposed panic attack or panic-like symptoms.” 2017 statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America show that about 1 in 3 people with a panic disorder will develop agoraphobia. I would imagine that those statistics are even higher now after the impact of over 2 years of Covid-19.
What Makes This Fear Worse?
According to a 2013 article, people sometimes engage in several behaviors that make this fear of leaving the house worse. These behaviors include:
- Self-Focus: Staying focused on yourself too much can add to feelings of anxiety.
- Unhelpful Thoughts: Thinking unhelpful things to ourselves can intensify feelings about being outside or in an open space. An example of unhelpful thoughts are thoughts like “What if something happens to me while I am outside?” or “What if I don’t make it back home?”
- Avoidance: You might have had a day that you decided to miss work due to feeling afraid to leave your home. Then you might have missed several days of work. As a result, you are now more fearful about going to work.
- Safety Behaviors: In the words of licensed psychology associate, Jennifer Wilke-Deaton, “the behaviors that are most avoided are the most difficult to change.” These are the behaviors that a person engages in to help themselves feel safe, but these behaviors don’t necessarily address the fear itself, and they often feed the fear and make it worse. An example of safety behavior might be facetiming a friend the entire time you are in the car.
What Can Help My Fear Of Leaving Home?
Creating a safety plan can help prevent you from engaging in the behaviors we talked about above. In a safety plan you want to include three important pieces of information: (1) Triggers, (2) Trigger Ratings, and (3) How To Address Triggers.
- Triggers: What are your triggers when you are not at home? Triggers are internal or external stimuli that bring you discomfort. These could be a person, place, thing, scent, or even an image. Think about what causes you to feel unsafe when you are away from home.
- Trigger Ratings: Rate your triggers. Get out a sheet of paper and write the number “1” at the top, “50” in the middle, and “100” at the bottom. The number 1 refers to triggers that are not too scary. The number 50 would be those that are moderately scary. The number 100 would be triggers that are extremely scary. Doing this activity will help you to “put your fears into perspective.”
- How To Address Triggers: If there is a certain place that is a trigger for you, what can you do while you are at that place. For example: Maybe the grocery store is triggering for you but you know you have to go there to pick up groceries. Maybe you could write a grocery list before going to the store. When you get to the store, you could set a timer to give yourself a time frame for shopping.
How Can I Connect When I Still Don’t Want To Leave My House?
If leaving your home is still just too scary for you, it is possible to find ways to connect with others when you don’t want to leave your house. A few ways to do this include:
- Online Support/Interest Groups: You can do a google search for people who have a shared interest with you. If you are interested in sewing, there are online groups for this. If you are interested in video games, there are groups for that. One of the best ways to connect with others is to simply find out what is out there. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides a list of support groups for people living with anxiety and depression.
- Google Meet: Google Meet is a way to stay in contact with family members or friends. It allows you the option to have video chats with those people who are important to you.
- Houseparty: Houseparty is a really great way to have fun virtually. If you are interested in playing games with your friends and family, houseparty is an app that you can download on your phone to do this. UNO anyone?
In the words of Tim Fargo, “until you cross the bridge of your insecurities, you can’t begin to explore your possibilities.” A big part of having fear is related to irrational beliefs that one is not safe, and developing safe connections with others while you are home can help you to feel safe once you start to leave the home.
If you are interested in getting help with Agoraphobia, therapy would be a great option for you. There are many types of interventions available which include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. If you want to receive support with addressing agoraphobia symptoms but are not comfortable with leaving your home, telehealth therapy might be a good place to start.
If you find that you are struggling with being fearful of leaving your home, know that there is help available to assist you. Rashada Smith, LPC, says this Chinese proverb applies well to the journey to mental wellness: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Choose today to get help with facing your fears. Garrett Counseling has counselors ready to assist you in your journey to mental wellness, in person or online. Contact us today at (256) 239-5662 or online.
This article was written by Latasha Toney, a telehealth mental health professional at Garrett Counseling. Learn more about Latasha here.