Agoraphobia and/or Separation Anxiety

Hi, I'm 30 and have returned to college... or tried to. For 4 days until the move, I had such bad anxiety that I cried for hours each day. On the day of the move, I drove to school (only 90 minutes away), went to classes, then had such bad anxiety (rapid pulse, massive crying, intense fear, chest pressure/pain, shaking) that I cancelled all my classes, cancelled my housing, and returned home. (This is not the first time this has happened either... I've always been a homebody.) Even though I wasn't that far from my family and friends, I felt so isolated and alone. Until then, I had been going to the local community college and loved every minute of it. But the distance, moving headaches, and financial stress of going to a university were too much to bear for me. Even typing this has triggered some tears as I recall the experience. I am terrified that I may never venture out on my own. I get hypervigilant when alone at night (like I can't relax enough to sleep) and can't sleep in strange places alone (example: I couldn't even sleep at my aunt's house to babysit her dog for a weekend). I'm very risk-averse and an introvert so I like my quiet time but have trouble making friends and expanding my social network because I'm not a social butterfly. What can I do to break this separation anxiety and become more confident? I don't want to limit my future career prospects because I'm too afraid to travel far from my hometown area. Thanks

Comments for Agoraphobia and/or Separation Anxiety

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Jan 19, 2017
You are not alone...
by: Susan

Hi there! First of all, I think it's awesome that you have such goals and aspirations - and NO, I don't think for one minute that you'll never venture out on your own... so you shouldn't think that either. And if those are your thoughts, don't accept them! However, I do know that's a real fear for you because the struggle with the anxiety is so real and so difficult to overcome.
Agoraphobia is such a complicated issue. It is defined by "extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places", when in reality it it more like the fear of your anxiety/panic sensations when in certain situations (enough fear that will cause you avoid certain situations/places/people because you fear that how you felt before (maybe a panic attack) will happen again). Agoraphobia always includes avoidance, usually due to the fear of anxiety/panic in public places by which there is no easy escape.
I grew up being the oldest of 6 siblings, I was never alone. I had an enormous amount of responsibility growing up and my chances for outward venturing (alone) and self-confidence building was limited - Home was where my heart was - It was "safe". I knew I was loved, I knew I could handle what was in front of me and there was no doubt that I had the support of those around me. When I got married and my husband joined the military, I was forced to move away from home for the very first time in my life to be without my big family supporting me - now we are not talking about an hour or so away, but instead 3000 miles away! And to top it off, I had a 2 year old with me... It wasn't long before I was presented with situations that provoked fear, anxiety and even panic. My husband, being military, had to go away on occasion for weeks on end, while I stayed in military housing alone, without friends, or family and without much first-hand experience.
I am sure you can imagine, putting yourself in that scenario, knowing you have described yourself as an introvert, a homebody -- just how much emotional baggage comes with that.
I used to stand in lines at the grocery store checkout with my child - sweating, feeling dizzy, shaking, having a panic attack & convinced that I would just "go crazy" and everyone would see me do it... just to buy milk! As much as I wanted to leave the stores, I couldn't because I had to care for my family, and I had no-one to rely on but myself. I know firsthand, how overwhelming those sensations are and how avoidance (agoraphobia) sets in. We have a natural tendency to run back to our "safe place". It is easy to see that your safe place is home, where your family is... But here is what I want you to know, YOU must learn to become your safe person -- your own safe place within yourself and the only way to do this is to practice by putting yourself in situations that you can grow in self-confidence - you do this by "feeling the fear and doing it anyways", you do this by allowing yourself to stay in situations long enough to train your mind to see that it isn't dangerous, it is challenging your fearful thoughts and turning them around through practice. Truth is, fear is not dangerous. It's a feeling - a very overwhelming feeling, BUT we can give ourselves permission to feel it, to float through it, to experience all of it at it's very worst, until we reach the other side and see that feelings are NOT necessarily facts but instead it's the end result of what we've been telling ourselves. Self-confidence has EVERYTHING to do with how we talk to ourselves on a daily basis. If we visualize ourselves as weak, defeated, incapable, what do you think will happen? We will subconsciously choose to live according to those those beliefs and to make choices that will only reinforce them. If you want to make serious change in your life, there is no other way than to step into those things that make you afraid WHILE telling yourself more encouraging, truthful self-talk along the way. Action and words must go together in order to make lasting change that you can build upon. And again, you must be willing to bear some discomfort along the way. So many are quick to give up, to retreat and this isn't what you want, I assure you, it will not bring any life satisfaction and will only bring limited growth/potential. God did not create us to be complacent. And I truly believe that with all my heart -- you were created to grow, to tap into your gifts and talents for the better of yourself and the world and NONE of us can do that without some growing pains. Self-confidence grows as you achieve and give yourself credit for every little success along the way and also giving yourself permission to fall down, make mistakes, be less than perfect... to shake the dust off of your feet and get back up. You are human and sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to "be and do", so much so that we become paralyzed by our own expectations. I just want to encourage you to step out, to keep stepping out, to keep challenging yourself BUT this time, do it with the right mind, the right thoughts -- go against your feelings and instead listen to the TRUTH -- which is you can accomplish ANYTHING you believe you can accomplish. It all starts with your thought life. If at anytime you DO NOT feel you can do this alone, and need help, find a therapist, or someone you can talk to, who can help you stay grounded mentally/emotionally -- even a small amount of supplement or medication can help with the overwhelming physical sensations. Do whatever you have to do to achieve your goals and visions, just don't stay stuck! There is no life or growth there.
I wish you well -- please learn all you can and NEVER give up!

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