What sort of coping methods or strategies helped you deal with social anxiety or agoraphobia
May 8, 2010 5:49 PM   Subscribe

What sort of coping methods or strategies helped you deal with social anxiety or agoraphobia?

Hello, and welcome to my fourth question about some sort of anxiety issue! I have been dealing with panic disorder, social anxiety and agoraphobia for some time. It has affected many aspects of my life and I would like to fight it as best as possible, with as many strategies as I can arm myself with.

Things I deal with a lot of the time: not wanting to be seen in public for fear of criticism, worry of having a panic attack far from my home, upset stomach/dizziness as a manifestation of my anxiety (vicious cycle here), only wanting to be out and about with 'safe' friends or family, fear of public transportation.

The strange thing is, I don't really have a fear of meeting new people or socializing. I like people. I think I'm just scared of being in a situation that I can't immediately escape and return back to a safe location- i.e. a middle seat at a theater, on an airplane, crowded house party, out camping. I also make a huge effort to be well-groomed before I go outside anywhere- sometimes even just out of my room. Before I leave the house, I often have tried on several outfits and have put on makeup, even just to go out and get some eggs from the bodega. I realize this is silly but do it anyway.

I have combated it with the following: therapy (currently seeking a new doctor), medication (tried many drugs, uninterested in resuming), The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (awesome), Feeling Good (awesome), exercise, healthy diet, desensitization, et cetera, et cetera.

Have you been in a similar situation and were able to resume life as a spontaneous, functional, social being? I am dying to escape this box I've been shut in (quite literally) and return to the bubbly, adventurous person I used to be. Apologies for overuse of punctuation and general tendency to ramble.
posted by rachaelfaith to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Various coping mechanisms that have helped me transform myself from an agoraphobic high school dropout who left the house once a month into a scene whore who is, right now, preparing to go to a crowded house party:

-When you have a panic attack, write down all the destructive thoughts looping sickeningly through your head and once you've vomited them out on paper and calmed down a bit, go through bit by bit and use calm logic to refute them. "Everyone is staring at me" might get "people don't notice me more than anyone else, I'm not any more conspicuous than anyone else, people have better things to do and more pressing concerns than judging me." "Everyone hates me and doesn't want me around" might get "that's obviously not true, my mom and my friend Trish both love me." With a bit of practice you learn to do this in your head very quickly and don't get trapped in the self-destructive loop.

-This might not work for everyone but I learned to fake the opposite of how I felt. I'd get all dressed up and stroll into a crowded bar terrified but faking cool aloofness and telling myself "everyone is looking at me....because I'm the hottest shit alive, and they can't believe how fucking rad I am." This began as a way to cover up my deep insecurity and eventually I began to believe it and now, as any of my friends would wearily tell you, I have the biggest ego of all time and I'm super fucking cocky. Speaking of which...

-The universe wants you to rock it's brains out! I used to have a deep belief that I was destined to humiliation and failure and a horrible life and the best way to avoid the pain was to simply avoid living my life as much as I could. But it wasn't true. I had a wonderful life out there just waiting for me, music and friends and food and crazy experiences and travel and stories and parties and books and love, and all I had to do was believe that I deserved it and I could do it. There is no cosmic punishment for doing all the things you're scared of, just the life you really want to be living.

-Yes, most of us have some sort of chemical imbalance or whatever, but defining yourself by your diagnosis is futile. No one would ever believe I've been told by many doctors and psychiatrists that I have social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I used to thing the fact that I was oh so crippled by the genetic lottery meant I had no choice in the matter. The truth is, it's a choice. You CAN go to the grocery store, you CAN go to a party, you CAN have an awesome life, but you're fucking it up by choosing to live a life of fear, excuses, and all-around lameness. Harsh, but true. I've been there.

-Get some heroes and roll models. I have a giant crush, personally, on Internet sweetheart and international playgirl Gala Darling. I don't model my lifenon her or nothing, and she's just one example of the many people I admire, but pick someone super gregarious and awesome and confident and tell yourself there's no reason on earth you can't be the same way. You have all the potential and talents and social skills in the world, you just got to use them, and sometimes, when you get stuck, you can ask yourself "what would my hero do?"

He'll, I'll be your hero, if you want. (kidding, obviously, but see, I wasn't kidding about my transformation from a sad sack self-loather to an overconfident egomaniac, ha ha)
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:36 PM on May 8, 2010 [16 favorites]


Recently, I started reading Joyful Wisdom (obviously for other reasons) but I found some ideas that I can use for anxiety as well. It says you dont have to avoid or fight your feelings - there is a third way of dealing with those feelings. The last time I had anxiety, I felt better just thinking that I had to neither fight it nor avoid it by thinking of strategies or self-talk. I can just be. The author also mentions his own struggle with anxiety.

"How can I get rid of hope and fear?"
The simple answer is,"By not trying"
Because when we try to get rid of something, we're really just reinforcing hope and fear.....The middle way begins by simply looking at whatever it is we're thinking or feeling: I'm angry. I'm jealous. I'm afraid.

If you can read this genre I would recommend this for anxiety.

I also try to switch to deep breathing. And I absolutely try my best to not avoid social occasions because of it but at the same time, if I really dont want to, I do give myself a break. Its funny how anxiety comes and goes (at least in my case)...and I have to always come up with something to work it out that one time. I sometimes log it....on a scale of 1-10, how anxious did I think I would feel before the event and after the event- how anxious I actually was during the event. I have to self-talk more (not good at it) and read my logs, remember the positive experiences. It's hard, but I try to cross just the one bridge I am at, as best as I can. Kind of like weight loss- you have to make it a lifestyle...takes time for those of us who haven't yet.

Also, counselling.

Finally, don't expect any one strategy to work all the time. Don't expect a successful strategy to work everytime. You are looking for one key to a lock, but you may have a bunch of keys and you may find a couple of them work but you have to find the one that works when you try to open the lock.

Please feel free to email me if you'd like to.
posted by xm at 6:48 PM on May 8, 2010

Some people feel a calming effect from taking a b-complex vitamin twice a day or so. I've found adding a b-complex to my routine kind of mellows me out.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:20 PM on May 8, 2010

I read some time back (in The Relaxation Response, perhaps) that breathing deeply can shorten a panic attack. I try to remember that we can indeed overcome physical responses to panic.
I know when I'm in situations that trigger attacks I need to divert my attention quickly. For me, adding numbers on license plates, alphabetizing words in a sentence and assigning numerical values to letters on things I see really makes my brain stop focusing on "OHMYGOSHIAMHAVINGAMASSIVEPANICATTACKANDAMGOINGTODIE!" Sometimes I can do it very quickly. The other thing that helps me is having someone I trust available to talk to. I tell them I'm having a panic attack and they immediately know to tell me a highly entertaining story.
Try not to let yourself give in, because being stuck inside a box really sucks. I have prayed for you.
posted by littleflowers at 7:55 PM on May 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. Juliet Banana, I sort of used to be like you are now, was a concert promoter, always brightly dressed and always socializing. Perhaps you CAN be my hero!

I have heard the b-vitamin thing before and I am awful at remembering to take vitamins. Will post a big green post-it on my calendar to remind myself to do so.

littleflowers, I like your advice as well. I do have a list of people I can call to 'distract' a panic attack, but I'd like to try the things you listed.

And yes, I'm certainly not looking for a catchall solution for All Panic Attacks/Anxiety Ever. Just looking to add new and ongoing methods to my arsenal.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:24 PM on May 8, 2010

I think you should give this an earnest, concerted try.
posted by sickinthehead at 8:29 PM on May 8, 2010

This workbook was very helpful for me: Mastering Your Anxiety and Panic.
posted by chaff at 9:12 PM on May 8, 2010

Social anxiety is still something I am struggling with, but is slowly getting better with time and patience.

I find it's helpful to exaggerate and use humor against my anxious thoughts. Such as "I don't want to go outside, people are going to stare at me and think I'm stupid!" But in reality, I try to imagine what someone would really think... "God, that girl is WALKING. What a loser! I'm going to tell all my friends about that weird girl walking, what a story that will be!" Then, my fear becomes something ridiculous, that I can smile at. It also reminds me that my fears are illogical and not truly grounded in reality.

I also found it really relieving to just accept my anxiety. Sometimes I will feel anxious in social situations or before I leave my house, but it doesn't make me any less of a person. It's a habit/coping mechanism I've developed since I was a child and it is okay to feel that way sometimes. When I stop beating myself up about having anxiety, it's easier to come down from it.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 10:15 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I really, really struggle with this. It helps that I have a job that forces me to interact with people and travel for days at a time. Like you, I'm very social...but also, like you, I depend on friends and family far too much to get me out of the house.

If I lived on my own, I could go (and have gone) days staying indoors, just watching movies, writing, being online...and feeling miserable, because I know that I'm not living my life as fully as I'd like. Sometimes it snowballs into me not going into work, because it's so easy to get sucked down into that spiral.

Some things that have helped me, outside of therapy:

1. Exercise -- indoors, just yoga or some aerobics...even if I can't make myself leave the house that day, I feel like I've accomplished something, and my self-esteem is higher. Cleaning works, too.

2. Doing something small -- walk to the grocery store, through the park, ect. If you bring headphones, it breaks up the cycle of thinking that everyone's looking at you.

3. Fake it -- were you ever in theater? I know it sounds really cheesy, but when things become unbearable I act as if I'm a character in a play...It's not me that's on the subway next to the lady who's glaring at me, it's some character. The character would talk to the person next to them in line, go to that house party, call for take-out, join that club.

4. You're not the only one -- all those people who look like they've got it all together? how many times have you gotten close to someone and realized that they have a lot more insecurities and issues than they'd previously let on? All those people who you pass by every day might be having anxiety issues, too...or they might be shy, insecure, dealing with some issue, ect.

Good luck! I hope you find a good doctor. CBT has really, really helped me.
posted by jnaps at 8:15 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

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