Counseling Sheet

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Agoraphobia

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

Agoraphobia is fear of being alone in an open place or in public places. It is the opposite of claustrophobia. More than 90% of patients are women between the ages of 15 and 35. They may suffer from a sense of panic, dizziness, depression, preoccupation with irrational thoughts, and a sense of strangeness or unrealness. It may have its onset after some major life trauma. For months at a time the patient may refuse to leave home. As many as six women in one hundred in some localities have been described as having the disorder. They may develop abnormal attachments to some person, pet, or even an inanimate object. They may find it more comfortable to be outside their homes at night, or while wearing dark glasses in the daytime. Usually after some months or years, the condition gradually subsides.

CAUSES

Food sensitivities have been implicated more than any other single thing in this disorder. It is a fact that agoraphobics often eat lots of sweets, use caffeinated beverages, and refined carbohydrates such as white flour products and sugar. They sometimes develop shallow breathing and poor posture. After a food sensitivity is well developed, a major life trauma occurs and triggers the agoraphobia.

TREATMENT

Hydrotherapy: Take hot baths daily for 20-30 minutes five days per week for three weeks.

Remove all foods from the diet that may cause a problem. We strongly recommend a totally vegetarian diet, using no animal products (meat, milk, eggs, or cheese), no white foods (white rice, white starch, white spaghetti, white macaroni, white breads, and white sugar), no caffeinated or decaffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate). A careful attempt should be made to discover any foods to which the person may be sensitive, using the "Elimination and Challenge Diet." This diet is available from Uchee Pines Institute.

One of the reasons for ill-defined fear is a sudden drop in blood sugar. Refined carbohydrates promote wide swings in blood sugar. When a fear or panic first begins to develop, stand tall, breathe deeply, and pray. Drink a glass of water every ten minutes for an hour. In most cases the fear will quickly pass.

Deep breathing should be encouraged, consciously taking a deep breath every time one passes through any door, maintaining good posture at all times, and taking a deep breath at the change of every hour. Clothing should be loose, especially around the chest and waist.

The patient should go to the area where it is known that stress is produced and remain there, even several hours, until the anxiety dies down. Five to ten sessions may be needed to help the patient overcome. Begin with a routine of gradually increasing the distance you take away from your home, repeating each step several times until you can get down the driveway successfully. Then drive the car to the market and park in the parking lot before going back home. Within the next day or so, try going inside the grocery store. The next day or so, try actually purchasing some groceries. It may take many tries before you can actually enter a building away from home. Continue in this way until groceries have been successfully stored in the pantry.

Develop the practice of prayer. If anxiety begins, switch the thoughts to a sacred theme. Millions have obtained help through prayer. It is a law of our nature that God is able to do for us what we cannot do, if we do not thus pray. Many organizations have demonstrated the benefits of prayer: Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Al-Anon, and many others.

Learn to sing aloud. Outdoors sing louder. Memorize entire chapters of the Bible: Psalms 1, 91, 23, and I Corinthians 13, and quote these aloud when out-of-doors or fearful. Wear no tight clothing around the chest or abdomen, and consciously control the rate of breathing to keep it normal. If an anxiety attack occurs say, "Stop!" audibly. Pray, and then switch the thoughts to a previously selected topic, such as quoting Scripture or singing a hymn you have memorized.

A massage can be very helpful. It should be a full body massage, if possible, or simply a foot rub. More than just psychologically relaxing, massage has a healing benefit for emotional and mental disorders that cannot be easily defined.

Exercise to the point of sweating daily can do wonders for agoraphobics. Step onto your porch or into the yard and do a series of brisk calisthenics - running in place, high knee marching, jumping jacks, arm swings, leg swings, etc. Day by day try to go a farther distance from your house to perform the exercises.

Be regular in all your habits - bedtime, mealtime, exercise time, etc.

Catnip tea taken in the daytime can have a very calming effect. About 20 minutes prior to leaving the house take a cup of the tea. If a more calming effect is needed, use, along with the catnip herb, some valerian, hops, and skullcap, one or more. Kava kava and St. John's wort have also been recommended for mild anxiety.

One patient had her panic attacks and agoraphobia stop when a hair that had been resting against her eardrum was removed by irrigation by a physician. An ear exam may be rewarding.

A mild case of dizziness is sometimes involved in agoraphobia. Contact Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center if you need information on the treatment for dizziness.

For more information, contact:

Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center
30 Uchee Pines Road #75
Seale, Alabama 36875

Tel. 334-855-4764

www.ucheepines.org