Agoraphobia and the Internet: Does Technology Help or Harm this Anxiety Disorder?

Finding the motivation to explore and interact with the world as an agoraphobic can be a painstaking ordeal. With the rise of technology, reconnecting with the world and socializing can be done from the comfort of your own home. However, when used improperly, technology can also increase the isolation that lies at the root of this disorder. Luckily, when harnessed for their positive effects, online tools can help you start treating your agoraphobia and make the leap into residential treatment smoother.

Living with agoraphobia can turn a world of opportunities into one of isolation and fear. Something as simple as going to the grocery store can conjure up a feeling of certainty that you will succumb to panic and have nowhere to escape. Given this fear, it’s no surprise that many people suffering from this disorder don’t seek help, instead secluding themselves into their own personal world where they feel safe. Despite this feeling of comfort and safety, taking this route means that you never truly get the treatment that you need, and miss out on the opportunity to examine the real root of your problem.

With the rise of the internet and technology, we have the ability to connect with almost anyone at any time, and obtain any kind of information on any topic. Programs like Skype allow us to speak face-to-face with people across the street or on the other side of the world, and games and forums create communities of people that have never even met each other in the real world. Although this seems like a huge positive for someone suffering from agoraphobia, how much does it actually help?

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Reconnecting with the World

Agoraphobia narrows your world into one of very limited opportunities and interactions. With the fear of leaving your safe haven, many prefer to stay inside and limit interactions with the outside world. The internet gives agoraphobics the ability to chat and communicate with other people while remaining in their comfort zone, providing an outlet to interact with the outside world in a way that doesn’t involve exposing themselves to situations that normally leave them paralyzed with fear.

“I could spend hours on the internet. Surfing websites or chatting and i found it was something i really enjoyed,” said Lynn, who suffers from agoraphobia. “I also joined a few sites like Faceparty and Myspace and suddenly i was back in touch with people i hadn’t been able to see in a while.”

Although technology has many benefits (as evidenced in Lynn’s case), it’s also somewhat of a double-edged sword—with so much to do online, it gives us even less incentive to leave our homes and experience the world. For those with agoraphobia, this might seem like a blessing, but in reality it’s only increasing your isolation and prolonging the process of analysis and healing that should come with treatment.

“People are becoming increasingly isolated, in a physical sense, because a lot of socializing takes place online, so perhaps we are becoming more predisposed to agoraphobia when anxiety takes hold of us,” said psychotherapist Rachel Elliott. “Social media can give us the impression that other people know how to navigate the world more smoothly—and this creates a sense of inferiority, which feeds their anxiety.”

Harnessing the Positive Effects of Technology

In the right context, technology can be used to treat numerous mental health disorders, including agoraphobia. For example, online forums, support groups, and blogs can provide you with a connection to others and allow you to realize how many people are experiencing the same feelings as you. With this sense of understanding and connectedness, it becomes easier to make the leap into residential treatment. In addition, there are numerous online resources designed to provide tools typically only offered in treatment. For example, internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to reduce symptoms of agoraphobia much in the same way that face-to-face CBT does, although participants in the study reported higher enjoyment in terms of therapist-patient communication when meeting in person.

In terms of healthcare, online resources give individuals the ability to research and understand what they’re feeling and even participate in online treatments that offer an alternative to standard face-to-face therapy. From CBT to online depression screenings, numerous interventions for mental health issues that were once only available in standard treatment settings can now be accessed and utilized from the comfort of your home.

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Making the Leap into Treatment

Deciding that you need help for your agoraphobia is one thing, but mustering up the courage to go out and do so while still gripped by panic is another. In fact, although anxiety disorders are very treatable, only one-third of individuals suffering from one seek treatment. With the aid of online communities and tools, you can start your treatment from within your comfort zone, and begin the process of healing before jumping into a residential treatment plan.

Understanding why you experience the fear that you do and resolving these issues is the most important step to gaining control of your agoraphobia. Falling into the trap of using technology as a crutch to avoid confronting your fears will only postpone the healing that can help you take control of your panic. Only when it is used as a stepping stone toward proper treatment that shines light on the underlying causes of your disorder can technology be used for its positive potential and help you step back into the world waiting for you outside.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for individuals with agoraphobia that wish to break free from the panic underlying their isolation. Contact us for more information about our comprehensive treatment program and how it can help you or your loved one get to the root of the disorder and re-experience the outside world free from the clutches of fear.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Steinar La Engeland