For Agoraphobia, Medication Should Be Just One Part of a Comprehensive Treatment Plan
The treatment of panic disorders such as agoraphobia commonly includes medication, but some people come to rely on these medications to the point of addiction. To avoid that, seek a treatment plan that includes a variety of tools such as meditation, music therapy, and group therapy. These various modalities can help you rely on your medication less and keep you pursuing sustainable recovery.
For people who live with agoraphobia, PRN (or “as-needed”) medications like Ativan can be an incredible resource. They can reduce the feelings of panic that make you fear certain situations and environments and help you experience everything that your disorder has previously made you miss out on. But relying on it can be harmful in a number of ways. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive, with one study finding that 40 percent of outpatient general practice patients in the sample met the criteria for dependency. And given the fact that benzodiazepine withdrawal effects mirror symptoms of agoraphobia and can last for weeks to months, dependency is extremely counterproductive to treatment, and can leave you with the same problems that you began treatment with—exacerbated.
Leaving the house used to be something I had to spend hours preparing for—something I had to feel ready to do. And if I couldn’t get there, I just stayed in my room: my safe place. But once I was prescribed Ativan, I had a resource I could use during my most anxious moments. It was like being washed over by a wave of calm: I didn’t feel anxious or panicky or drugged—I just felt normal. I could do normal things without having panic attacks. The problem, of course, is that Ativan and other benzodiazepines can be addictive, so I’ve had to be really mindful of how and when I’m using them.
In order for medications like Xanax and Ativan to be effective in the long-term, they must be one part a treatment plan that makes sure there are other supports in place—like long-term therapy and networks of family and friends. A comprehensive treatment plan is something that can be developed in residential treatment, and will provide a variety of treatment modalities and coping skills that you can carry forward and use to combat your agoraphobia daily. Three specific modalities that you may find beneficial are meditation, music therapy, and group therapy.
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Learning to Accept Fear Using Meditation
In the face of real danger, when the fight-or-flight response kicks in, fear and panic send our brain into overdrive—because it should be. When you’re experiencing a panic attack, this same fight-or-flight response is in full effect, and the fear you are experiencing is still real—but the key to learning to deal with it is realizing that it doesn’t stem from a real threat. Oftentimes, the fear that precedes panic attacks is compounded not by actual threats, but by your very fear of the panic itself—you feel it coming, you get scared at the thought of it, and this escalation in fear can lead into a full-blown episode.
With meditation, you can learn to accept what you’re feeling in the moment and simply let it pass instead of fighting it, curbing the escalation of fear that takes place when you try and fight your panic and go against the grain. It’s a holistic therapy that emphasizes the importance of flowing with the current instead of against it, and can be a perfect treatment for agoraphobia, one that has been shown to produce significant, lasting reductions in anxiety in people living with the disorder. One study found that the majority of the participants who had experienced panic attacks in the week before their meditation treatment did not experience any both immediately after treatment or at the three-month follow-up.
Using Music Therapy to Alleviate Anxiety
The universal nature of music throughout human culture gives it an ancient significance that reaches back into our history—much like other holistic practices such as meditation. It’s a fundamental part of the lives of many people, and even if isn’t part of yours, you can still benefit from its therapeutic effects on the mind, body, and soul.
Music therapy can mean many things—it can mean listening to slow, soothing music on a regular basis to calm you, it can mean creating music as a means of catharsis, it can mean putting on your headphones and letting your favorite song give you a distraction from the panic that you’re feeling. Whatever the nature of the therapy, music can be used in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders to help ground you and calm your nerves. Research has shown that it can prevent spikes in heart rate and blood pressure that stem from anxiety, and creating music can mediate changes in heart rate. We’re still learning about the effects of music on anxiety each day, but what we know so far points to it as a great holistic therapy that can soothe your soul and give you something to lean on while you work toward addressing and overcoming your anxieties.
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Supporting Recovery Using Group Therapy
The thought of being in a room full of people that you don’t know is a scary one if you’re living with agoraphobia. When considering treatment options, group therapy might seem like that last thing on earth you want to do, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. In reality, it’s a very effective way of giving you a safe connection with other people—empathetic people also living with mental health challenges—and aiding your recovery.
One thing that compounds the fear that drives panic attacks is the fact that you feel like you’re the only one that knows what it feels like. People might tell you to just “get over it” or “calm down,” but this only increases the feelings of isolation that accompany these attacks when they surface. With group therapy, you will be surrounded by people who are working through their own problems and have the same desire to recover as you do. Through reducing feelings of social isolation and alienation and teaching coping strategies to manage your anxiety, therapy in a group setting can ease you into the recovery process by connecting you with people that you can talk to and empathize with without the fear of judgment.
Making the Transition to Sustainable Treatment
Medication can be a great aspect of treatment, but is not a cure, and if you’re at the point where you find yourself turning to and relying on it, and only it, too often, you’re likely being counterproductive to your long-term health. With the right residential treatment program, you can learn strategies for dealing with your agoraphobia that are sustainable and work in combination with medication to pave the road to recovery. You can develop the confidence to accept the fear that comes with panic attacks and learn to manage it, giving you a means to live your life the way that you want to, unfettered by your mental health challenges.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people living with agoraphobia. Contact us if you want to learn how you can use medication in combination with a number of other therapies to live your life without being held back by fear.
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