When I was first diagnosed with agoraphobia and panic attacks, I learned that agoraphobia literally means fear of the marketplace. That described me perfectly. My worst places to be were the grocery store and the mall.
When I have a panic attack, I get a strong, uncontrollable urge to leave the place I’m at. I feel more at ease when there is easy access to an exit. Big box warehouse stores with no windows and one door are challenging.
Medication has helped get me through the day without the constant fear of panic. I’m grateful that now I’m comfortable going anywhere — even the grocery store.
These places help me feel safe and relaxed:
- The Beach: My senses are both awakened and at peace here. I’m mesmerized as I watch the waves form, crash, and roll to the shore. Warm sand massages my feet, and cold water makes me feel alive. It’s as if I’m on vacation, with the sounds of seagulls and the smell of salty air. The beauty and serenity make this a spiritual place. I daydream about all that is possible.
- The Mountains: This is where life slows down. I take deep breaths and notice how quiet it is. Birds chirp and trees rustle in the breeze. Gravel crunches underneath my feet. It’s therapeutic to be with nature, and Just Be.
- Library or Book Store: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the smell of books! It’s quiet here, and a much-needed break from the busy world outside. I get a stack of magazines and best sellers to browse, find a comfy chair, and settle in. I focus on what I’m reading, and nearly forget I’m with other people.
- Movie Theater: The thought of sitting in a cool, dark theater for a couple of hours is pure bliss. It’s an escape, where I can observe, and not participate. For many people with anxiety, being in a theater can be difficult. I don’t like to sit in the middle of a row, in the center of the theater. I prefer to be toward the back, near the end of the row. I munch on popcorn, let my mind wander, and get lost in the show.
- Coffee Shop: I walk in and take a deep breath. The smell of coffee instantly relaxes me. It’s cozy and inviting. I can easily spend an hour or two here, sipping on a hot latte or an iced coffee, chatting with a friend. But because caffeine makes me jittery and anxious, I order decaf. And no double shots of espresso!
- Garden Center/Plant Nursery: I enjoy gardening, and thrive on the immediate gratification I get from planting flowers, weeding, and growing vegetables. A nursery is a serene escape. I browse every aisle, deciding what to buy. I revel in the slow pace and am rejuvenated by the hope of making my garden more beautiful.
- Church: I feel surrounded by love here. This time is dedicated to prayer and enriching my faith, away from the hustle of my regular routine. It used to be hard for me to attend Mass because I was afraid of having a panic attack. That fear has subsided, but I still prefer to sit near the end of the pew. When the service is over, I feel good that I made it through and didn’t let my anxiety stop me from worshiping. Another reason to be thankful!
The common thread to my favorite places is that they encourage me to be calm and mindful. I use all of my senses to fully immerse myself into the peace and relaxation that they offer.