Fear: Crowds & Public Places

Agoraphobia  is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety or panic in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment as being difficult to escape or get help. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as unknown or uncontrollable social situations such as grocery stores, shopping malls, airports, sporting events, and even on bridges. Agoraphobia is the fear of having a panic attack in those situations. Agoraphobics will try to avoid those situations. Severe cases result in being unable to leave their home or places they feel safe.

Agoraphobia usually presents between ages 20 and 40 years and affects more women than men. Approximately 3.2 million, which is about 2.2%, of adults in the US between the ages of 18 and 54, suffer from agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia accounts for approximately 60% of phobias.

Approximately one third of people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia.

About Us

A note from the Author:  I’m not a doctor, counselor, nor do I carry any kind of degree in psychology. I’m just a regular person who struggles with anxiety and fear. A person that gives a great deal of thought how to calm the anxiety, abate the fear and be in control of my thoughts. I can not diagnose you, or fix you. Some articles I write here are to be taken with a grain of salt, and some are very serious. The content here is all intended to be helpful, entertaining, and used with common sense. I cannot be held liable if you take action or inaction that results in self harm or harm to others after reading this blog.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 911.

I’ve been in and out of counseling for many years. I’ve read many books, like “The Worry Cure” and workbooks in stress management, anxiety disorders and more. While I employ many techniques I’ve learned, I still struggle with thoughts of fear, panic and worry.

My goal with this blog is to help people who feel the way I do, by first learning that they are not alone with these intrusive, irrational thoughts and feelings. We are not crazy, nor can we just “snap out of it” as my ex-idiot husband said to me repeatedly. It’s a disorder, akin to an addiction, that we have to fight and work to control almost all the time.

I’m hopeful that my insights and articles will help those who read them.

If you have something to share or would like to be a contributing author on this site, please contact me at info@firstdontpanic.com

Gratitude and attitude

Sometimes I wallow in my worries so hard I could drown. I am so completely immersed, that I miss whole conversations, chunks of time and even patches of road I’m driving. I focus on everything that is wrong, could go wrong, and all the mistakes I could make while things go wrong so I can make them even more wrong. It’s impressive how much “wrong” I can stuff in to one scenario.

Here’s how it works – I’m worried about one simple thing – will it become a problem, and suddenly I’m thinking maybe I can’t trust my judgement, and I bet other people are going through this too, and then it grows. Why is the world so full of sadness? What can we do about it? Where is God? Why do we have to suffer so much?  etc.  And suddenly I’m drowning in a universe of SUCK.   It’s at this point when I become profoundly sad, and dip into a black, inky well of despair.  Have you ever felt that way?  Like there’s so much to worry about, that it finally breaks you?

If so, I have a few tactics that help me, that I hope can help you too.  Take a deep breath and try the following.

  1. First, if you are out somewhere – go home. If you are intoxicated, (take a cab) and cease all intake of mind altering drinks and drugs.
  2. Secondly, once you are not driving and in a safe environment, and if you are choked up, tearing or already crying – just cry. Let it out. Go ahead and release as much as you can. Cry and cry. Get a box of tissues and go to town. Gently blow your nose, have some chamomile tea and cry some more. Why? Because crying actually produces endorphins, which will put your mind in a slightly more “right” state. Please rehydrate after crying, so you don’t increase your heart rate and get a headache.
  3. Nap. After a good cry and all those endorphins flowing, you may feel wiped out. Give in to that, and let your body rest. Try not to revisit the past thoughts that made you cry, but rather think about the soft bed, comfy pillow and cozy blanket. One good way to fall asleep is to close your eyes and remember your favorite movie or tv show or book, and play it in your mind. This works for 3 reasons: It’s pleasant because it’s familiar, and yet it’s not your life, and you know what’s going to happen next, so you don’t have to stay awake to find out.  Now sleep until you wake up. Why? Because you are now engaged in the practice of self-care. You love yourself, so act like it and allow your body to rest as much as it needs.  Give yourself permission. Sleep deprived people are more likely to be depressed, slow, and make bad decisions. Go ahead, relax and konk out.
  4. Once your up, continue the practice of self-care and make yourself a meal. Do not have a pile of sugar. Have something leafy green. When you sit down to eat, look at your food first. Think about it. You have food. You are about to satisfy your hunger. It’s a basic human need, and you are going to fulfill it for yourself.  I realize its a very simple, basic concept, but it’s important. Be grateful for this food. Grateful to God/higher power who made it, grateful to yourself or your mate who shopped for it and paid for it and brought it home, and grateful that you are able-bodied enough to prepare it for yourself. Why are we doing this? Because our current negative attitude is harmful, and we’re changing it through gratitude.
  5. Now that you’ve cared for yourself, with a cry, a nap and some food, it’s time to do some work. This is simple work, and you won’t break a sweat, but it may be outside of your comfort zone, because complex emotions come in to play when people do this.  First, sit in a chair, comfortably and look around. Notice that you have a full belly, are alive and well, and are being supported by the chair. Without comparing yourself with those who are better off or worse off, just acknowledge that what you have is a gift, and be grateful for it.

The Time of Your Life

clock-1 As a chronic worry wort, how much of your life have you spent worried?  Is the grey space on this clock how much you spend each hour with anxious thoughts? It has been mine – or more.
calendar If you spend hours each day, you’ve likely wasted years of your life frozen in fear. Don’t feel bad,  you’re not alone. All of us who worry, are very good at burning through hour after torturous, non-productive, hour. But now, in this moment in time, is when we stop to reflect on that, and make it part of our past behavior. A habit we are committed to dumping.
clock-2 Make this a new goal: To be aware of how much time you allow yourself to spend brooding and worried.  You own your life. You control your mind. You deserve freedom from mental pain. It’s a simple goal, but far from easy. It takes practice, effort and repeated concentration on doing something unfamiliar – letting go, and moving the hell on with your real life. The life where you live in the present.
clock-3 For a few minutes, instead of worrying about anything, think about something fun or productive. What else could you be doing if you weren’t drowning in worry? Whatever you are worried about can wait, because if it’s a real issue, it will be there when you are done with your current productive task. Put it on a shelf and grab another item. If it’s a projected/potential problem, it can wait because you are able to handle anything that comes your way – when/if that happens. And trust me, it won’t. It will be ok – which means this potential problem can wait forever.
clock-4 Find something seriously engaging, and go to it. It will be hard at first, to focus, but mentally slap your thoughts back on track. Take each minute one at a time. You are a good person, you deserve to feel accomplished. What ever you are doing, do your best at it, and enjoy every moment. Indulge in this, and it will force you to feel better.
 clock-5 After you have completed your project, and realized that you can, to some extent, control your thoughts and feelings, and actually produce something great, you can puff up with pride and realize that you don’t need to worry. Yes, it’s a well beaten path, and this new one is narrow and hard to track, but the more you do it, the easier you will see it, follow it and spend more and more time there.


When in Doubt…

So I’m sitting in traffic today, going over the past few days in my head. A long time build up of mutual resentments finally came to a vicious confrontation with an unethical woman who betrayed me and stole from me. I know I’m in the right, and she’s not, but her claws and teeth were out. It was harsh. So now, I am cloudy with this bad feeling like I’ve done something wrong, but I know I haven’t. I feel like a jerk, even though I didn’t do any of the things of which she accused me. I feel like something horrible is going to come out of it, even though the worst is most likely over. I’ve got on my shit-tinted glasses, so the whole world looks like crap to me. My self image is little more than a frownie face. Frown  I don’t wanna feel this way any more. As I drive, I begin to get angry, angry at her, angry at myself for letting her words penetrate my psyche and change how I feel about me. Hey, dammit – I control me, not she! I will choose to be happy right now. I begin to practice the live in the now technique. However, some seriously rude drivers along the way begin to taint the experience of “the now”, so I have to try something else. Maybe something new. I came up with this, and it worked for the rest of the day.

When you begin to doubt yourself or the future, try being arrogant. It’s probably not your normal style, certainly not your everyday ‘tude, but when you get in a state of worry, especially if it’s related to wondering if someone doesn’t like you, or wondering if someone or something is going to harm you, try this.

Don an arrogant attitude for a while. Why? You’ll see once I explain how to do it.
Here’s how:

  1. Be alone. No one needs to encounter your arrogance. If you’re new to it, you may overdo it, and it will likely give the wrong impression. (Or, it could be wicked funny. If that’s the case, good. It’s always our goal to generate a smile. Laughing)
  2. Write down what you’re worried about, or wondering about, even the vaguest and most whacked out ideas. Just give it 5 minutes, a quick little list.
  3. OK, now remember a movie or hero or any figures that were an unmitigated bad-ass and/or arrogant ass. Preferably choose a few who have an intimidating physical presence and intelligent verbal/dialog skills. A nice fictional persona might be a combination of Jesse Ventura and Bruce Lee, with a touch of Don Corleone, JR Ewing and James Bond. (Yes, I chose all men – but you choose whomever works for the purposes of this exercise)
  4. Now go back through your list with your new arrogant, take-charge, kick-it’s-ass, I-can-handle-whatever-comes-my-way attitude and address all your worries.
  5. Keep in mind, that you now fully trust yourself to deal with any and every given situation, should it actually arise, and you can not be defeated. Not only can you handle it ALL, but you deserve to come out on top, because you are after all, YOU. Keep writing until you’ve obliterated each item you wrote down, with your pompous thoughts, superior notions and deserving demeanor.
  6. Next, take a few look at your arrogant answers to all your troubles, and soak them in.  Feel smug. Smile at them.
  7. Now say a few arrogant mantras out loud.  Something like,  “I, _______ am a total bad ass and I can handle anything that comes my way. It’s all beneath me, all easy for me. I deserve all good things in life, cuz I’m awesome.” Repeat it until you believe it.
  8. Lastly, sit back and return to yourself. Your good-natured, balanced, kind self. As you do this, look over the answers the “arrogant” you wrote. Were they really so unrealistic?  Probably not, so remember that should the need arise, you’ve got the answers, a little cheat-sheet, as it were.  So, you can relax, exhale and smile.

Words Have Power

I was thinking about the last episode of worry I had. The situation is resolved now, but because I told myself so many times how it could have turned out, the emotion still lingers when I think of that topic. I still feel a slight ping of anxiety just thinking about it, or seeing anything that reminds me of it, and then I have to tell myself that it’s over now.  “It’s over. It’s fine. It all turned out ok. Just calm down.”  *Exhale*

This lead me to a train of thought about how powerful words are. Not only words we say out loud, or to others, but even what we say in our head. And it’s not just that we’re self-talking, it’s the precise words we choose, and the emotions we attach to them as we repeat them over and over. This is especially true when we immediately jump to a particular conclusion. We are programming ourselves for an emotional and physical response. You may even call it brainwashing.  Even though my situation is resolved, I have put so much effort in to telling myself how bad it surely was going to turn out, that now it has the power to continue to scare me. Although, I’ve been actively using new, positive words to combat it, and it’s working.

My father told me many years ago, that you choose your mood. He said you also choose how to react to situations. For the most part, he was right. Actually, he’s entirely right, it’s just that it sounds much simpler than it is. If we choose to frame a given situation in our minds in an inflammatory, scary or negative way, then we give it the power to make us FEEL overwhelmed, scared and sad about it. The reality of the situation is completely different than what we’ve told ourselves, and the result is panic, worry, depression, etc. Once we realize that our perception actually affects our lives, we realize that we have to control it or it will ruin our lives.

We must not let this happen. Any time we come up against a situation we are disappointed with, or don’t know the outcome, we need to use the power of words to frame it in a way that will be beneficial, rather than harmful. Our mission is to challenge our usual negative thoughts with exactly opposite concepts. Even if you don’t believe it, explore the possible positive options, and give them room to take root in your mind, and grow. Practice with various situations of lesser import until you’ve gotten good enough to tackle the big stuff.  Here are some example scenarios to get you started.

• You haven’t heard from someone in a long while (and you think you should have) and you can’t reach them.
Before you begin to panic and imagine all manner of tragic ends for your loved one, run down the list of rational and likely reasons they are unavailable and/or late.
• They may have gotten caught up at work, by a collegue or client.
• Their cell phone might be set to silent or not within reach, or even out of battery.
• A client or boss tells you that you’ve made a costly mistake and they are “freaking out” about it.
Before you decide that you’ll be ridiculed, fired or sued,
• You invited a friend or loved one to an event, and they blew you off or flat out lied with their excuse, or blatantly told you they aren’t interested.
It may hurt because you had an expectation of that person. But before you decide to “unfriend” them or tell them off, ask yourself why the event was so important to you – and why must it be that important to your friend as well? You likely projected your enthusiasm and importance for the event on to that person. Is it fair and reasonable to expect identical feelings from others?
• A friend says something that seems hurtful or insulting. You can’t understand why they aren’t “on your side” or why they think that way about you.
It may be your usual reaction to be angry, defensive or even cry. But before you get to that point ask yourself, does this person really mean me harm? Does he/she intend to belittle me or judge me?





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Shut up, Just SHUT UP!!

What if… what if… what if… what if…

My mind is racing at warp speed, asking variations on the same question with the bottom line answer being certain tragedy.  What if… what if…, omg, what if this, what if that?
An hour of this goes by and I’m frazzled. My palms are sweaty, my thighs are tired like I ran a marathon, I’ve had nervous shits like 6 times, so I have no nutrition left in my body, my mouth is dry, I’m trembling, finger tips tingly, my heart is pounding, and I look like I’ve just seen a ghost. I’ve been gritting my teeth so hard they hurt like I just chewed through a swing set at the park. And why? WHY?  All because my mind can NOT stop asking this question, “What if…”.

Dammit brain, would you just SHUT UP???

During this episode, did any of the “what if’s” come true? No. And because this was 3 weeks ago, has that situation played out and seen it’s tragic ending? No. Actually, nothing came of the event that I was so wiggy about, and nor did the thousands of other worst case scenarios before it.

So, in an effort to reduce my chronic suffering, I asked myself a new set of questions.

  1. First, answer the question: What if that horrible thing did happen?
    1. Well, I would handle it. I’d deal with it, and get through it. Nothing lasts forever.
  2. Second, what could I have been doing other than quivering like a scared chihuahua, and chopping years off my life span?
    1. I could have been working, napping, cleaning, exercising, reading, playing with the cat and the laser light, painting beach sunsets, etc. Anything productive, creative, fun or beneficial.
  3. Third, does my life belong to me, or to the worry?
    1. It’s mine, dammit! Life is for the living. I want all my time left to go toward enjoying it, not dreading it.
  4. Lastly, what can I do next time to avoid getting caught in this whirlwind of what-if’s?
    1. This required some investigation into how our brain works. Knowing how it works and why I started down this path is a small part of the solution. I found this article very helpful. It’s such a fascinating article, I’m now a bit distracted from my what if’s, but I know they’ll be back. I already know that part of the foundation of my asking “what if’s” is born from an earlier trauma. So if the memory has less of a hold on me from the start, maybe I don’t have to freak out about it. Now I’ve got something to research. Cool, we’re off to a good start.
    2.  The next task is to completely redirect my thoughts.  Telling yourself, “just don’t think about it” is useless. And when someone says that to a person like me, (with PTSD and GAD), they are in danger of being punched in the nose. When I begin my whirlwind of what-if’s (wowi’s, for short), I need an immediate and much stronger distraction. Something big and/or very intense needs to take it’s place. So here’s what I do:
      1. First, I leave the room I’m in, and get another view for my eyes and brain to process.  I mass text a bunch of  friends, “How you doin, what you up to?” I focus on waiting for their reply.
      2. If that doesn’t redirect my mind, I begin the “live in the now exercise”. I focus on that. If my mind wanders to the “what-if’s”, I go to yet another room, or stand outside.
      3. If no one texts back with anything distracting enough, I listen to my peace and calm affirmation and mantra MP3’s, that I recorded for myself. They really work for me a lot of the time. I focus on the meaning of each message, and breathe slowly. I usually close my eyes. I must listen to them 3 times before I am allowed to give up.  That’s my self-imposed rule.
      4. If none of this works, I grab my journal. (And yes, it’s a real notebook, made of paper. And a black ink pen. I’m not talking about blogging, and you’ll see why.) I begin to pour out my every thought and emotion. I describe how I feel, how I think things might play out, and how I feel about that. I allow myself to get angry about it. I write impossible scenarios. I get nuts on purpose. As I write more and more, I force myself to get even more angry and more ridiculous. Keep going, let it all out. Don’t filter a single thought, no matter how shitty and unjustified it is. As I become intentionally more livid and outrageous, the pen presses harder in to the page, and I write long-running tirades of colorful expletives. Now, I can’t even fit my writing on one line, or even write straight. I’ve taken up 3 pages already, like a lunatic. It’s GREAT!! I’m cursing and blaming and insulting this situation, myself, people who have nothing to do with it, commercials, politicians, whatever and whomever I please, and I continue do this until I become amused.   OK, now Stop.  Take a deep breath, now look back at some of the writing, mostly the last parts.  Ha ha! I have now given myself a chuckle, or even laughed to tears, while effectively trivializing the whole situation. And even though those feelings of amusement and triviality are thin and weak, while the what-ifs are still just around the corner with all the power of a black hole waiting to suck me in, I hold on to them as best I can, rereading the parts of my scribble I find most amusing.  It is at this point, I can almost always say, “Oh fuck it, I don’t care about that (whatever it was) anymore… it’ll be fine.”  My brain has finally shut up.

Please let me know if any of this helps you – or what YOU do to redirect your thoughts. : )


Mantra – Healthy Eating

  • I enjoy healthy foods.
  • I enjoy raw foods from the earth.
  • I love the taste of taste. Herbs and spices are delicious.
  • I am informed about nutrition, and enjoy the benefits of it.
  • I eat healthy delicious food that makes my body feel great.
  • I choose low calorie, high nutrition foods.
  • I crave whole foods. I crave green leafy veggies.
  • I desire to nourish my body effectively.
  • I want food that activates my cellular health.
  • Vegetables are delicious.
  • Mindless snacking is boring.
  • I enjoy smelling my prepared nutritious food, and then eating it conscientiously and enjoying every bite.
  • At the grocery store, I fill my basket with delicious fruit and nutritious veggies.
  • I look forward to eating them.
  • I love fruit as a snack.
  • Veggie smoothies are delicious and filling.
  • I use herbs to season my healthy meals full of veggies and it’s mouth watering.
  • Veggies are delicious and tasty. Mmmmm.
  • Packaged, high-fat or sugary foods turn me off.
  • I love green foods, like salad.
  • I enjoy trying new recipes with fresh foods.
  • My body appreciates the nutrition I give it.
  • I love healthy food.

Mantra – Rest & Sleep

  • It is now time to relax.
  • I have had a full and productive day.
  • Now I feel calm and clear.
  • I feel relaxed. I am breathing slow and easy.
  • Each breath makes me just a bit more melted into the bed that supports me.
  • I feel sleepy.
  • I thoroughly enjoy sleep.
  • I rejuvenate during sleep. My cells replenish.
  • When I sleep my mind clears. My body recovers and refreshes during sleep.
  • My muscles are relaxed now. My bed is welcoming.
  • I am comfy. I am melty.
  • I feel sleepy. I am cool and comfy.
  • I enjoy sleep.
  • I’m happy to be here.
  • All is well while I am here.
  • I am safe, secure and cozy.
  • I will enjoy deep, comfortable, restful sleep.
  • I am relaxed and content.
  • My pillow is soft.
  • I feel comfortably sleepy.
  • I can drift off into a pleasant sleep.