You open the door. Even though nothing is there but chirping birds and bright sunlight you feel panicked. Your breath becomes short as your mind races to the near dub-step beat of your heart. You want to go outside yet feel as though your whole body is tied to the door like an ill-conceived marionette. The more you stand there the more you are flashed back to the one moment you don’t dare relive till you finally, and carefully, close the door. Relief washes over you and you are, once again, safe.
If this describes you, you may have agoraphobia: A genuine fear of going outside. While this phobia is horrible to experience, there is a way out. You CAN go outside again! But how? What can YOU do to regain the normal life you once had?
Before we dive into the cat-inspired healing method, let us first explore the Time-Lag Argument, also known as the Mismatch Argument. Theorized in the Evolutionary branch of Psychology, this argument states that technology evolved much faster then our minds and bodies.
What does that mean exactly? Think of it this way: millions of years ago we lived in tribes and caves. If a warring tribe was angry with us, or if an animal threatened to make us it’s meal we often hid inside. But eventually our overwhelming need to survive would kick in and we’d soon be out hunting and gathering food.
But with today’s advent of pizza delivery and websites like Amazon.com everything we need to survive can be shipped right to our door. So we never feel the urgent need to get outside and face our fear. If anything, we feel MORE compelled to stay put because we become comforted by the familiarity of our surroundings. So how can we combat this? By Systematic Desensitization.
South African Psychologist Joseph Wople developed Systematic Desensitization after observing the cats around Wits University gradually expose themselves to their fears. Inspired, he came up with a similar system consisting of three steps.
Step 1: Like most systems of battling panic he asked his patients to identify and rank their panic triggers. That would mean you (in our hypothetical posed above) would have to examine what exactly about the outdoors scared you and rank those scares according to their strength.
Step 2: He then taught them relaxation techniques because, according to him, the body can’t experience panic and relaxation at the same time. He usually did this by asking his patients to relax and tense up certain body parts until the person was completely calm. For you that would mean doing the same a few moments each day. Taking large breaths of air can also ease you into a state of calm.
Step 3: Once the patients got their relaxation techniques down cold, Wolpe would then present them with their fears from lowest ranking to highest raking. Much like Pavlov’s bell, this gradual exposure coupled with well-practiced relaxation methods cured people of their fears by paring their anxiety triggers with something other then panic. By doing this you are essentially teaching your body, rather slowly, to experience soothing sensations in front of those scary stimuli.
For you this would mean taking one day to just stand near the door as you practiced breathing. The next day, you might get closer to the doorway. The next, you might put out a toe. Each day you would put out a little more of yourself until you worked up enough soothing courage to finally step outside.
What’s really beautiful about this system is that it can help cure whatever fear you have. It could be a fear of driving, a fear of snakes, or anything that gets you panicked. And we here at Dream Positive know that with a little work and the right relaxation method you can accomplish anything!
Dream Well! Dream Positive!
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31545680@N03/6844248871