Life

Coronavirus and agoraphobia: worried about leaving the house after lockdown? You’re not alone

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
A woman inside during lockdown

Many people have been left feeling anxious about the idea of leaving the house after lockdown, despite never having suffered from agoraphobia. So what’s happening here? We asked an expert to explain.

“Stay home. Save lives. Protect the NHS.”

For the last few months, that simple, seven word slogan has become our mantra: despite missing our loved ones and dealing with our fair share of boredom, we’ve lived in the knowledge that, by staying inside, we were doing our bit to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

At the same time, our houses – with their disinfected surfaces and clean, comfy furniture – have become a haven for many of us. Away from the uncertainty and danger of the outside world, our homes have offered relatively safety from the invisible threat of the virus.

As lockdown eases and people all over the country return to work, that “stay at home” message has been softened to allow unlimited exercise outside. That is, on the surface of things, great news – getting out of the house for a walk or jog can do wonders for our mental health. But for some people, it’s not that simple. 

You may also like

Return anxiety: why lockdown easing is filling you with dread and how to handle it

After weeks of sheltering at home and adapting to a new ‘normal,’ many people are finding that leaving the house is a particularly worrying prospect. The act of stepping outside their front door is no longer an unconscious one – instead, they’re feeling anxious about the idea of leaving the safe “bubble” they’ve curated over the last couple of months.

You may feel tempted to describe this feeling as “agoraphobia” – a panic disorder characterised by a fear of being outside the home alone, in a crowded or enclosed space like a shopping mall, or traveling in a bus, train, or car, for example. But this isn’t entirely accurate in terms of our feelings prompted by lockdown, chartered psychologist Dr Meg Arroll explains.

“The type of anxiety that people without pre-existing agoraphobia or a predisposition to this condition are experiencing is more akin to a form of social and/or health anxiety,” she says. 

A woman looking out her window

“We have been given so much information about Covid-19, with rolling news on case and death counts, fears over the functioning of the NHS and guilt as to whether we may be silent carriers of this infection with the risk of endangering vulnerable members of our society, so it’s understandable many of us feel anxious about leaving the house.”

Indeed, Arroll points out, the anxiety people with agoraphobia experience stems from “an intense fear of not being able to escape from a difficult or embarrassing situation or get help in the event of a panic attack or panic-like symptoms”; the anxiety about leaving the house many people are now experiencing instead stems from a fear of Covid-19 and what going outside might mean for our health.

Arroll adds that, for those with anxiety disorders, their fear of leaving the house may increase because many anxious behaviours or intrusive thoughts have been left unchecked during lockdown.

You may also like

What does anxiety feel like? The physical symptoms you might not know about

“People with anxiety conditions can indeed become more nervous about leaving the house as intrusive and anxiety-maintaining thoughts have been left unchecked – cognitive skills training, behavioural experiments and exposure therapy are evidenced-based treatments for these types of disorders so if we’re not engaging in social and outdoors situations where these techniques can be carried out, symptoms tend to worsen,” she says.

With this in mind, it’s completely normal to find yourself feeling nervous about leaving the house now that lockdown is lifting, even if you don’t have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. We’re facing unprecedented times, and our minds are struggling to comprehend and weigh up all the risks that lay outside our door. However, if you’re concerned about the extent to which your worries are beginning to affect your day-to-day life, it’s important to seek advice from a GP or medical professional (our guide to seeking mental health support during the coronavirus crisis might be of use). 

A woman looking out her window
Coronavirus and agoraphobia: limiting the amount of news you consume could help you to feel less afraid.

If you’ve been dealing with increased anxiety when leaving the house, Arroll explains there are a number of steps you can take to deal with those feelings, including limiting the amount of coronavirus news you’re consuming, and trying to distract yourself by focusing on the “little joys” to limit your anxiety.

“Aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy can help a great deal to manage and prevent anxiety about leaving the house,” she says. “Breathing exercises are also helpful in preventing a full-blown panic attack, which is often exacerbated by hyperventilation.”

Coping with anxiety

If you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety and worry during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to understand that this is a completely normal response to the current situation. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here are three articles that might help.

For more information on anxiety, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out NHS Every Mind Matters or visit the Mind website.

Sign up to our daily email for a curated edit of the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you’ll never miss out on the conversation again.

Images: Getty

Topics

Share this article

Author

Lauren Geall

Recommended by Lauren Geall

Life

How to deal with ‘return anxiety’ and your dread of lockdown ending

Here’s how to handle this unfamiliar feeling.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
Life

“I’ve just settled into a ‘new normal’ – the idea of things changing again is exhausting”

Change fatigue is real, people.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
Life

Coronavirus second wave anxiety: “Why I’m scared of lockdown easing”

Health leaders have warned that a second wave of coronavirus infections in the UK is a “real risk” after Boris Johnson’s latest announcement.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
Life

Coronavirus anxiety: cognitive therapist says one word can help ease your feelings

Use it to reframe how you feel about yourself and the world at large.

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
Life

Panicking about the future? Here’s how to stop your anxiety about coronavirus getting out of control

Stop that anxiety spiral before it starts with this expert advice.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published