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19 November 2015

Why big gigs and agoraphobia sufferers don’t mix

Glastonbury, Reading and Latitude may have been and gone, but the autumn gig roster has plenty up its sleeve for music lovers, with tours from Paul Weller, Imagine Dragons and Madonna all still to come. Great news if you’re an avid concert-fan – not so good for agoraphobics.

When gig-goers gather it usually adds up to crowds in the thousands and – for some – a very alien feeling of being unsafe or trapped; a stark contrast to London life where it’s entirely possible to encounter very few such spaces as you journey through environments that are more familiar to you. It’s exactly this unfamiliarity of a large concert hall and the anxiety it induces – which is linked to a past trauma – that means agoraphobics often miss out on big events.

Agoraphobia is treatable

When I’m not busy at work as a hypnotherapist in London, I love to go to see a band and have been to a multitude of gigs over the years. I’m off to see Simple Minds next week at the O2. While my festival days are on the wane, I do have very fond memories of them. To miss out on live music because of a phobia, I always think, is a great shame – especially when there’s often a relatively easy fix in the shape of clinical hypnotherapy.

For agoraphobics, large concert venues are notoriously difficult to face – they’re an assault to the senses, with loud noises, occasional pushing and shoving, and often a feeling that there’s nowhere to escape to, no “safe haven” in which to take shelter. Symptoms include a increasing state of anxiety, a feeling of total loss of control, and, ultimately, panic attacks. When sufferers have experienced a panic attack at a concert before, it is common for them to associate the notion of panic attacks with live music and thus shun this type of event even more.

So what is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder which tends to manifest itself in a feeling of panic or loss of control in open spaces, though it is just as common in large, busy places like an airport, shopping mall or a concert hall. People who suffer from agoraphobia typically feel safe and secure in their own home and in familiar environments, but can feel uneasy when taken out of them. For many of them, large crowds add to the feelings of discomfort.

The root of the problem can almost always be traced back to a specific event that happened in the past. In some cases it can be something you’re not even consciously aware of, an event that is locked away in your memory banks. I recently worked with a client whose agoraphobia could be traced back to a school trip in which she got lost on the beach – the feelings of desperation that she unconsciously associated with that memory had formed a pathway in her mind, and her reaction was to shoot straight down that pathway whenever she was in a large open space.

Safe and controlled way

During hypnotherapy, clients can be taken back to that trigger moment – in a safe and controlled way – and de-link the feelings of panic from the memory. A number of other treatments and techniques can help, and hypnotherapy has a proven track record in helping agoraphobics.

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