What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a complex anxiety disorder. It’s a condition that affects millions and one that’s often misunderstood. If you’re living with this condition, you may find the associated feelings difficult to explain. This is due in part to agoraphobia’s ties to other anxiety disorders.
Like many others, you might be searching for answers about how to overcome agoraphobia. In order to do this, you must fully understand its intricacies.
A person living with agoraphobia is greatly affected by his or her surroundings. The disorder can be defined as one or more of the following:
- Fear of crowded spaces
- Fear of being alone in any situation
- Fear of unfamiliar places
- Fear of being in areas that lack easy escape routes
- Fear of leaving home
- Overdependence on others
There is no clear-cut way to convey what it feels like to have agoraphobia. While some with the disorder struggle with being in public parks, others have difficulty simply leaving their homes. The effects are different for everyone.
Agoraphobia has a tendency to develop by adolescence or during early adulthood, before the age of 35. Some are more likely to develop the disorder than others, including girls and women, middle-aged people, Native Americans, people with low income, and those who are widowed or divorced. It’s not uncommon for people who have recently gone through a stressful event to develop symptoms of agoraphobia. These types of stressful events can include abuse, the death of a loved one, or being the victim of an attack. Being the blood relative of someone with agoraphobia is also a risk factor for developing the disorder.
Although agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder on its own, it’s most commonly the byproduct of one or more separate anxiety disorders. Like other disorders, it can have a substantial effect on quality of life from social isolation to difficulties maintaining mental and physical health. The results can be especially devastating if you’re suffering from a severe case that prevents you from leaving your house.
Symptoms Associated with Agoraphobia
Although it is a distinct disorder, agoraphobia has been known to mimic symptoms commonly associated with anxiety attacks. In fact, agoraphobia can trigger an anxiety attack when a person finds him or herself in an uncomfortable environment or situation. While these anxiety attacks can range from mild to severe, for some, they can be debilitating, preventing them from leaving their homes.
Agoraphobia symptoms can include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feelings of helplessness
- Feelings of need to escape
- Upset stomach
- Fear of dying
- Shortness of breath
- Severe trembling
- Chest pain
While similar in some instances, agoraphobia differs from social phobia, which can be described as a fear of social situations. Agoraphobia is deeper than that; it is most commonly a feeling of impending danger or panic when faced with no clear escape. If you have agoraphobia, you may feel fear traveling on trains or planes.
What Causes Agoraphobia?
Phobias are complex. These irrational fears often lack a clear cause, and, while it is also possible to develop a disorder like agoraphobia without a specific cause, there usually is one. Agoraphobia is most commonly caused by anxiety disorders such as…
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
- Panic Disorder, and
- Social Phobia & Other Phobias.
PTSD is often associated with agoraphobia because a person can develop agoraphobia after undergoing major trauma. The fear that the trauma will reoccur is what drives many people with agoraphobia to stay sheltered within the confines of their own homes, minimizing the risks of danger.
Since panic disorders and agoraphobia are so closely linked, panic disorders are often classified as “with” or “without” agoraphobia when diagnosed. Understanding this classification is an important part of learning how to overcome agoraphobia. Without treatment, agoraphobia can trigger other issues, like depression and addiction.
Agoraphobia may occur in those with panic attacks due to a fear of embarrassment or shame at having a panic attack in public or not having access to help if faced with one. Behavioral conditioning is also responsible for agoraphobia in those who suffer from panic attacks. Often, a person experiencing a panic attack in a public place with associate that place with panic attacks in the future, causing them to avoid it altogether. It they have a panic attack in another place, they may avoid it, too, which can spiral into a cycle that makes the threat of going out in public very real.
How to Overcome Agoraphobia
In order to find an effective method of managing your agoraphobia, it’s important to pinpoint the cause. Treatment can also be affected by whether your agoraphobia causes panic attacks. In the absence of associated panic disorder, agoraphobia is commonly treated with specialized cognitive behavioral therapy treatments, including exposure therapy, which involves using a series of steps to help you acclimate to the idea of venturing out into public. Certain medications are also effective at treating anxiety, though these should be taken with the assumption that you will make an effort to spend more time in public or in the outdoors.
While similar treatments can still be effective for agoraphobia accompanied by panic disorder, it’s important to combine them with those that tackle panic attacks as well. Exposure therapy is effective for panic attacks as it ultimately pinpoints triggers, which can reduce symptoms if avoided. Some medications may be less effective for agoraphobia paired with panic disorder as they provide only temporary relief from symptoms. Certain relaxation techniques or anxiety breathing exercises can also help alleviate symptoms. These techniques can include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and rhythmic exercise.
Like most other anxiety disorders, agoraphobia can be hard to cope with. Your social life, your career and your relationships may suffer as a result of your agoraphobia. For these reasons, many people are turning to natural ingredients to deal with their symptoms. While it may be hard for others to understand what you are going through, know that you are not alone in your struggle. There is help available. To learn more about how to overcome agoraphobia, click here.
What is your experience with agoraphobia? Share your methods for coping in the comment section below.