What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations in which someone may feel cornered or powerless. It is not the anxiety that occurs while in helpless situations, but rather the fear that one could lose control within a location.
Patients with agoraphobia experience such intense fears of certain situations that they may avoid them altogether. Avoiding triggers interrupts everyday life. However, confronting these situations may cause panic attacks.
Misconceptions About Agoraphobia
Popular culture often portrays people with agoraphobia as unable to leave their homes. While this is one way that the anxiety disorder can present itself, many people with agoraphobia can function outside their homes. Instead, they may avoid specific types of situations, like public transportation.
Many people with mental disorders face dangerous stereotypes, including those with agoraphobia. For many people, the word conjures up images of shut-ins who never want to talk to others. Other people think it’s the same thing as being introverted or experiencing hoarding compulsions. Unfortunately, some people believe that people with agoraphobia are merely lazy or making excuses.
While people with agoraphobia can have some of these characteristics, not two patients are the same. The stigma surrounding agoraphobia keeps some people from seeking treatment. They may believe that because they can leave their homes, their anxiety isn’t “severe enough.”
This type of thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth. Patients must not compare their experiences with stereotypes or other people.
Fears That Fall Under Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is not the fear of just one thing. Someone can have many specific phobias that, when analyzed together, lead to an agoraphobia diagnosis. Some common worries for people with agoraphobia are:
- Public transportation
- Waiting in long lines
- Crowded areas
- Exposed areas, such as open parking lots
- Enclosed rooms
- Leaving home without someone else
Someone with agoraphobia may experience all of these fears, one of them, or another more specific worry.
Panic disorder with agoraphobia is common. People who have agoraphobia may experience panic attacks when they find themselves in situations that they perceive as helpless. As such, many of the physical symptoms of agoraphobia overlap with those for panic attacks, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling of dread
- Rapid heartbeat
- Flushing in the face
- Feeling like death is near
- Digestive issues, including vomiting and diarrhea
The emotional symptoms of agoraphobia can be harder to spot. They include:
- Avoidance of any of the fear listed above
- Depending on others for seemingly simple tasks
- Emotional detachment from loved ones
- Helplessness or hopelessness
As with all types of anxiety, professionals may recommend prescription medication, therapy, or a combination of both to treat agoraphobia. Exposure therapy is a popular therapy for patients with agoraphobia.
In exposure therapy, a person gradually faces fears. For example, a man who is afraid to leave home alone may start by just stepping outside the home or walking around his block. When nothing bad happens, he can repeat this action several times. Eventually, he comes to realize that walking around the neighborhood isn’t so dangerous.
The counselor may then have him go to the market. After several times, he sees that this is also safe. After several rounds of this, the patient may live without symptoms of his agoraphobia.
As patients go through exposure therapy, they may need prescription medications to cope with the anxiety. Some people need to stay on the pills for the long term while others rely on them only for a short while.