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3 Biggest Myths About Agoraphobia

woman with agoraphobia looks out window
By Lifestance Health on February 3, 2021

About 2 in every 100 adults in the United States lives with agoraphobia. This is about the same number of people who live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is more common and understood. Perhaps because of media portrayals of the disorder, the general public seems to have serious misunderstandings about agoraphobia.

As with many mental health disorders, the myths surrounding agoraphobia make it more difficult for people with the disorder to get treatment. They may believe they do not need help because their symptoms are not what they see on television. Or they could find that others will think they are “crazy,” so they never find out how to overcome agoraphobia. Spreading awareness about agoraphobia and busting the myths can help.

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What Does Agoraphobia Mean?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes the intense and overwhelming fear of situations in which a person may be embarrassed or helpless. Agoraphobia is not the fear of leaving home, though it can lead to people being homebound.

Typically, people with agoraphobia experience panic in situations where they may lose some control. For example, they may avoid public transportation because they are not in control of the vehicle.

People with agoraphobia may also avoid:

  • Enclosed spaces such as movie theaters and elevators
  • Open spaces like fields, lakes, and parking lots
  • Any areas where crowds gather
  • Long lines

Often, someone had a panic attack in such a situation and couldn’t unable to leave. Then, they live in fear of panic attacks happening again. This fear is ultimately what causes agoraphobia in many people.

Myth 1: It’s All in Your Head

Perhaps one of the most pervasive and harmful myths about any mental health disorder is the idea that patients are faking their symptoms in some way. For example, people may say that it’s “all in your head” or tell people with agoraphobia to “just calm down.” Whether well-meaning or not, these sayings are harmful to people with the disorder.

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. It is a real, serious condition that can cause both physical and emotional anguish. Furthermore, to qualify for a diagnosis, the symptoms must keep patients from living their full lives. As such, people with agoraphobia are not lazy or merely unwilling to socialize.

 

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Myth 2: People with Agoraphobia Never Leave Home

When people think of agoraphobia, they often describe someone who never walks past their front door and shutters all the windows. In some severe cases, people with agoraphobia may live in situations like this. However, others leave home under specific conditions.

For example, someone with mild or moderate agoraphobia may have their worst symptoms in crowds and standing in line. So, such a person may avoid events with large groups and the grocery store. They could order grocery delivery and watch entertainment on their own televisions. However, they leave their houses for work and to visit friends.

Every person with agoraphobia experiences the disorder differently. As such, it’s important not to paint all patients with the same brush. People with severe fears of just one of the situations in agoraphobia deserve treatment as much as someone who never leaves home.

Myth 3: People With Agoraphobia Cannot Get Better

Sadly, many people with the symptoms of agoraphobia believe there is no way to heal. They may think that they will feel this anxiety forever. Perhaps because they don’t have a name for it or maybe because they don’t know how to get over agoraphobia, they resign to a limited life.

The truth is that agoraphobia treatment plans are more varied and effective than ever. Researchers continue to learn more about the disorder and what helps patients heal. Patients can choose options like online therapy for agoraphobia to make treatment more convenient. There is hope.

Exposure therapy is often considered the best treatment for agoraphobia. In this type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counselors help patients slowly reintroduce triggering situations into their lives. Over time and repeated exposure, patients begin to see that they are safe. Other types of CBT may also help.

In some cases, medication may be necessary to treat agoraphobia and coexisting conditions, such as panic disorder. Typically, psychiatric medications work in tandem with therapy and allow the mind to relax enough to let the therapy work.

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