What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is not necessarily a fear of being outside as many think, but more a fear of losing control of a situation. Those with this disorder go through such intense anxiety in triggering scenarios that they might structure their lives so as to avoid those triggers entirely. This can interfere with their ability to conduct daily life. Any attempts to deal with triggering scenarios can lead to panic attacks.
Misconceptions About Agoraphobia
When agoraphobia is portrayed in movies or television, the person suffering typically will not leave their house. This can, in fact, happen with agoraphobia, but there are many other ways the disorder can present. What’s more, many with agoraphobia can leave their homes, go to work, etc., but need to avoid certain situations, such as riding public transportation.
Misconceptions about mental disorders such as agoraphobia can cause complications for patients. These incorrect ideas can cause others to belittle the suffering of patients, for one; the stigma of a disorder also can stop a patient from seeking out treatment.
No two agoraphobes are the same. Each person has their own set of triggers. Those suffering from this disorder should understand that symptoms that interfere with their quality of life merit care and intervention, and that there is no such thing as having agoraphobia that is not “serious enough” to address.
Agoraphobia & Fear
Agoraphobia can include any one of several phobias. A patient may have several fears that, when combined, qualify that patient for a diagnosis of agoraphobia. Fears that agoraphobia patients may experience include:
- Fear of busses, trains, public transportation
- Fear of waiting in lines
- Fear of crowds
- Fear of large open spaces
- Fear of cramped spaces
- Fear of elevators
- Fear of going out alone
This is not a conclusive list. Those with agoraphobia may fear other situations. Again, every case is different.
The Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Those with agoraphobia often experience panic disorders as well. When the individual finds himself in a triggering scenario, feelings of helplessness can lead to a panic attack. The symptoms of a panic attack overlap with symptoms of agoraphobia and include:
- Labored breathing
- Feelings of dread and anxiety
- Increased heart rate
- A flushed face
- Feeling as if they might die
- Nausea and digestive complaints
The emotional symptoms of agoraphobia are more nuanced and difficult to recognize. They can include:
- Avoiding phobias listed above
- Overdependence on others for easy tasks
- Emotional apathy and detachment
- Feelings of hopelessness
Treating agoraphobia can involve medication, therapy, or some combination of the two. With regards to therapy, exposure therapy has historically worked well for these patients.
Exposure therapy involves exposing a patient to triggers slowly and carefully. If a patient were afraid of leaving an apartment, as an example, the therapy might involve the patient simply walking down the hall as a starting point. The patient would repeat this exercise several times, then discuss the process with his therapist, working to acknowledge that nothing bad had occurred in the simple act of walking down the hall.
At this point, the therapist and patient might decide to have the patient go down to the lobby, or even outside. In this way, the patient overcomes fears one by one.
Prescription medication can help during exposure therapy. Some patients may need medication to help with anxiety in the short term, while others may require long term medication management.