What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is the fear of circumstances in which you feel trapped, embarrassed, or unable to escape. The fear may either arise during the event or before it’s occurred.
Agoraphobia is often misunderstood as a phobia of open spaces. However, it’s a multi-layered condition. Individuals with agoraphobia fear stressful situations that would be difficult to get away from. These may include open spaces, like parking lots, malls, or bridges. But, enclosed spaces like elevators, movie theaters, or cramped stores may trigger agoraphobia as well.
Agoraphobia often stems from panic attacks. When a person experiences one or multiple panic attacks, they may begin to fear another attack and the situations that could trigger it.
Individuals with agoraphobia often feel anxious in any public settings. They may require the company of a friend or family member to go in public. When it’s severe, agoraphobia may keep a person from leaving their home.
Signs of Agoraphobia
When a person has agoraphobia, they’re anxious about getting trapped in public situations. Namely, they fear being unable to escape if they feel panicked or embarrassed in a public setting.
A key sign of agoraphobia is a fear of one or more of these situations:
- Waiting in lines
- Going in public alone
- Enclosed public spaces (movie theaters, elevators, etc.)
- Open public spaces (parking lots, malls, etc.)
- Public transportation
Agoraphobia symptoms may include the fear that a panic attack will embarrass you in public, be life-threatening, or cause you to lose control. The fear of being unable to escape public situations that go badly is a main sign of this phobia.
Fear and anxiety that become agoraphobia typically stem from an actual public incident. However, the fear or anxiety that develops is exaggerated compared to the real danger of the situation.
People with agoraphobia may avoid anxiety-causing public situations altogether or always have a friend in public with them. They may also face the situation alone, but suffer severe anxiety throughout it.
When fear and avoidance of public situations lasts for six months or longer, it can be considered agoraphobia. A panic disorder may accompany agoraphobia. Panic disorders involve the sudden onset of intense fear that comes to a head within a few minutes. The fear of having another panic attack in similar situations to where the first one happens can lead to agoraphobia.
Symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- The sensation of choking
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Pressure or pain in the chest
- Shakiness, numbness, or tingling feelings
- Excessive sweating
- Feeling like you’ve lost control
- Sudden chills or flushing
- Sudden fear that you’re dying
How is Agoraphobia Treated?
Agoraphobia and related panic disorders can be treated with self-help strategies, psychotherapy, and medications. Treatment may be recommended in stages beginning with self-help, then transitioning to psychotherapy and medications if needed.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a thoroughly tested and greatly effective technique in agoraphobia treatment. For individuals suffering both agoraphobia and panic disorder, CBT is the most efficient treatment method to ease symptoms and prevent future episodes. CBT works well to treat agoraphobia both in group settings and in traditional therapy settings. Plus, online agoraphobia psychotherapy treatment is a practical and effective solution for people in remote areas far from mental health professionals.
Self-exposure can be a useful and productive treatment method for agoraphobia. It involves the person imagining or physically engaging in situations that trigger agoraphobia-related anxiety. Then, relaxation tactics are used in each setting to gradually teach the person to manage their anxiety. This process is called systematic desensitization, or exposure and response prevention. Exposure therapy requires active prevention of anxiety over time, and the person being treated must continually face anxiety-provoking situations. With the Internet as a resource, the benefits and viability of self-exposure as an online treatment method are clear.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.