Agoraphobia

What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is one of the many anxiety disorders that people suffer from. It makes people to stay away from places or even situations that have the capacity to make them feel:

  • helpless
  • trapped
  • embarrassed
  • panicked
  • scared

If you have agoraphobia, for instance, you will experience panic attack symptoms i.e. nausea, tachycardia (tachycardia means increased heartbeat) when going through stressful events. These symptoms can be even experienced before the actual stressful event.

When agoraphobia becomes very serious, it can make you stay at home and away from the things you’d normallydo in your everyday life.

At least 0.8% of adults in America will have agoraphobia as submitted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 40% will be severe. It can disable you if it is quite severe.

If you have agoraphobia, you will often realize that most of the things you fear do not actually exist. And it will eventually affect your relationships at work, home, school etc.

If you think you have agoraphobia, it’s a great move to seek medical help from your doctor.

Early intervention can really be of help in alleviating those symptoms you are expressing.

You should note that the degree of the severity of your symptoms will inform the doctor on what treatment you should be placed on. Likely treatment plans are lifestyle changes, therapy, and medications.

Agoraphobia
Photo Credit: Medical News Today

What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

If you are suffering from agoraphobia, you will typically have the following symptoms:

  • being afraid of staying away from home for contracted periods of time
  • being afraid of being alone in any social situation
  • fear of being out of control in a public setting
  • fear of being in any place that would be difficult to flee i.e. car, elevator etc.
  • isolation from others
  • anxiety
  • agitation

Agoraphobia mostly occurs with panic attacks. If you have panic attacks, you have a series of symptoms that occur as a result of anxiety, depression or other mental disorders. These symptoms definepanic attacks:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • diarrhea
  • choking
  • hot flashes
  • tingling sensations
  • a racing heart
  • nausea
  • chills
  • shortness of breath
  • numbness

Uncomfortable or stressful conditions readily predispose you to panic attacks.

What causes agoraphobia?

You can’t actually point to one thing that is responsible for agoraphobia’s development. But several factors have been considered to raise your risk of having it anyways.

Let’s take a look at some of them:

Agoraphobia is prevalent in women than in men. If you are 20 years old and above, you can likely develop agoraphobia.

How is agoraphobia diagnosed?

Symptoms explain or help to point to the presence of agoraphobia. These are useful in its diagnosis.

When you eventually meet with your doctor, his question will be focused on your symptoms – when they started, how often you experience them and other things relating to the condition. He will also investigate your family’s medical history as it relates to the development of any mentally-related disorder.

And he won’t fail to order some blood tests on you.

There is a manual that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have come up with and adopted for the diagnosis of agoraphobia.

There are laid down criteria to the use of this manual that your symptoms must meet before you can be concluded to have developed agoraphobia. The criteria for diagnosis are the fact that your fear or anxiety must be intense in any two out of the adapted: 

  • the use of public transportation i.e. train, bus etc.
  • being in an open place i.e. store, parking lot etc.
  • being in an enclosed space i.e. elevator, car etc.
  • being in a crowded place
  • staying alone and away from home

You must also have in addition to the above criteria, evidence of recurrent panic attacks. At least one of the panic attacks must have been followed by:

  • a fear of having more panic attacks
  • a fear of the consequences of panic attacks i.e. developing a heart attack, losing control of yourself etc.
  • a changed behavior due to the panic attacks

How is agoraphobia treated?

Agoraphobia might need more than one treatment option.

Let’s look at some of them.

Therapy

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is talk therapy. You will have to meet your therapist or any other mental doctor regularly for a specific period.

You will be given the opportunity to talk all you’ve got to talk about. This will include your symptoms, fears and just about anything that bothers you. This will go hand-in-hand with medications. This approach is very effective.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another form of therapy and most common in helping you if you have agoraphobia. With CBT, distorted feelings and views as they have to do with agoraphobia can be properly understood. Also, CBT can help you go through stressful situations without having to have unhealthy thoughts about your life.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is another therapy that can be employed in helping you manage your fears.

What is normally done is that you will be exposed to those events, places or whatever your fears are. This will help you have less fear about such instances subsequently but this adjustment might take some time.

Medications

The following medications have been proven to help in the reduction of your symptoms if you have agoraphobia:

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle adjustments can only help you manage, not treat agoraphobia.

You can try the following:

  • exercise regularly in order to boost chemicals that make you get excited and more relaxed
  • eat healthy meals that are very rich in lean proteins, vegetables and whole grains
  • practice deep breathing exercises combined with daily meditation as a lifestyle to bring down your anxieties

Agoraphobia is what you should ‘get out of’ as soon as possible. Or don’t you? If you do, don’t even try to take anything that looks like herbs or supplements. They can alter the effectiveness of the treatment plan the doctor has placed you on.

Outlook

Although agoraphobia can’t be prevented from being developed, early treatment of the panic attack that comes with it can be arrested. If this is the case, you will greatly improve your symptoms and hence your outlook to life.

One thing you should also know about agoraphobia is that it can stop you from having the good life you’ve always had like being in the company of loved ones and friends.

Once you suspect that you have symptoms that look like what you have read in this article, you should without hesitation see a doctor for further assessment.

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