Have you ever felt trapped in a situation and feared there was nowhere to escape? This is how someone with agoraphobia feels regularly. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder and it’s a lot more complex than most people realize.
This disorder is more than a fear of open spaces. Triggering situations can include enclosed spaces, open or remote spaces, and being far away from home. In severe cases, these fears may prevent an individual from leaving their home. Let’s uncover everything there is to know about agoraphobia, including the common signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
What Is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to avoid any situation or place that causes them to feel intense fear or anxiety of being trapped, helpless, scared, or embarrassed. This can cause the individual to avoid situations where they’re outside of the home alone such as traveling on a bus, airplane, or being in a crowded area.
Agoraphobia is a serious disorder because it can be very disabling and can even interfere with their personal relationships, work, or school, and even daily activities like going to the grocery store.
Signs of Agoraphobia
Signs that you may have agoraphobia include experiencing anxiety or fear of open spaces, enclosed places, being in a crowd, public transportation, or being outside of your home. You may also experience fear of being alone or fear of losing control in public places.
Severe cases of agoraphobia can cause an individual to stay in their home without leaving for many years. To qualify for an agoraphobia diagnosis, you must experience fear or anxiety for two or more of the above situations.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
When an agoraphobic individual enters a place that scares them, they’ll often experience symptoms of a panic attack. The physical symptoms may include rapid heartbeat, nausea, sweating, trembling, diarrhea, chest pain, dizziness, feeling faint, and breathing problems.
Webmd explains the individual may also feel like they won’t survive the panic attack or they may feel like they’re not in control. Some individuals begin to experience these symptoms before they even enter the situation which causes them to never want to leave their home.
What Causes Agoraphobia?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of agoraphobia is unknown. Webmd says doctors suspect it may be genetic. You may also be more susceptible to the disorder if you experience many panic attacks.
Around 0.8-percent of American adults have this disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It’s estimated that 40-percent of those cases are considered severe. Further, this disorder is more common in teenagers and young adults and women are two to three times more likely to develop it than men.
Even though the exact cause is unknown, several factors may put you at more risk of developing it. For starters, if you have a family member who has agoraphobia you may be more at risk for developing it. You may also be at risk if you have a history of stressful/traumatic events.
Further, if you have a panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, or other phobias you may also be at risk for developing agoraphobia. In fact, Medical News Today says, 30 to 50-percent of individuals with agoraphobia had a panic disorder diagnosis or experienced panic attacks before their agoraphobia symptoms emerged.
How to Diagnose Agoraphobia
If you think you might have agoraphobia, it’s vital that you receive treatment promptly. The proper treatment will help you manage your symptoms.
To diagnose agoraphobia your doctor may first perform a physical exam. This is to rule out any other medical conditions. If they don’t find any underlying medical problems, they’ll likely refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist to be diagnosed.
How to Treat Agoraphobia
It’s important to receive treatment as soon as possible because if left untreated, it may lead to depression or substance abuse.
Agoraphobia is typically treated with therapy or medication, or a combination of both. With the right treatment, you’ll be able to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Next, we’ll take a deeper look into the treatment options and what they entail.
There are three types of therapy that are used to help treat agoraphobia, including psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and exposure therapy. First, psychotherapy involves meeting and talking with a therapist regularly. It’s often combined with medication.
Next, CBT is the most common form of therapy for individuals with agoraphobia. It involves teaching you skills to help handle your symptoms and challenge your fears so that eventually you can start engaging in the activities you’ve been avoiding.
The last form of therapy is exposure therapy which also helps you overcome your fears. In this therapy, you’re slowly exposed to places and situations you fear to help you become less fearful over time.
Medication is often recommended in combination with therapy. There are a variety of drugs available to help treat agoraphobia but antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the most common.
Your doctor may prescribe the medication for around 6-months to a year. During that time they’ll analyze how you feel and if you no longer feel anxious, stressed, or fearful of places and situations then your doctor will likely start tapering off your medication.
In addition to medication and therapy, your doctor may also recommend some lifestyle changes. It’s worth noting, lifestyle changes won’t likely treat agoraphobia on their own, but these changes may help reduce the anxiety you feel daily.
Some lifestyle changes you can make include exercising regularly and eating a healthy and diverse diet of whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein. You may also benefit from practicing meditation, and deep breathing exercises. This may help reduce anxiety and prevent panic attacks.
How to Manage
If you’re battling this disorder, make sure you reach out for help when you need it. Reaching out to people you trust like family or friends, can make all the difference in the success of your treatment.
You may also find comfort in reaching out to a support group. Connecting with people who are going through something similar to you will help you feel less alone.
Manage Your Stress
Another essential part of managing this disorder is managing your stress. Anxiety and stress may trigger a panic attack so learning ways to manage them can help prevent them from happening.
Make sure you talk to your therapist or mental health professional to learn techniques that will help you manage your stress.
Work With Your Doctor
Finally, it’s vital that you work with your doctor. Follow their guidance and make sure you take your prescribed medication and attend your therapy sessions. Working with your team of professionals and following their advice will make all the difference in the success of your treatment.