A severe dread of locations known as agoraphobia, a form of anxiety disorder, can make a person feel confined, helpless, terrified, or ashamed. To lessen social anxiety, people avoid situations that trigger this dread, such as crowded areas or public transportation. With agoraphobia, panic attacks are frequently reported. It depends on the individual whether they also have panic disorder in addition to this form of specific phobia.
Definition and classification of agoraphobia
The words “agoraphobia” and “phobia” are derived from the Greek words for a gathering of people, “agora,” and “fear.” Agoraphobia is the fear of crowded situations, which typically include areas with long queues of people, large crowds, and no clear way out. This appears as an anxiety disorder, a category of mental illness identified based on a set of predetermined criteria.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5) describes agoraphobia as an anxiety disorder characterized by a severe dread of two or more of the following circumstances:
- using a bus or train
- Open areas like parking lots or markets
- enclosed areas like theaters and stores
- Being surrounded by people or in a line
- being alone outside of the house
For those who suffer from this kind of social anxiety, being in these circumstances is extremely distressing, to the point that it can interfere with regular activities. The fear of the aforementioned circumstances arises from a deeper fear of feeling confined, helpless, worried, scared, or embarrassed. People who suffer from this kind of specialized phobia worry about their ability to escape situations and also dread embarrassment. People with agoraphobia frequently find it challenging to leave their house because they prioritize avoiding places that make them anxious.
The typical age of onset for agoraphobia is 17 when people first experience it. Agoraphobia will affect 1.3 percent of US people at some point in their lives. Males and women have agoraphobia at almost the same rates, with a yearly prevalence for women at 9 percent and 8 percent for men.
Symptoms of agoraphobia
The agoraphobia-related symptoms are severe and frequently incapacitating, like those of all anxiety disorders. The main symptoms of agoraphobia, which can manifest in many ways depending on the individual, include feeling nervous or experiencing a panic attack. Symptoms of this could include, among others, lightheadedness, chest pain, and hot flashes. The following are some of the most typical signs of agoraphobia:
- intense anxiety when using public transportation, around large groups of people, in enclosed or open settings, or when leaving the house.
- panic attacks or moderate to severe anxiety, with symptoms that may include:
- threat perception that is out of proportion to the circumstances
- avoiding circumstances that can cause anxiety and discomfort
- a sense of being out of control
- feeling disconnected from reality
If these symptoms have persisted for at least six months and significantly impair everyday functioning, a physician or psychologist may diagnose an individual with agoraphobia. This frequently manifests as avoiding all potential triggers, which makes it difficult to live normally. If panic episodes are also frequent, another diagnosis that will be considered is panic disorder. For a formal diagnosis, always speak with a medical or certified mental health practitioner.
The root causes of phobia
There are numerous factors that can trigger agoraphobia. These elements include comorbidity, stress from the environment, genetic predisposition, and family history.
One of the most important risk factors for agoraphobia is family history. You are far more likely to suffer from this type of severe anxiety if a blood relative does. According to research, if someone in your family also suffers from agoraphobia, your risk of developing it can increase by as much as 61%. However, it doesn’t always follow that you will get agoraphobia if someone in your family does; it just raises the likelihood.
Genetic susceptibility to nervous tendencies and family history are additional risk factors for agoraphobia. You are more likely to develop agoraphobia if you suffer from another anxiety or panic disorder. Agoraphobia frequently coexists with other mental health problems, which is known as comorbidity. This can be a separate anxiety disease, or it might be another kind of mental illness like depression, personality disorders, or drug abuse.
An important contributing factor to the development of agoraphobia is environmental stress. People who have experienced abuse or have gone through catastrophic life experiences, including losing a loved one or being attacked, may develop a dread of large, difficult-to-leave environments. People of all ages, but particularly those in adolescence and young adulthood, might develop agoraphobia as a result of this trauma, especially when combined with an anxiety-prone personality.
Agoraphobia is undoubtedly caused by various circumstances, so if you are experiencing its symptoms and can identify with any or all of the situations listed above, please seek the assistance and counsel of a mental health expert.
How to Handle Fear of Heights
Attending talk therapy, using medications, or using both together are the best treatments for agoraphobia. The majority of experts agree that for anxiety disorders, counseling and medicine should be used together, but what works for one person may not work for another.
The most effective form of psychotherapy for treating agoraphobia is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This approach to treatment focuses on changing unhealthy thought patterns and actions with more constructive ones. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can support patients in overcoming unwanted, anxious, and avoidant thoughts and actions. Particularly during the epidemic, online treatment is a fantastic choice for people with agoraphobia because you can securely participate in therapy from the comfort of your home.
A prominent therapeutic technique for treating agoraphobia is exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing the patient to their fear in a safe environment so they can learn to control their anxiety. An essential component of treatment, exposure therapy involves methodical desensitization to gradually reduce the fear brought on by triggers.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants may be prescribed by doctors for agoraphobia. Medication can assist you in establishing a more consistent baseline for your mental health, which can facilitate the therapeutic process of overcoming your worries in day-to-day living. If you believe you might benefit from medication, please speak with a psychiatrist in person or online. Different forms of medicine work better for different people.
The sooner someone who is experiencing agoraphobia may receive treatment, the better. If left untreated, agoraphobia may worsen. Better long-term results are produced by early intervention. If you have agoraphobia, there are effective treatment options available, including therapy, medicine, and combinations of the two.
How to Deal with Agoraphobia
A change in lifestyle might also aid in managing agoraphobia. It’s crucial to include coping mechanisms and methods for managing symptoms if you want to reduce the pervasive worry and terror that agoraphobia is associated with. Agoraphobia sufferers can lessen the load of daily life by gradually adopting healthy behaviors.
Following is some advice for overcoming agoraphobia:
- Put yourself first: It can be challenging to take care of your fundamental needs while your anxiety is at its highest. Daily mental health can be improved by prioritizing a healthy diet throughout the day, getting enough sleep, and including movement.
- Practice deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques to unwind.
- Avoid avoiding triggers: Try your best to reduce and avoid triggering circumstances. These circumstances become less terrifying the more you push yourself to remain there.
- Don’t use substances: Reduce your consumption of narcotics, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages. These substances have the ability to make anxiety more intense.
- Keep in touch and accept the help of those who are close to you and want to be there for you. Let them know how they can support you and help. Recognize that you can rely on them in tense situations.
- Continue your treatment: Maintain consistency in sticking to your treatment schedule. Treatment is more successful when patients attend frequent therapy sessions and take their medications as directed. Tell your medical professionals how you’re feeling honestly so they can help you heal.
In the end, the most effective strategy to treat agoraphobia is to consult a qualified mental health practitioner. You can recover from this anxiety illness with the help that is offered. Although beginning the therapy process can be scary, realize that many people find it difficult to make the first move. With only a few clicks, Talkspace online counseling provides affordable online counseling, making it an easy and economical place to start. Expert therapists can be contacted from the convenience of your home.