Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations in which someone may feel cornered or powerless. It is not anxiety that occurs while in actual helpless situations, but rather the fear that one could lose control within a situation.
Patients with agoraphobia experience such intense fears of certain situations that they may avoid them altogether. Avoiding triggers interrupts everyday life. However, confronting these situations may cause panic attacks.
Misconceptions About Agoraphobia
There are many misconceptions about agoraphobia thanks to media. As an example, many people think that agoraphobes never leave their homes. This symptom may present in some patients, but there are many other ways in which agoraphobia can manifest and many patients function in the outside world to a degree, avoiding certain situations instead.
Stereotypes can be harmful to anyone suffering from a mental disorder. Introversion, hoarding, and never leaving the house are just some of the stereotypes out there with regards to agoraphobia. Some even believe agoraphobes are lazy or pretending.
The truth is that every agoraphobe is different. Some agoraphobes do not seek treatment, too, because they do not fit stereotypes such as being a shut-in. Anyone suffering from agoraphobia should seek treatment and not prioritize the opinions of others or stereotypes.
Agoraphobia and its Phobias
Those suffering from agoraphobia can experience one or all of the following phobias:
- Fear of public transit systems
- Fear of lines
- Fear of open spaces
- Fear of crowds
- Fear of closed spaces
- Fear of elevators
- Fear of leaving home alone
Agoraphobia sufferers may experience other phobias, as well. Each situation is different and particular to that patient.
The Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Many agoraphobes experience panic attacks in triggering situations. As a result, the physical symptoms of a panic attack and agoraphobia have a good deal of overlap and include the following:
- Breathing difficulties
- Anxious feeling
- Increased heart rate
- Flushed face
- Chills or shivers
- Feeling if imminent death
- Nausea or diarrhea
Emotional symptoms included with agoraphobia include:
- Avoidance of settings that trigger phobias
- Over-dependence on others for easy tasks
- Emotional apathy
- Feeling hopeless or incapable
Treatment for Agoraphobia
As with other mental disorders, mental health professionals may address agoraphobia via therapy, medication, or both. Therapies may include exposure therapy which helps patients acclimate to triggers in the environment in a slow and controlled way.
Medication can help ameliorate anxiety during exposure therapy. Patients can discuss with their therapists whether medication is necessary in the short or long term.