So what is Agoraphobia? It's often mistakenly referred to as a fear of the outdoors, but it's more complicated than that.
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person fears being placed in situations that cause panic, embarrassment, or cause them to feel trapped. This can be anything from going on public transport to standing in line at a store.
The anxiety is heightened because panic attacks may occur in places that the person cannot get help or escape from. It's almost an anxiety around having anxiety.
Agoraphobia is so scary because the person suffering from it genuinely never feels safe outside their home and can have daily panic attacks. People who have agoraphobia may need a companion to leave the house with them.
Some people suffer so severely from agoraphobia that they never leave the house. This is what leads to the erroneous assumption that agoraphobia is simply a fear of going outdoors.
Causes Excessive Fear of Certain Situations
Classification of Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is classified in the DSM-V as an anxiety disorder.
We all get afraid of certain situations, people, animals, or objects, but there's a difference between being fearful of something and having a phobia. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders that present themselves in the form of irrational and extreme fears of certain situations.
Someone who is only slightly afraid of a spider may be able to deal with one in their home. Someone with arachnophobia may break down, cry, or even leave the house if they see a spider or think one is near.
Phobias can be sorted into two categories – simple and complex. A simple or specific phobia is a fear of one certain thing like an animal, situation, object, or place. Simple phobias are things like arachnophobia, thalassophobia (fear of the ocean), or ophidiophobia (fear of snakes).
Complex phobias are an irrational fear of a wide range of situations that fall under the same general criteria. These phobias tend to get in the way of people's day-to-day lives and cause a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety.
Agoraphobia is classified as a complex phobia. Other complex phobias include things like autophobia and social phobia.
Signs and Symptoms of Agoraphobia
So how do you tell if someone has agoraphobia? There are a few signs and symptoms to look out for.
People with agoraphobia will typically be visibly afraid of and distressed about leaving their house, will fear being alone in certain scenarios, will be afraid of losing control, and become uncomfortable in places where there is no escape.
The condition will often cause panic attacks. Panic attacks are very scary for the people experiencing them, and they can feel similar to a heart attack. Physical symptoms of agoraphobia and panic attacks include:
Increased heart rate
Agoraphobia and panic attacks can present symptoms similar to many different conditions, so the context of when these attacks occur and the situation the person is in can be the best sign of whether or not they are suffering from agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia presents much the same way in children as it does in adults. If your child grows very distressed at the mere thought of leaving the house and going somewhere busy for the day, it could be a tell-tale sign of agoraphobia.
Children and teenagers will have the same fear of being in situations that they can't escape or get help from, and they may suffer panic attacks from an early age. Agoraphobia can appear out of nowhere at any point in childhood, and your child may not fully understand what is happening to them.
Causes of Agoraphobia
The exact causes of agoraphobia are currently unknown. The phobia can seem to appear out of nowhere, and it's hard to know exactly what triggers it.
Certain conditions, behaviours, or traumas can increase a person's risk of developing agoraphobia. Other mental health conditions like depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder can lead to agoraphobia.
Trauma and past issues like physical or sexual abuse can lead to the onset of agoraphobia, as can a history of substance abuse.
Treatment of Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia can be treated in several different ways. In most cases, people will require multiple treatment methods to be able to manage their condition.
Psychotherapy is essentially a fancy word for "talking therapy." It involves meeting with a psychiatrist or mental health professional regularly to talk about how you're feeling, what you're experiencing, and how you can help yourself.
Psychotherapy is often the first port-of-call for anxiety disorders and phobias and is typically only used as a short-term treatment. You'll likely be given a mixture of talking therapy and medication to manage the condition.
Exposure therapy is when you're gently exposed to your fear bit by bit to help you get over them. For agoraphobia, this could mean gradually pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone by placing you in busier and busier places and seeing how you deal with them.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a type of psychotherapy and it is the most common form of therapy used to treat agoraphobia. It can help patients to understand the warped feelings that come with the condition.
It also teaches people to work through scary situations by training them to replace their anxious thoughts with healthier ones that allow them to navigate the situation.
Treatment of agoraphobia will most likely be a combination of therapy and medication. There are a few different types of medications that people with agoraphobia could be prescribed by their doctor or therapist.
Anti-anxiety medicines are called benzodiazepines. They are sedatives that work by calming you down and alleviating any symptoms of high stress or anxiety.
Because you can become dependant on this medication, it's often only prescribed as a short-term solution to immediate symptoms.
Tricyclic antidepressants work by altering the chemicals in your brain to ease the symptoms of depression. You may be given these to treat your agoraphobia, but they're not commonly prescribed.
This type of antidepressant causes many side effects that people who take them say are unpleasant to deal with. Most therapists will offer anti-depressants that give fewer side effects.
Selective Serotonin And Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
Serotonin and Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are used to treat a number of mental health conditions. They're most commonly prescribed to people suffering from depression or anxiety disorders.
SNRIs are the most common form of medication used to treat agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia triggers can take many different forms.
Generally speaking, any situation that the person finds themselves in that is difficult to escape can be a trigger. Being in a bad place to have a panic attack can also be a trigger.
This includes things like public transport, elevators, stores, cramped spaces, classrooms, college buildings, or communal areas in apartment blocks. Open spaces like parks and sports fields may also be triggers.
You can tell whether or not you have agoraphobia by whether or not the thought of being in these scenarios fills you with intense dread and anxiety. Everyone has places that they avoid, but routinely avoiding more than one of the examples listed above can be a sign that you have agoraphobia.
Ways to Manage Agoraphobia
You can't fully treat agoraphobia without seeking professional help, so that should be the first thing you do. Their expertise, practices, and medication can help instill healthy habits that help you manage your condition.
There are other ways to manage agoraphobia at home that can help to reduce the severity of your anxiety. You can try things like practicing relaxation techniques that help to ground you and take you out of your anxiety spiral.
You can also use your imagination to try and desensitize yourself to the things that cause the panic in you. This can involve gradually unlearning your fears by mentally placing yourself in situations that trigger your agoraphobia.
You can also make some basic lifestyle changes like exercising more, de-stressing and eating a healthier diet. These things will never cure a mental illness, but they help to reduce the severity of them in everyone.
What the Research Says
There has been some extensive research into agoraphobia, but it still remains a subject that many people are confused about.
Specifically speaking, psychologists and mental health professionals must work hard to combat the myth that agoraphobia is simply a fear of going outside. Mainstream perceptions are yet to catch up with the research that shows it is a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
When it comes to the research, there's something of a split along two lines. Behavioural therapists often take the first position. They prefer to view agoraphobia like other phobias and treat it through exposure therapy.
The other approach is taken by the wider psychiatric community and prefers to focus on treating the panic attacks and the anxiety caused by agoraphobia.
Risks Associated With Agoraphobia
Like all other phobias, agoraphobia comes with a list of significant risks.
The most significant of these risks is the severe panic attacks and disruption to daily life that most people with the condition suffer. Anxiety attacks are genuinely terrifying experiences that can feel akin to heart attacks.
Other social risks are present. People with agoraphobia may struggle to find and hold down even a minimum wage job as the anxiety associated with heading out into the workplace can be too severe.
Many tests can be found online however they are not meant to diagnose. Always seek out a professional for an official determination.
The condition is complex and can present differently in different people, so the only way to get a diagnosis is to contact a mental health professional who can examine you. During the examination, you'll be asked to explain why you think you have agoraphobia and what situations trigger you.
They'll also want to know how your symptoms affect your everyday life, and they may also carry out a physical examination.
The mental health professionals will use your answers to assess whether or not it is likely that you have agoraphobia. If they think you do, you'll be given an official diagnosis.
Phobias are difficult. They're complicated psychiatric disorders that present in numerous different ways.
As such, it's hard to say for sure whether or not agoraphobia can be cured. Some people who are more responsive to treatment will be able to get over their phobia and lead mostly normal and stress-free lives.
Other people may have more severe agoraphobia and be less responsive to treatment. With these people, it takes a lot more work to get to a stage where the phobia no longer affects their day-to-day operations.
In conclusion, agoraphobia is a complex phobia and anxiety disorder that can only be treated with professional help. It can feel challenging to reach out for help, but treatments have helped countless people overcome their agoraphobia and live easier lives.
Everyone deserves access to this treatment, so it's imperative that you have the absolute best health insurance. At Insurdinary, we can help you find the perfect health insurance package for you. Get a quote today to see how we can help you.