Agoraphobia a Common Phobia
Do you start sweating the moment you find out you need to step out of your house alone?
You do whatever you can to bring a friend along with you. But even then, you can’t let go of them for a second, fearing they might not be around when you need them.
Do you constantly fear being in an embarrassing situation that you cannot get out of?
If you relate to all of this, it’s time you did something about it because you may be suffering from Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia might be a fear of an inescapable situation but the disorder itself is escapable.
But to control and overcome it we first need to understand what is agoraphobia and what’s causing it.
Common Agoraphobia Causes:
Agoraphobia usually starts to show during the teenage years in most people. Here are some of the most common agoraphobia causes:
Incidences of panic attacks in public
When someone has a panic attack in public, they can develop agoraphobia. The episode itself, the place, and the setting it happened in now becomes the focus of the anxiety and doesn’t let the person venture out alone.
Genetics and anxiety disorders
A genetic disorder or medical condition could put a person at risk for developing anxiety disorders like agoraphobia. For example, IBS or asthma. Biological imbalance of the fight or flight hormone, adrenaline, or neurotransmitter issues can also be the reason why your response to stressful situations becomes worrisome.
This is one of the most obvious agoraphobia causes. If the person has lived in an abusive environment or lost a loved one very early in life, then it could manifest in a fear of uncontrollable situations. Agoraphobics try to avoid unpredictable situations due to the fear from a past event that is deeply rooted in their memory.
Below are some situations that trigger a panic attack in an agoraphobic.
● Open spaces
● Enclosed public spaces
● Being alone outside the house
● Crowded public spaces
● Stressful situations in public
The fear intensifies as the triggers start to cause a panic attack each time they go outside.
Almost Everything You Need to Know About Agoraphobia
What is agoraphobia? The word ‘Agora’ means ‘marketplace’ and ‘phobia’ means fear. Though the meaning of Agoraphobia can’t be simply explained as a fear of public spaces. Agoraphobia is a fear of inescapable situations or places where the person feels out of control or unable to escape.
Agoraphobics usually exhibit ‘avoidance behavior’. The person perceives the situation as something unpleasant and decides that they need to avoid it, causing them to minimize their engagement with the outside world. They start staying home and structuring their lives to reduce contact with the outside world. If they do require to step outside their comfort space, they will plan the route they need to take, the place they need to go to, and the person they can take along with them.
They try to eliminate any surprises that may come their way, giving them a sense of control and reduces the chances of any embarrassing situations. They take someone along with them practically as a human shield so that they have a way out if the situation calls for it.
Females are more likely to have agoraphobia than males. The lifetime prevalence ratio of agoraphobia in adolescents is 3.4% (females) and 1.4% (males). It ranks in the top ten most common phobias around the world.
There is no one answer to what is agoraphobia. There are many types of agoraphobia based on factors like a response to triggers, stress level, the particularity of space or situation.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Physical symptoms of agoraphobia might only show up when the person is put in a stressful situation. Whereas psychological symptoms can appear even out of the triggering situation.
● Difficulty in breathing/hyperventilating
● Feeling nauseous or sick
● Rapid heart rate
● Trembling or shaking
● Feeling lightheaded or fainting
● Upset stomach or diarrhea
● Panic attack
● Fear of leaving home
● Thoughts of being forced out of the house
● Fear of embarrassing yourself in public
● Fear of crowded spaces
● Fear of standing in queues or waiting in a public space
Psychological symptoms are because of the stress associated with the stressful situation and not the situation itself.
How Do You Deal with Agoraphobia?
There is no way to deal with Agoraphobia because it impacts your daily living. The symptoms are not manageable by themself and stop you from truly enjoying the things you like. Your outdoor activity is decreased and you are afraid of situations that could be unpredictable.
While your fear is rational, you also know that the problems it causes cannot be avoided. Which means dealing with it alone is not enough. Thankfully it can be treated, unlike some other anxiety disorders. All you need is a plan, some practice, and professional advice.
Self Help – What Can You Do to Help Yourself?
Agoraphobia treatments doesn’t just include the management of physical symptoms, but also the psychological ones. You need to seek professional help and make some lifestyle changes. If you are too worried about seeking professional help right away then you could start with some self-help exercises to treat agoraphobia at home.
The biggest change you can change is being present. Fear can cause us to distance ourselves from the present situation into the past or the perceived future. To undo this, try mindfulness exercises. Remind yourself that you are safe in the present moment and the threat is irrational or only imagined.
Diet and Exercise
This is a big part of agoraphobia treatment. Exercise also forms part of your lifestyle and a daily walk with a friend can open you to recovery. While the first thing you should be doing is reducing the number of stimulants you consume like tea, coffee, alcohol, or drugs. Try to include something healthier in your diet instead.
Phobia or fear is closely associated with the way you breathe. This is why if you can breathe well, you can calm yourself down better. Try to practice breathing as a regular exercise at home. Then try to use breathing to calm yourself down while thinking of the triggers.
When you are thinking about the triggers try to also think rationally and relax all the while. Not just your breath but also your thoughts. You need to train your mind into thinking that going out alone is a regular, normal, and safe activity – and it will start perceiving it that way. Work on your approach, it will take you a long way.
Get to know your fear better
You can only begin agoraphobia treatment when you know the cause for it. Dig deep into your brain for when you started to develop the fear and why? Was it an event from your past? Your environment?
These questions are also common to psychotherapy but answering them yourself could help you get clues into what causes the panic/stress and help you avoid the trigger until you get professional help.
Professional Help for Agoraphobia – The Options Available
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT works to find a cause, common behavior, and coping mechanisms around the fear. The professional then helps you use your logic and reasoning to deal with the cause. This ultimately reduces your level of fear response until you no longer need to fear going outside.
If your hormones being out of balance is the reason for your fear responses then medication could be a solution. By putting your biology back into place your mind responds to situations calmly and naturally.
Learning to Cope with Agoraphobia
It may take time to treat but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to cope with agoraphobia better.
Try going out with your friends on short trips near your house in lesser crowded hours and areas. The more pleasant encounters you have the more your fear goes away. While you should also have open discussions with a close friend that can help you rationalize your fear about any situation.
It is also important to remember that even though you locked yourself in and away from the world, it is still open to accepting you back when you are ready. That when you do step out you are not alone and the situation is not completely out of your control.