What Is Agoraphobia And How To Deal With It

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 0.8% of American adults have been diagnosed with agoraphobia. Because the condition is often misunderstood and neglected, most people who have agoraphobia deem their fear and distress as being irrational most of the time. In addition, their condition tremendously worsens due to the lack of prompt medical support over time.

But did you know that aside from stopping you from stepping outside to enjoy life, agoraphobia can cut deep into your quality of life and negatively affect your social relationships? In today’s article, learn about agoraphobia and how to overcome it.

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What Is Agoraphobia: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments

What Is Agoraphobia?

What is agoraphobia? Agoraphobia is a complex anxiety disorder characterized by a range of unreasonable, overwhelmed emotions and a sequence of anxiety-like symptoms in response to unfamiliar spaces, environments, or situations.

A person suffering from agoraphobia may get terrified with the idea of ever leaving their home, making day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping or running errands difficult since these activities often involve open or enclosed spaces crowded with people. Overall, people with agoraphobia may be afraid or scared of:

  • Places outside of their homes
  • Commuting or traveling on public transportation
  • Visiting shopping malls or centers
  • Waiting in lines
  • Losing control in public places

 

What Causes Agoraphobia?

It’s thought that agoraphobia is a complication of panic disorder. After a few episodes of panic attacks in a specific recurring situation, a person recalls and develops intensified fears regarding that similar event. Gradually, they tend to avoid (avoidance behavior) that particular environment and grow eventual fears and anxiety towards the outside world.

However, some people with agoraphobia don’t have a history of panic attacks but rather don’t feel safe or comfortable, possibly due to the heightened risks of terrorism, illness, accident, or crime in public settings. In some situations, traumatic experiences or bereavement are specifically associated with the cause of agoraphobia.

Otherwise, what causes agoraphobia remains unclear. It could be a combination of environmental stress, brain chemistry, behavioral characteristics, negative learning experiences, health conditions, or even hereditary.

 

Risk Factors Of Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is most commonly diagnosed in women and middle-aged people, but older adults can develop the condition as much.

Risk factors of agoraphobia include:

  • Having panic attacks or other phobias (claustrophobia, social phobia).
  • Having a nervous or anxious temperament.
  • Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Growing up in a toxic, dysfunctional family.
  • Having a problem with substance abuse or misuse.
  • Having strict, overprotective parents or parents have mental health problems.
  • Experiencing traumatic, painful life events, such as divorce or losing loved ones.
  • Having been physically, mentally, or sexually abused, assaulted, or harassed.

 

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Symptoms Of Agoraphobia

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Although it’s OK to feel anxious sometimes, excess concern or fear can potentially make you feel useless and as if you always need someone to depend on.

What does agoraphobia feel like? Agoraphobia shares the same symptoms as panic attacks which you may experience:

  • Shaky feeling
  • Intense fear
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing or feeling choked
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Irritated stomach or diarrhea
  • Fear of dying

 

One sure thing is that prolonged agoraphobia can take a toll on your quality of life by limiting your ability to proceed and participate in simple activities like going to school or work. Living with agoraphobia for the long haul without treatments can result in isolation, depression, personality disorders, and drug or alcohol abuse.

 

How Do Doctors Diagnose Agoraphobia?

If you suspect you have agoraphobia, the first step is to talk to your doctor or psychiatrist. The doctor may ask you a series of questions to diagnose your condition during the session, so being honest and open with your doctor is highly encouraged, even though articulating your feelings, fears, and personal life details can be hard at times. If necessary, the doctor may carry out physical examinations to see whether underlying health issues could be the reason for your agoraphobia.

Suppose your symptoms and signs meet the standards developed by the American Psychiatric Association. In that case, the doctor will consider giving you a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle approaches to help alleviate the symptoms of agoraphobia.

 

How To Overcome Agoraphobia?

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In addition to medical strategies, making lifestyle changes can help reduce daily stress and anxiety, making it easier to manage and overcome agoraphobia one step at a time. Some helpful self-care tips and lifestyle changes include:

 

In modern days, living with high levels of stress and anxiety is not uncommon. Therefore, agoraphobia can happen to anyone of all ages and ethnicities if no early intervention is taken to prevent stress and anxiety from the very beginning.

Despite no definitive cure, early diagnosis and appropriate treatments can progressively improve your symptoms and enhance your quality of life. If you think you have agoraphobia, reach out to your doctor or primary care provider as soon as possible to receive treatments.

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