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- What is Agoraphobia?
- Diagnosing Agoraphobia
- What Causes Agoraphobia?
- Help for Agoraphobia
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What is Agoraphobia?
The primary fear of someone suffering with Agoraphobia, is experiencing a panic attack in a crowded public place surrounded by unfamiliar faces and no escape routes or help in sight.
A panic attack can be a terrifying experience where the heart races and it may be difficult to maintain normal breathing patterns. The sudden feeling of dizziness can often make a person feel like they are about to pass out or that they are having a heart attack.
Agoraphobia is commonly misunderstood as a fear of open or public spaces. In reality, it is not actually these spaces that are feared, but rather the threat of having a panic attack or panic symptoms in one of these settings.
An individual with Agoraphobia experiences extreme anxiety about places or certain situations where escape may be difficult or embarrassing, or where help may not be readily available should a panic attack occur.
This extreme anxiety often results in an intense fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and often results in isolation and an extremely negative effect on functioning and relationships.
Agoraphobia is usually diagnosed by a psychologist or mental health practitioner. The psychologist will require a detailed account of the history of Agoraphobia symptoms you have experienced, their severity and the various situations that trigger them.
In addition, they will check that you do not have any other disorders or problems such as an anxiety disorder, depression or substance abuse. Your mental health practitioner should also ensure that a physical illness is not the root cause of your anxiety.
What are the Symptoms of Agoraphobia?
People with Agoraphobia develop "safe places" (usually their own home), but it may also include any other frequented areas where they feel psychologically safe and secure. In addition, they often develop "safe people" with whom they feel totally comfortable and can depend on should something happen.
When people suffering from this condition leave these people or places of safety, they often experience Agoraphobia symptoms which include feelings of extreme anxiety or a panic attack. This results in obsessive avoidance behavior (they may only want to shop at a particular shopping mall and will drive to the next suburb to do so) and in extreme cases Agoraphobics live a life of recluse, seldom stepping out their front door.
Who Suffers from Agoraphobia? Is there a Cure?
Some Agoraphobia facts are that the condition most likely develops in late adolescence or early adulthood and tends to affect more women than men. It is a very limiting and isolating disorder that can begin to take control – adversely affecting daily function. However, Agoraphobia is treatable and it is never too late to reclaim a panic-free life!
What Causes Agoraphobia?
There are certain Agoraphobia facts you should know. Agoraphobia is caused by the same multiple factors that are associated with other phobias and panic attacks. In most cases it develops as a reaction to a past bad experience (usually an unexpected panic attack) where the individual felt unsafe and exposed to danger, or criticism in an unfamiliar or open setting.
The individual then becomes pre-occupied about the possibility of having another anxiety reaction and this anxiety alone can then cause another panic attack, thus perpetuating the cycle.
Help for Agoraphobia
A number of treatment options are available to help overcome Agoraphobia. While many people with this disorder are prescribed scheduled drugs to control the anxiety associated with Agoraphobia, they often experience unwanted side effects, and may become dependent on the medication.
While prescription drugs may be beneficial, it is important to avoid masking Agoraphobia symptoms without actually solving the underlying problems. Research has shown that phobias respond best to a combination of treatment modalities.
The following are some of the most commonly recommended treatment approaches for Agoraphobia. Explore all treatment options to find the approach that best suits you.
Treatment Options for Agoraphobia
While physicians are often quick to prescribed scheduled drugs to control the anxiety associated with Agoraphobia, they often have unwanted side effects, and some may even be addictive. While prescription drugs may be beneficial at temporarily masking symptoms, they do not address the underlying problem and may bring with them new problems such as dependency.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Agoraphobia treatments sometimes include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT makes use of various techniques which may help the individual to better understand and manage symptoms as well as the maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that underlie them. Desensitization or exposure therapy is the most common method of treating Agoraphobia.
This therapy includes gradual exposure to the feared situation at a gentle pace. The therapeutic process starts with small manageable goals and progresses in manageable steps. A person with Agoraphobia might begin with stepping outside the front door, and progress to a walk around the block.
Meditation, deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques are generally a part of Agoraphobia treatments in order to reduce over-all anxiety. These methods are also great for clearing your mind of unwanted negative thoughts. There are CD’s available that are specifically composed for this purpose.
More Information on Agoraphobia
Other Disorders Related to Agoraphobia
Other Agoraphobia facts you should be aware of are that the condition iis related to other disorders such as depression, substance abuse, other phobias and anxiety disorders (particularly Panic Disorder).While the symptoms of Agoraphobia may feel physical, they always begin in the mind. It is therefore recommended that a professional evaluation be sought, so that you can receive a proper diagnosis and treatment for any other co-existing problems.
Tips for coping with Agoraphobia
- One step at a time! Set small attainable goals and get comfortable with them before moving on to the next step.
- Familiarize yourself with unknown situations before diving into them. For example, if you know you have a function to attend, go and look around the venue beforehand so that it is not altogether unknown.
- Some people find running a particularly useful way of facing their Agoraphobia - as it’s almost impossible to have a panic attack while running. Disguised as a jogger, nobody will notice your anxious breathlessness as unusual. While it may literally seem that you are running away from your fears, you will be doing the exact opposite! An added bonus is that while you jog your body will release happiness producing hormones at the same time, leaving you with a sense of accomplishment and relaxation.
- Keep a journal, talk to a "safe person", or find another positive means for expressing your emotions. As with many psychological conditions, Agoraphobia is often entangled in deep emotions, insecurities and thoughts that need to be explored and dealt with.
- Keep reminding yourself of the reality of your situation. While this may be easier said than done, try to focus on the realistic outcomes of your anxiety situation. When catastrophic thoughts are running through your mind try yelling a focus-phrase (out loud or in your head) such as "STOP IT" or "ENOUGH NOW!" that will help to bring you back into the present. Your panic will soon pass and even if you have to push past a few people to get outside, they probably won’t notice. Remember that panic is not physically harmful!
- Empower yourself in other areas in your life. Take up a hobby, sporting activity, or interesting course. The confidence you gain in these areas will spill over into other aspects of your life.
- Become an expert! Learn all there is to know about Agoraphobia. There are multiple self-help books, internet resources and support groups that will help you understand your condition more fully and provide helpful guidance.
- Live a healthy life-style! Eating a well balanced diet, getting enough sleep and relaxation time and regular exercise can help reduce anxiety and stress.