We speak of agoraphobia when we fear having a panic attack in a place or situation from which it is difficult to escape or in which there is no help available.
An agoraphobic person may limit themselves to staying only in places they consider safe and avoid certain situations, such as public transport, crowds, or queues. If you think this is your case, there is help.
This article can help you if:
- you are afraid of having panic attacks
- you want to know what agoraphobia is
- you are worried about a loved one who may be suffering from agoraphobia
A fear of situations where it is difficult to escape
Most people develop agoraphobia as part of an anxiety disorder when the fear of having a panic attack while away from home makes it difficult or impossible for them to get out.
If you have agoraphobia, you may be anxious about having a panic attack, or you may fear places or situations where you’ve had a panic attack before.
This fear can cause you to avoid these situations or take unnatural steps to manage your anxiety, such as riding the bus only with a relative or friend. While these avoidance behaviors may temporarily decrease your anxiety, in the long term they may make it worse.
Some signs and symptoms of agoraphobia
- You avoid certain situations because you are afraid of having a panic attack.
- You worry that if you have a panic attack you won’t be able to easily escape from where you are or that no one will be able to help you.
- You agree to go to certain places only if someone accompanies you.
- You are reluctant to leave, or anxious to leave, situations and environments that are familiar to you or that seem safe to you.
- You experience anxiety or panic when you cannot avoid certain situations.
What are the causes of agoraphobia?
There is no single cause for agoraphobia. As with most anxiety disorders, the causes are likely multiple and can include genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.
If you have a family history of agoraphobia or other anxiety disorders, or if you have experienced a panic attack or traumatic event in the past that particularly affected you, your likelihood of developing agoraphobia increases.
Agoraphobia then sets in gradually and grows over time as you begin to avoid more and more places that make you anxious.
How can agoraphobia affect your life?
If left untreated, agoraphobia can drastically reduce your quality of life by severely handicapping you on a daily basis.
For example :
- You may feel unable to continue doing certain activities, such as going to work or school, participating in hobbies, or leaving home to play sports or see your friends.
- Isolation, loneliness, boredom, and financial difficulties (related to the inability to work) can cause distress and increase the risk of depression.
- If you start using escape routes, such as using alcohol or drugs, it can cause or contribute to other health problems, such as addiction.
- Feelings of helplessness to do anything can lead to anger and frustration, which can hurt your self-esteem and increase the chances of experiencing depression and other anxiety disorders.
What treatments are available?
The first step to getting effective treatment for agoraphobia is to see a mental health professional. A psychiatrist or psychologist will help you establish the best treatment for you, based on your preferences and the intensity of your disorder.
This plan will vary from person to person but may include counseling or therapy, medication, relaxation training, support groups, or self-help methods.
Starting and the following treatment can be difficult, but remember that your doctor will work at a pace that is right for you.
What to do in case of panic attacks caused by your agoraphobia?
When you find yourself in a situation that makes you panic, try these suggestions:
- Slow down your breathing: The feeling of distress can increase when you breathe too quickly. Try to breathe slowly and deeply, counting to three with each inhale and again with each exhale.
- Focus on something that calms you down: Remind yourself that your scary thoughts are a sign of your panic, rather than what is actually happening, and that they will soon go away. Don’t believe your thoughts altogether. Try counting down from 100, or remember the lyrics to your favorite song.
In conclusion, agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder manifested by the fear of leaving the house or being in a situation that could cause an anxiety attack.
If left untreated, it can drastically reduce the quality of life by leading to isolation, loneliness, boredom, and financial hardship. If you suffer from it or if one of your loved ones suffers from it, consider consulting a professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist for support.
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