Agoraphobia may not be the most well-known mental illness, but it does affect millions of people every year and can cause you to miss out on some of life’s most important experiences, including traveling or going to large parties. This guide will teach you all about agoraphobia, from its definition to the signs and symptoms of agoraphobia as well as information on how to treat agoraphobia with therapy or medication if needed. In this article, we’ll discuss one of the most effective forms of agoraphobia treatment, and walk you through exactly how it works to eliminate the terror you feel when you find yourself in certain situations or environments.
What is Agoraphobia?
In a nutshell, agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that is defined by a persistent fear of being in places or situations where it would be difficult to escape or get help in an emergency. People with agoraphobia may avoid traveling alone, going over bridges or even leaving their homes. Depending on how severe your condition, you might struggle with even leaving your bedroom at times. The thought of being in these fearful situations can make people feel anxious and uneasy — so they tend to avoid them at all costs. If you find yourself avoiding everyday situations because of these intense fears, you could have agoraphobia.
What Is The Relationship Between Agoraphobia And Anxiety
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that can have a negative impact on your life. In fact, it’s characterized by persistent and overwhelming feelings of anxiety in specific situations. The official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies four types of agoraphobia—situationally bound, situationally predisposed, blood or injury phobias, and social phobias—but you may also experience panic attacks if you suffer from agoraphobia. Indeed, many people who are diagnosed with agoraphobia experience frequent panic attacks—and once you’ve experienced a panic attack, there’s about a 20 percent chance that you’ll suffer another one within 10 years.
Signs and Symptoms Of Agoraphobia
If you’re suffering from agoraphobia, you might notice some symptoms of your condition. Some of these include experiencing panic attacks when out in public places and avoiding places that are crowded or have uncertain exits (like stores). You may start to avoid public transportation as well, preferring instead to drive yourself even short distances. If your agoraphobia is severe enough, you may stop going outside at all—even if it’s just for brief errands like grocery shopping. When that happens, depression may also set in.
Thankfully, there are several ways you can overcome agoraphobia and get back into public spaces again—without any need for medication or therapy. We’ll talk about those options later on in our guide on overcoming agoraphobia.
Typical signs and symptoms of agoraphobia include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Trouble breathing or a choking sensation
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Excessively sweating
- Chest pain or abnormal pressure
- Upset stomach, diarrhea
- Feeling out of control
- Getting chills or flushing
- Feeling shaky, tingly, or numb
If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms that are preventing you from the ability to socialize, work, run normal errands (like shopping in a store), or other important events, you should reach out to a mental health professional to help you treat agoraphobia symptoms and discover coping mechanisms to help you live a more joyful and productive life.
Is Agoraphobia An Anxiety Disorder Or A Separate Problem?
Many people don’t realize that agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. While they are related, they are not one and the same. Anxiety disorders affect millions of people in America alone; a leading cause of disability among young adults, they can severely impact a person’s quality of life. Some types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and specific phobias. Underlying all of these conditions is excessive worrying—an uncontrollable stream of anxious thoughts flooding through your mind at any given moment.
Agoraphobia falls inside the anxiety umbrella and is considered a type of anxiety disorder.
Causes Of Agoraphobia
As with most anxiety disorders, the exact cause of agoraphobia is unknown. Research indicates a variety of genetic and environmental factors are likely contributors to developing agoraphobia. To further complicate matters, there seems to be some evidence that suggests people who suffer from agoraphobia tend to pass it on genetically. This means that if you have a family member with an anxiety disorder, your risk of suffering from one increases greatly. In addition, research suggests that stressful life events can trigger or worsen symptoms in those with an existing anxiety disorder, particularly those related to panic attacks and general feelings of anxiousness. Finally, changes in brain chemistry may play a role in both susceptibility and perpetuation of agoraphobic symptoms.
DSM-5 Criteria For Agoraphobia
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines agoraphobia as a marked fear or anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing, or in which help may not be available should a person become physically ill, injured, or panicked. The DSM also states that there are four subtypes of agoraphobia—social, specific/situational, generalized and other—and lists criteria for each. For example, someone with social phobia will likely experience panic attacks when faced with one-on-one interactions. Someone with panic disorder will experience them when faced with activities like driving over bridges and tunnels.
A person with agoraphobia will have a marked fear or anxiety about two (or more) of the following five situations:
Using public transportation
Being in open spaces
Being in enclosed spaces (e.g., shops, theaters, cinemas)
Standing in line or being in a crowd
Being outside the home alone.
Other factors for diagnosing agoraphobia:
- The agoraphobic situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
- The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the agoraphobic situations and to the sociocultural context.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting 6 months or more.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.
According to the NIH:
“The individual fears or avoids these situations because of thoughts that escape might be difficult or help might not be available in the event of developing panic-like symptoms or other incapacitating or embarrassing symptoms.”
Treatments Options For Agoraphobia
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all agoraphobia treatment. Because so many factors contribute to developing a phobia, different types of treatment are needed for each individual person. The two most common forms of agoraphobia treatment include therapy and self-help remedies like reading books or creating rituals. Studies show that therapy can help in conjunction with other treatments by improving a person’s coping mechanisms and putting them back in control of their life. If you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to get help today. Contact your doctor or search our directory for an anxiety specialist in your area who can prescribe effective medications or provide more comprehensive care. Our specialists have advanced degrees and experience helping people with agoraphobia overcome their phobias.
What Are Common Methods For Treating Agoraphobia?
There are a number of different methods for treating agoraphobia. To overcome your anxiety, it’s likely that you’ll use a combination of therapies, including medications and talk therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment method for many anxiety disorders. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, your therapist will help you learn skills that you can use to change your thought patterns and behavior patterns—in turn, helping change how you react to certain situations and in what ways. You may also want to consider medication if you suffer from panic attacks or social anxiety alongside agoraphobia; some studies show that antidepressants reduce symptoms of both depression and anxiety disorders.
Additional Resources For Overcoming Agoraphobia
For those who are actively trying to overcome agoraphobia, but just aren’t sure where to start, there’s a number of resources out there you should definitely explore. Finding professional treatment for anxiety is key in overcoming it; learn more about finding and choosing a therapist in How To Choose The Right Therapist. Additionally, there are many CBT techniques (cognitive behavioral therapy) that can be used during therapy sessions and practiced at home. Read more about using these techniques and others at home in CBT Techniques For Anxiety. If you’re finding it hard to stay motivated while treating your agoraphobia, try reading through some motivation quotes from famous celebrities, as well as people with similar struggles.
Agoraphobia doesn’t have to control your life. If you’re looking to overcome agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders, search our directory for experts who can help.