Agoraphobia: The Anxiety No One Talks About
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Fear is a strong emotion. The push and pull of the emotion can sometimes become larger than ourselves. Some situations can make us feel vulnerable and powerless against our phobias which in turn can make our already anxious minds restless.
If you feel anxious about situations and places where you see no escape route or if you fear crowded and public spaces, you may be familiar with the term of phobia or disorder – Agoraphobia. The fear that many feels is often accompanied by panic attacks.
Agoraphobia in a person can grow gradually starting with mild anxiety attacks about a particular circumstance or situation and can eventually develop into a fear where the affected person is afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone.
Agoraphobia generally develops by the age of 35. It can greatly affect a person’s personal and professional life. It is rather difficult to diagnose a person with agoraphobia. The symptoms can vary from mild dizziness to a full-blown panic attack.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms, the causes, and how you can cope with agoraphobia.
What Is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is the fear of crowded places and situations where you might feel trapped, panicked, embarrassed, and scared. If you struggle with this anxiety disorder, then you may have symptoms like rapid heartbeat and nausea when in crowded places.
This fear can be severe and can make you want to avoid engaging in daily activities like going to the grocery store. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), almost 0.8% of adults have agoraphobia.
Symptoms Of Agoraphobia
Typical agoraphobia symptoms include fear of:
- Leaving home alone
- Being out in public spaces and transportation, such as malls and buses
- Being in a close environment, such as a movie theatre and grocery store
- Anxiety or panic attacks including shortness of breath and dizziness
Agoraphobia often co-occurs with panic or anxiety attacks and can have physical symptoms such as:
- Chest pains
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Hot flashes
- Numbness or tingling sensations
The Causes Of Agoraphobia
While the exact cause of agoraphobia is unknown, many factors can contribute to this fear. Agoraphobia causes can include:
- Social phobias
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- History of physical abuse
- History of addiction
- Family history of agoraphobia
The diagnosis of agoraphobia can be done based on the signs and symptoms. A professional may ask you questions about the onset of your symptoms, their intensity, and your experience with the phobia. They may also ask questions about your family history, your medical history, etc.
To be diagnosed with agoraphobia, you need to meet the criteria listed in the DSM-5. You must experience intense anxiety in two or more situations listed below to be diagnosed with this fear:
- Using public transportation
- Being in open public spaces
- Being in enclosed spaces
- Being in a crowd
- Being away from home
- Having panic attacks
An agoraphobia test can be done only by a professional and a doctor may ask you questions to rule out any other illness and disorders. You can take this test by The Recovery Village to know whether you have Agoraphobia or not.
How Can Agoraphobia Be Treated?
Agoraphobia is almost always accompanied by panic attacks or an anxiety attack. The sudden increase in heart rate, dizziness, and shaking are the most common symptoms of an anxiety attack. Treating the fear of crowded places and social situations can cause a person to lose their essence and confidence.
The anxiety of being in a situation where a panic attack can be misinterpreted or left untreated can cause a person to retreat in their protective shells. There are many ways where an anxiety attack can be treated for an agoraphobic person.
The treatments can include:
Many people with mild symptoms of agoraphobia can be treated by using exposure therapy and CBT. This treatment method asks a person to get exposure to situations they fear with the help of a companion or a therapist.
Facing their fear with the help of a trusted friend or a family member can help an agoraphobic person feel better. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps a person gradually return to activities they previously feared.
Medication can also provide support and help to those who seek professional help for social and public anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs and Selective serotonin-norepinephrine inhibitors or SNRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.
Using medicinal help usually takes time to work and should only be taken under a physician’s discretion. Dietary changes or herbal supplements can also be used as a suitable alternative medication.
Other Self-Help Strategies To Cope
C. Relaxation practices
Learning to relax using meditation and yoga may help a person feel calm in fearful situations. The regular usage of muscle relaxation exercises can be helpful for an agoraphobic person. Relaxation depends on a person’s grasp of their fear and phobia. Changes in lifestyle and daily habits can also provide effective therapy to help a person with social anxiety.
D. Agoraphobia Support groups
Many people are unaware of agoraphobia and they often fail in providing effective support to a person with agoraphobia. People are often judged regarding their mental health and social anxiety.
Support groups, online and offline, provide a safe and non-judgmental place for asking and providing the support required to cope with the fear. These platforms provide adequate resources to help with such situations.
Living with a psychiatric disorder can be difficult. People with such disorders often hear the phrases; ‘it’s in your head’ and ‘that’s not a thing’. Hearing such words can diminish the light inside a person. Gaining knowledge and educating oneself about agoraphobia can go a long way in helping someone.
On a personal note, setbacks are common but don’t let them rule you. Living with constant anxiety is not easy and it can make the daily life of a person really difficult. There is no shame in asking for help if you are unable to control your anxiety.
The most important step to overcome social anxiety and agoraphobia is to become self-aware. Write about your experiences in a journal and reflect on them after some time. I have felt this method quite effective.
Live freely and find happiness in the little things around you.
Love the life you live!
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