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What Does Agoraphobia Mean?

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Agoraphobia is an anxiety related disorder and is usually experienced together with panic attacks. It’s a condition that many people are ashamed to talk about. But, what does Agoraphobia mean? What is it exactly and are there ways to cure this condition?

What Exactly Is Agoraphobia?

A lot of people are under the misconception that Agoraphobia means that you are afraid to leave the house. Although this is one form of Agoraphobia, there are usually more than one fear that contributes to being diagnosed with this condition. These fears are irrational and pathological and can be a combination of the following:

  • Fear of open spaces, such as bridges, parks or parking lots.
  • Fear of enclosed spaces (also referred to as Claustrophobia), such as elevators, stores or even the movie theater.
  • Fear of public transport, such as trains, the bus or taxis.
  • Fear of leaving the home.
  • Fear of crowded places and standing in lines, such as at festivals, parties or shopping malls.

Basically, when you have Agoraphobia, you fear and want to avoid any place that might make you feel trapped, panicked or helpless and embarrassed. You’re scared that you will be in danger and not be able to escape.

The condition usually develops after having a panic attack, causing you to worry about having another one and so you want to avoid the place that you got the panic attack in the first place. Or a similar type of situation as the one you were in that caused the panic attack. And so a vicious circle forms.

Psychological and Physical Symptoms of Agoraphobia

Symptoms of this disorder are generally dealt into two categories and a combination of two or more of these should be present for a period lasting longer than 6 months in order to be diagnosed with Agoraphobia.

Psychological Symptoms

These type of symptoms commonly include, but are not limited to the following fears and feelings:

Being in open, enclosed or crowded spaces

These are the most commonly experienced symptoms for people who are suffering from Agoraphobia. You could be scared of being in large open spaces due to the fact that you are open, exposed and vulnerable to threats.

In the same manner, you could be scared of being in enclosed or crowded spaces as this leaves you unable to escape if any form of danger should present itself to you.

The feelings of fear are very real and can lead you to have a panic attack when you find yourself in any of these situations. The onset of the panic attack could then in turn trigger avoidance of the place where you had the panic attack, leading to further isolation for the sufferer.

Feeling detached from yourself and others

The fancy term for this type of feeling is called Depersonalization.

This term is used to describe feelings of detachment from your body and your thoughts. Like they are not real and everything is a dream. It’s quite a scary feeling to not feel in control of your body or thoughts.

Embarrassment

Feelings of shame and embarrassment are not uncommon for the Agoraphobia sufferer and often ties in with underlying Social Anxiety disorders.

The fear of ending up in an embarrassing situation or being embarrassed by a panic attack usually drives people suffering from this disorder to avoid these situations completely.

Being Alone

This term is also known as Monophobia or Autophobia and can significantly influence the state of your life and even cause panic attacks. On some occasions, it may lead to obsessive or depressive thoughts.

The fear of being alone can greatly hinder a person in the sense that they are afraid to go into public spaces alone or leave their house on their own. It’s not always possible to have someone by your side at every single minute of every day, so this can cause a lot of problems for the Agoraphobia sufferer.

Fear of Dying

Thanatophobia, or the fear of death, is a symptom often experienced if you have Agoraphobia and is more commonly referred to as death anxiety.

This fear will also stop a person from wanting to leave their home for the fear of dangerous situations, real or not, that may lead to death.

Fear that people will stare at you

The fear of being stared at also goes by the fancy term of Scoptophobia and is another common symptom of Agoraphobia. It generally falls under the scope of Social Phobia.

When you have this symptom you will really go out of your way to avoid all situations that might put you in the spotlight and being around or talking to other people may make you blush and feel very embarrassed.

Feelings of Helplessness

A person with Agoraphobia may feel helpless and feel that they are unable to do things or approach different situations on their own. They feel incapable of doing anything for themselves or other people.

Fear that you will lose control or become insane in public

When you have a panic attack, you often lose control over your emotions and body movements. This can be highly frightening a stressful and will definitely heighten anxiety levels. The agoraphobic will go to lengths in order to avoid feeling like this.

Feeling like your body or the surrounding environment isn’t real

Similar to Depersonalization, this feeling is known as Derealization and it will feel as if you are not part of the environment around you or viewing everything in “third person”. You may become lost or disoriented as familiar places may suddenly seem unfamiliar and even distorted.

Fear of danger without being able to escape

All the above symptoms come down to irrational fears of being placed in “dangerous” situations and not being able to escape without embarrassment or feelings of being out of control.

This also includes a high sense of fear of the onset of a panic attack and not being able to be in your own safe environment when this happens to you.

Scared of the outside

Physical symptoms

These symptoms are very similar to those of a Panic attack and include, but are not limited to, the following:

Trembling or Tingling Sensations

You may feel shivery or tremble and experience a crawling feeling throughout your body. These are of the more common physical symptoms experienced by people who have Agoraphobia.

Feeling Faint, Lightheaded or Dizzy

Many links have been established between dizziness and agoraphobia, with or without panic attacks. In a study carried out with 17 subjects it was found that a much higher percentage, 76% to be exact, also had panic disorder and/or agoraphobia. In another study, with 103 participants, it was found that almost 30% of the subjects also had panic disorder and agoraphobia, with or without panic disorder.

Rapid Heartbeat

The anxiety levels of someone with Agoraphobia get extremely heightened in situations where they feel unsafe or threatened and the stress and anxiety levels will cause their heart rate to increase or their heart to start beating rapidly due to the adrenaline rush and the body’s flight or fight response.

Feeling nauseous

Nausea is another common symptom often associated with anxiety and agoraphobia. Take a look at this YouTube user’s experience with nausea and agoraphobia:

Feeling hot

With all these symptoms, you may also feel very hot and sweat excessively. The symptoms of agoraphobia and panic attacks are very similar to those of a heart attack and should never be taken lightly. Best is to consult a medical professional immediately if you experience a combination of these symptoms.

Hyperventilation

The onset of hyperventilation is always unexpected and without reason. A study revealed that about 60% of agoraphobic sufferers also showed hyperventilation symptoms. You experience hyperventilation when you start to breathe really fast and uncontrollably so that you end up exhaling more than you inhale and you eventually become deprived of oxygen leading to other frightening experiences such as dizziness or nausea.

Known Causes

The causes of this disorder can be broken down into two sections – with and without panic disorder. It is most commonly experienced as a result of one or more anxiety related disorders.

Agoraphobia with Panic Disorder

Most people get Agoraphobia after the onset of one or two panic attacks. The sufferer may feel worried that a next panic attach may strike unexpectedly, as they usually do, and it will cause them embarrassment or humiliation in public – so they practice avoidance, leading to Agoraphobia.

Usually, if the Panic Disorder is treated, the Agoraphobia will also disappear.

Read our article and dealing with Panic Attacks: Dealing with Anxiety and Panic attacks – The Ins and Outs

Agoraphobia without Panic Disorder

These are usually triggered by irrational or pathological fears such as getting into an accident, becoming a victim of a violent crime or even something as simple as doing or saying something by accident that will make you embarrass yourself in front of others.

It can also be caused by traumatic events such as bullying or abusive relationships. Substance abuse, mainly an overuse of tranquilizers and sleeping pills is another common cause of this disorder.

Diagnosis and Treatments

Diagnosis

The disorder can be diagnosed by your GP who will usually ask you a few questions to determine your state of mind and often commission blood tests and other physical examinations before determining the final diagnosis. A combination of symptoms should usually be present for longer than 6 months and in such a manner that it inhibits you from living a normal daily life.

You may be referred to a psychiatrist if your case is more extreme.

Treatments

Treatment usually consists of a combination of medication (anti-anxiety and depression drugs mainly) and psychotherapy. There are many support and therapy groups available online as well. This makes it much easier for those suffering from this condition to get help as they don’t have to leave their house and become panicked.

Read about the Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Therapy HERE.

There are also alternative treatments you can try, but if these do not work after about a month or two, please immediately contact your GP and arrange for a consultation.

5 Natural Treatments for Agoraphobia

  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • St. John’s Wart
  • Valerian Root
  • Passion Flower

Other forms of alternative treatments available are hypnotherapy, yoga, and meditation.

If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms and/or feelings described in this article, please seek professional help immediately. If left untreated, your symptoms may only worsen and will cause many problems for your mental health and general state of wellbeing.

 

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  1. Nuttanee Nuttanee

    What a great informative post. I can say that I am a little nervous as well when I go into a crowded public place but I hate going to the crowded elevator the most.

    I do suffer from panic attack from time to time and I hate the fact that I cannot do anything to stop it.

    Thank you for sharing the natural remedy, I regularly take the valerian root, they smell huh? it calms me down and I do drink camomile tea as well.

    Great articles, I will share the post with my friends who are suffered from this, living in NYC can do that to you.

    Thank you again,
    Nuttanee

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! So happy you enjoyed the article 😀

      And, we definitely second that Valerian root has a FOUL smell, but what a magical herb!

      Don’t let the city get you down. All the best to you! 

  2. Chris Chris

    Great post – and enlightened me on something I put behind me years ago now…

    When I first left home, as a student studying music, I had a completely irrational fear of supermarket chains – you know, the big ones with the cheapest deals. The thought of going into one and having to queue then pay at the counter was way too much for me, I always thought I was going to freak out and make a mistake paying with my (new) card. 

    It went the older I got – but I remembered it after reading this article today. A really strange and irrational point in my later teenage years…

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Don’t worry, Chris, most of us go through some or other irrational point during our lives. AnxietyPanda is glad that you have managed to outgrow this and thank you so much for sharing that part of your life with us!

  3. Albert Albert

    Thank you for your informative post. I didn’t know about Agoraphobia until now. One of my friends has Claustrophobia and he can’t stand staying in an elevator. If he enters the elevator with a closed door, he is going to have a very hard time until he gets out of it.

    Treating serious psychological issues are usually hard and complicated. Meditation, natural herbs, and other stuff can help but I think in severe cases, professional help is necessary. Do you agree?

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Absolutely agree, Albert. Although, many people don’t give natural alternatives a chance and immediately turn to medication, Anxietypanda feels that a natural route should be explored first as this will be sufficient for most people. But, like you said, as with all extreme cases, professional help may always be necessary. Great question!

  4. Strahinja Strahinja

    I am really blessed I bumped into your post. I would not even know what this was untill my sister’s daughter had the sympthoms of agoraphobia. We were really worried, we did not know it was that at the beginning since she was showing different behaviour. 

    It all started with the fear of what others will say to some sort of social anxiety. The doctors later diagnosed it was all undercover and that the real issue was agoraphobia.

    I really appreciate the advice you have here. For now she is using a medication combined with herbs from teas.

    Regards,

    Strahinja

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Hey Strahinja, thanks you so much for taking the time to comment.

      AnxietyPanda is greatful that this article has helped clarify some things for you. Please keep us posted on your niece’s progress.

      Sending you and your sister’s daughter and your whole family lots of panda-love

  5. Andrea Andrea

    Excellent article on agoraphobia. I have family member who suffer from this and it can take a toll on their lives. Thank you so much for explaining and giving us some light and knowledge about it. This way is easier for us to understand and be able to help them. I will make sure to bookmark this post and forward it to my family members. Thank you!

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Hi there, so glad to help and thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience. Panda-love to your family member

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