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