What is Agoraphobia?
Patients with agoraphobia experience an overwhelming fear of being cornered, powerless, or not in control. The worry is so intense that it keeps patients from going to places in which there is any chance of losing control of their environment.
When people with agoraphobia try to face their triggers, they may experience panic attacks. To avoid the discomfort of such panic attacks, they avoid several places. For example, someone who wants to control driving may avoid carpooling with friends or riding public transportation.
Myths About Agoraphobia
In popular culture, people with agoraphobia come across as shut-ins who never leave their homes. Some severe cases of the disorder can present like this. However, many people with agoraphobia do leave their homes, but they avoid specific common destinations and situations.
Like those with other mental disorders, people who live with agoraphobia face myths and stereotypes that leave them in danger. These stereotypes keep people from seeking the help that they need.
For example, someone who thinks that all patients with agoraphobia feel afraid to step outside may believe that his or her symptoms aren’t “bad enough” to warrant getting care. The truth is that people who experience overwhelming dread or panic attacks deserve help, regardless of how other patients feel.
Phobias That Count as Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is not the fear of just one thing. Someone can have many specific phobias that, when analyzed together, lead to an agoraphobia diagnosis. Some common worries for people with agoraphobia are:
- Public transportation
- Long lines
- Large open areas, like fields or parking lots
- Enclosed spaces, included elevators
- Leaving home alone
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Because agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder, many of the symptoms mirror those of panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder. When people with agoraphobia come face-to-face with their triggers, they may experience physical symptoms such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive sweating
- Increasing heart rate
- Redness in the face, like blushing
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Agoraphobia also presents with several emotional symptoms, such as:
- Resistance to triggers, such as the fears in the list above
- Codependency on others for daily tasks
- Emotional detachment
- A sense of dread
Patients with agoraphobia may need medication management, counseling, or both to recover. Exposure therapy is one common type of counseling for agoraphobia, though therapists may also recommend other types.
Exposure therapy involves a patient gradually facing his or her fears and proving that nothing terrible will happen. For example, someone who is terrified of riding an elevator may start by walking past elevators. Then, he could step onto an elevator, let the door close, then get right off. Eventually, the patient can ride up a floor or two to prove to himself that it is not a life-threatening situation.
Prescription medications can help patients cope with the intense feelings that exposure therapy can expose. Some patients take these medications only for a while, but others may need drugs for longer terms. Medication management services can help.