Anxiety comes in many different forms. One may be anxious about life, work, situations and even their environment. There is one form of anxiety which can limit your ability to leave your house because the fear of being trapped or helpless overcomes you. This type of anxiety is called agoraphobia and it can really inhibit one’s ability to enjoy their life.
What is agoraphobia?
As mentioned agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. In Greek this term means, “Fear of the marketplace.” To relate its translation into modern terms, it’s a fear of being in public situations where the person may panic, feel trapped, or lose control.
Situations and places where people who have agoraphobia would likely avoid are movie theaters, concerts, shopping centers and public transit. Basically any environment with a crowd of people can cause this form of anxiety. So very often people with agoraphobia choose to stay in places where they feel safe, their home for example.
Agoraphobia roughly affects one percent of the population and it affects women two times more than men.
Symptoms and complications of agoraphobia
As an anxiety disorder agoraphobia shares many similar symptoms with anxiety. The primary symptom of agoraphobia is fear, but the fear can be quite vast. Some of the symptoms of agoraphobia include:
- Fear: Of being alone in a situation, being in crowded places, losing control in public, not being able to leave an area i.e. Elevator
- Difficulty leaving the home, in particular alone, they may need someone to accompany them
- Feelings of helplessness
- Over-dependence on other people
- Chest pain
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Shakiness or numbness in limbs
As you can tell, some of the symptoms of agoraphobia are physical and many of them reside in emotions and fear which are quite debilitating.
Causes and risk factors
So what are some of the causes and risk factors of agoraphobia? Like with many mental health issues the exact cause isn’t always as clear but some speculations around the cause of agoraphobia include previous panic attacks, experiencing trauma in the past or life experiences. It’s often hard to pinpoint the exact moment when agoraphobia starts in one life, but it usually affects those in their teen years.
Loss of a loved one, abuse and previous nervous tendencies, having a blood relative with agoraphobia can all be contributing factors to agoraphobia.
Panic disorder and agoraphobia
A panic disorder is a random event where someone experiences intense feelings of terror. It can occur at any moment, even while one is asleep. Panic disorder is often linked to other disorders, agoraphobia included.
If someone experienced a panic attack in a particular setting or situation – for example waiting in line at the bank – this may deter the person from returning to that area in fear that the panic attack will return. This is also an example of agoraphobia.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that one in three people who have a panic disorder also have agoraphobia. Because the fear of a returning panic attack is so high, individuals may avoid situations and settings as a means of prevention. This goes to show that panic disorders and agoraphobia are strongly linked.
Treatment for agoraphobia
What most people don’t know is that panic disorders and agoraphobia respond very well to treatment. The key, though, is to seek out treatment and getting someone with agoraphobia out for treatment is a clear challenge.
Therapy, for one, can be an effective means of treating agoraphobia. Speaking with a therapist can help the individual move through their previous traumatic events in order to overcome them. Coping mechanisms may be suggested as well to help these individuals overcome their immense fear.
Another way to treat agoraphobia is through medication. Often antidepressants will be used, but they do come with side effects which are important to keep in mind.
Easing symptoms of agoraphobia is another effective means for treatment. This means finding ways to ease the feelings of anxiety which can affect people mentally and physically. Exercise has been known to be quite effective when treating anxiety symptoms. The ADAA suggests a mere 10 minutes a day of physical activity is enough to start promoting greater wellbeing.
Meditation can also be effective in creating a sense of calm and easing anxiety. Meditation can be done in numerous ways and if you need help at first, audio guides are available. Meditation helps clear your mind and focus on your breathing. So if you have a few moments, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing for somewhat instant relief.
Another way to benefit from exercise and meditation is through yoga. There are a variety of types of yoga so you can find one that best suits you. Not only will you be physically active but you can distract your mind while focusing on your breathing. Plus, a guided yoga class will take the thinking out of trying to meditate on your own. A few ‘oms’ may be all you need to reduce anxiety symptoms!
Living with agoraphobia
Living with agoraphobia can be stressful. Not being able to enjoy what life has to offer due to fear and anxiety can really take a toll on one’s life. This is why seeking treatment is so essential.
Through effective treatment methods, individuals with agoraphobia can work through their fears and anxiety and begin to enjoy their lives once again. If you know someone with agoraphobia be as understanding and patient as possible is necessary. These individuals rely heavily on those they trust so the best thing you can do is be supportive.
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