Do you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic, make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed?
If so, then you could be suffering from something a mental health condition known as Agoraphobia. Sufferers of Agoraphobia often fear both actual and anticipated situations, such as being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in queues, being in crowds or using public transport. The intense feelings of anxiety felt in these situations is usually caused by fear of having no easy way to escape or seek help if the intensity of the anxiety develops in to a panic attack.
If you think you are suffering from Agoraphobia yourself or if you know someone who might be, then take a look at the information and advice.
WHAT IS AGORAPHOBIA?
Agoraphobia is often described as a severe, unrelenting fear of a certain situation, activity, or something that causes the sufferer to feel they need to avoid. The definition of agoraphobia is a fear of being outside or otherwise being in a situation from which one either cannot escape or from which escaping would be difficult or humiliating.
Many cases of agoraphobia go unreported and undiagnosed, probably due to the fact that the sufferer will avoid not only the situations which cause the associated panic, but also on occasion feeling an inability to even visit the doctors office. The fact that agoraphobia often occurs in combination with panic disorder makes it even more difficult to track how often it occurs.
Agoraphobia is often developed as a condition after having experienced one or more panic attacks, causing the sufferer to fear further panic attacks and result in avoidance of the situations in which the attack occurred.
People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling secure and safe in public places, especially where there may be a gathering of a crowd or where the sufferer feels that escaping from a certain situation may prove to be difficult.
Sufferers may also feel that they need to be accompanied by a friend, relative or safe person, when attempting to go to public places. The fears and associated feelings can be so overwhelming that the sufferer may feel an inability to leave their own home.
Avoidance behaviors are a big part of the continuation and cycle of agoraphobia. They tend to increase over time and can certainly begin to impair the agoraphobia sufferers quality of life. A sufferers home life, employment, social life and other responsibilities may suffer.
An agoraphobic may feel that they are unable to travel to particular important appointments, attend special occasions, or carry out normal day-to-day activities. If the sufferer is unable to recognise avoidance behaviors or chooses to ignore them, they can intensify to the point that the person becomes housebound with agoraphobia.
COMMON SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Agoraphobia can manifest itself as a combination of fears, feelings and bodily sensations.
Some common fears associated with agoraphobia are:
- Fear of spending time alone
- Fear of being in crowded places
- Fear of open spaces
- Fear of being in places where escape might be difficult
- Fear of losing control in a public place
- Fear of death.
A person with agoraphobia may experience the following feelings:
- Detachment from others
- Loss of control
- As though the body is not real (Depersanalisation)
- As though the environment is not real (Derealisation)
In addition to these symptoms, people with agoraphobia can also experience the physical sensations of panic attacks, such as:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea
- Flushing and chills
- Choking or smothering sensations
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you can relate to the information on this page, and you think you may be suffering from agoraphobia, there are many things you can do to try and get help.
As with any mental health issue, the best thing that you can do is talk about it. Visiting the doctors office may be asking a little to much in the first instant, especially if you are currently housebound, but there are lots of ways around it. You can talk face-to-face at home or over the phone with someone you trust if you feel you can. On the other hand, a text, an email or a letter are also great ways to convey your feelings and worries to someone.
Online communities with like minded people – such as us at Anxiety United – are great places to discuss your worries, getting everything off your chest and receiving great advice from people who have been in your shoes.
It is a good idea to speak with your GP if you can. Most GP's will accommodate you if you are housebound, and booking a home visit should not be out of the question. They are there to help you and will make any adjustments they can to make things easier for you – whether it be to organise a telephone appointment or an appointment to be made at a quieter time.
When you do see/speak to your GP, they will be able to signpost you to local services which will help you. They may suggest trying a talking therapy, such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
They will likely discuss a diagnosis with you and could even suggest some medication to help with your symptoms.
One form of therapy or self-help that has been found effective in managing agoraphobia includes self-exposure therapy. In which, the sufferer either imagines or puts themseves into agoraphobic anxiety provoking situations, and then learning that the fears experienced are brought on by no more than irrational or negative thoughts, and developing relaxation techniques in each situation in order to gradually desensitive themselves and in turn alleviate their anxiety.
Two of the main principles of exposure therapy are to try and stay in the anxiety provoking situation until your fear starts to subside, and also make an attempt to carry out your exposure tasks regularly.
Exposure Task List
Create a list of situations which the thought of completing increases your anxiety. Making sure to start off with the simpler of the tasks first. Make an effort to expose yourself to this situation as often as you can, daily if possible and repeat this exposure exercise up to three times a day time permitting. After the first few times you practice this initial task, you will find your anxiety does not climb as high and does not last as long.
You will then be ready to move to the next difficult situation on your task list. This process should be continued until you have tackled all the items and situations you want to conquer.
Remember to always practice, never test. If you are only practicing, you cannot fail.