It is a great big world out there and as a result there are more phobias than you can ever imagine. That being said, there are some phobias that are a bit more common than others. One phobia in particular that millions of people struggle with each and every day is agoraphobia. This fear is paralyzing to many and affects what jobs they can hold down, how they interact with others, and how they are forced to function on a day to day basis. That being said, let’s look as just what is agoraphobia.
What is Agoraphobia, Clinical Definition
Many people assume that agoraphobics are all recluses that fear the outdoors and the outside world. Though some agoraphobics may fear the outside world, the clinical definition of the disorder is a bit different. A classic agoraphobic will avoid any and all situations, places, and people that cause them stress, anxiety, and cause them to feel embarrassed. This is why most people assume that agoraphobics are automatically afraid of the outside world. Many people that suffer from this disorder will go so far as to become reclusive to avoid their fears and anxieties. While this avoidance is not a healthy way to get around stress, it is often the only solution in the mind of the agoraphobic. While someone without the disorder may avoid public speaking when they can because it stresses them out, the agoraphobic will go much further avoiding situations, people, and places in which they may have to speak publicly even turning down jobs and opportunities.
Someone suffering from agoraphobia suffers from intense fear of both actual and perceived events. The anxiety is caused by the feeling that there is no real escape from the situation at hand. Though there may be several ways to escape the situation, someone with agoraphobia does not perceive these outs so to speak and instead suffers from intense paranoia and fear causing them to avoid these situations all together. An agoraphobic person may feel uncomfortable or safe in any public place and may need a companion to go out in public. Often these fears become so debilitating that it becomes hard for someone suffering from agoraphobia to leave their home or have a normal life.
How Common is Agoraphobia?
This disorder is far more common than you may perceive. Agoraphobia is growing and is expanding so that it now affects more people than ever before. Agoraphobia is quickly rising to become one of the most common anxiety disorders in the world and it is being diagnosed at a faster rate than ever before. The rate of diagnosis of agoraphobia has skyrocketed just like the diagnosis of ADHD and attention deficit disorder has risen as technology has progressed. It is now far easier for the agoraphobic to completely avoid public and uncomfortable situations simply by using services like the internet and internet shopping to get their groceries. Though this may seem like a cop out for some, using things like the internet to avoid going out in public is actually quite handy for those that are so deeply unnerved by being in public that they cannot do it. Those suffering from agoraphobia now have another option when dealing with their disorder.
There are also jobs now that do not require that a person leave their home. While depending entirely on the internet and the ability to not leave your home may seem appealing to an agoraphobic, it is still necessary to seek help and treatment so that a normal life can be lived. Before the advent of the internet, agoraphobics were given two options. They could depend on the kindness and dependability of others to get their food and help, or they could force themselves to confront their fears which often led to mental breakdowns.
Are Their Treatments?
The world of psychological medicine is growing by leaps and bounds and since the first diagnosis there are now more treatment options than ever for agoraphobia no matter how acute the case. In many cases, therapy is suggested before the introduction of drugs. Most doctors prescribe a few different types of therapy. The first is to simply address your problems and figure out what is causing the anxiety. This is often the first step toward more intense therapy.
The next step is to figure out why these instances cause you anxiety. This may involve hypnotherapy, talking sessions, and even talking about your childhood to determine what it was that caused the aversion in the first place. The next step is of course exposure therapy. There has been some debate as to the validity of exposure therapy. Some argue that it forces the patient to confront their fears and begin to figure out how to deal with them. Others argue that it simply forces the patient undue stress and anxiety that can be avoided with the use of other methods.
Still another therapy method you may be exposed to is compartmentalization. This process helps the agoraphobic to understand how to push their fears aside and partition them off in so many words so that they can continue and begin to function normally in society. This type of therapy has met with even more contention than exposure therapy. Many argue that this is a process that essentially creates a ticking time bomb. There has been little research to support or deny claims that this sort of therapy is successful or not.
The last treatment option that you have is of course medication. Though some argue that this is a horrible solution and that it should be avoided at all costs, medication has come far in the past few decades and is now able to effectively treat agoraphobia to offer a more normal life. Though drugs are seldom used on their own, you may be able to find a medication that works without the help of therapy. More likely, your therapist will prescribe an anti anxiety medication and pair it with weekly therapy to help you get over your fears and lead a more normal life.
What Can I Do Myself?
There are a few things that you can do to help the agoraphobic in your life or yourself. The first step is to of course figure out that there is a problem to start with. There are a few signs that you may be agoraphobic that you can watch out for. The first is intense anxiety in social situations. This does not mean slight butterflies when you have to talk to someone new but rather intense fear that makes it difficult to function. Another symptom is panic attacks. If you suffer from frequent and unexplained panic attacks there is likely a deeper cause that may be treatable. Still another symptom is the regular and intentional avoidance of situations that cause you fear or anxiety.
Another symptom may be shortness of breath in situations where you feel anxious, chest pain, dizziness, choking, fear of loss of control, fear of situations in general, rapid heart beat, and any number of other symptoms that may be commonly associated with panic attacks. These attacks are generally out of the blue and unexpected making it hard to function properly in public. You may feel fine one minute then panicked and unsafe the next. In these cases the best bet is to get to a place where you feel safe and practice calming breathing techniques.
If you feel as if you are suffering from agoraphobia the best thing you can do is to of course talk to a doctor about treatment options. If you do not want to work with a doctor you can instead find out some anxiety managing techniques that can help you deal with your panic attacks. This may be deep breathing techniques, thinking about calming things, or even your own form of aversion therapy where you expose yourself to the things that scare you in an effort to build up some sort of tolerance. If at any time you feel as if you cannot handle your agoraphobia on your own however, you should seek immediate medical help.
Is Agoraphobia Dangerous?
There have been some debates as to the danger of agoraphobia untreated. While it is nowhere near as dangerous as something like schizophrenia untreated, there have been studies done that indicate that agoraphobia may lead to other disorders like depression and mental instability that can then be dangerous to the person suffering and to the people around them. Often mental disorders do not come in singles, in more cases than not, agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders do lead to secondary issues like depression which can result in suicide, self harm, and even harming others. Any and all disorders should be taken seriously and seeking medical help is the best way to insure that you are getting the help that you need and that you and the people around you are safe and sound. There are professionals that are dedicated to helping those with disorders and admitting you have a problem and seeking help is the best way to insure you are safe and healthy.