Agoraphobia is a label given to anxiety or panic disorders which hinder sufferers’ abilities to travel away from home or to specific places. In extreme cases the sufferer is housebound, unable even to visit their front garden. In other, more common cases, sufferers have a morbid fear of crowded shopping centres, or traveling alone to unfamiliar places. The label is not important, but if you or someone you know has problems getting out and about due to anxiety or panic attacks then read on.
There are three main criteria used for the diagnosis of agoraphobia.
- Firstly, the sufferer experiences anxiety about being in a location which
maybe difficult or embarrassing to escape from. Such places might well include crowded shopping malls or other places where help seems far away.
- Secondly, the sufferer avoids these places (supermarkets, public transport etc) for fear of having and anxiety or panic attack and not being able to escape.
- Thirdly, the symptoms can not be better explained by any other physical or psychological disorder, such as thyroid problems.
Often, the biggest fear of an agoraphobic is having a panic attack, and agoraphobia often goes hand in hand with panic disorder. Other situations which bring on agoraphobia or panic attacks are commonly: being away from home, standing in a queue at a supermarket, using public transport, driving on motorways or freeways, and visiting the cinema.
Some people who suffer from agoraphobia feel that they can only go to certain places if accompanied by a trusted friend or relative. This dependence on others can be an important part of the condition and should be a major focus of therapy.
Can you cure Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia can be very severe, leaving people housebound for years. But this is rare, and in any event agoraphobia, like all phobias, is treatable. People
have frequently gone from being largely housebound to travel the world. You
can recover, too.
Agoraphobia is often treated by drug therapy, which usually involves a Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitor (SSRI) such as Prozac or Celexa (or other, more modern anti-depressants). These drugs have been shown to have a strong anti-anxiety and anti-panic disorder effect.
Tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax may be prescribed for short term relief, however these are not normally suggested for long term as they are habit-forming and addictive.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is also used as a treatment of choice, sadly this
is not always available on health insurance in countries which don’t have national health services and is often vastly over-stretched where it is available. The best option for those that can afford it is to go to a private, well-certified,
In might be tempting to visit a psychoanalyst in the belief that you have deep routed and hidden fears. Agoraphobia, however, is unlikely to respond to psychotherapy or hypnoanalysis. I would recommend you save your money.
Am I Agoraphobic
Some people may have a specific phobia rather than agoraphobia if for instance the anxiety response and avoidance is related only to one situation, such as crowds or trains. Some other people feel anxious due to being around people as opposed to being in any particular situation. If that sounds like you then maybe you should investigate social phobia rather than agoraphobia.
How is agoraphobia treated? Firstly you should be aware that a complete recovery from agoraphobia is completely possible. While some people struggle with agoraphobia for many years it doesn’t have to be that way. So what’s the difference between those that have success and those that don’t? Simple, the successful ex-agoraphobics were committed and motivated and were prepared to turn detective and really hunt down a solution to their issues. The best place to start (having spoken to your doctor) is almost definitely with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT allows you to get your thoughts into perspective, and when you can better understand and control your thoughts your body will relax more and more. Your therapist will also help you plan a framework to gently expose and desensitize yourself to the outside world. Often it is a good idea to try and change your relationship with your anxious or panicky feelings. In the past you have maybe been scared of them, gone to great lengths to avoid them. Many agoraphobics are most scared of anxiety and panic attacks themselves, so by removing some of the fear of the symptoms much of the problem can be solved. In reality anxiety and panic attacks are harmless and always subside. Many people manage to relax into them or float through them and find that the less they care about them the less they happen. It’s easy to say but the actual “doing” comes with practice surprisingly quickly. The seminal works of Dr Claire Weekes are a great place to start.
A word should be said about trying to find the root of your phobia. The professional community are divided. Many seem to think that the root cause is now irrelevant, that you probably dealt with that long ago and are now left with a learnt response which can be unlearned. Others believe that while that may be true in some cases it is not true in others. Often people recovering from anxiety have setbacks. These are natural, normally short, and nothing to lose sleep over. For some people though recovery is fraught with setbacks and this can be a sign that an underlying issue is still to be dealt with.
If the root cause can be dealt with fully then either your anxiety and phobia will lift, or the desensitization process will become a whole lot easier.