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An Overview of Agoraphobia: When Should You Get Help?




Published June 18, 2010 by:


Almost everyone has had or does presently have some type of phobia. Some common phobias people have are of insects, spiders, riding in elevators or escalators. Some people are afraid of airplanes and will avoid flying,  if at all possible. Approximately 19 million people in the US suffer with some kind of phobia. Phobias can interfere with one's life; a common type of phobia that is restrictive is agoraphobia. There are different types of agoraphobia; one is agoraphobia with panic disorder and the other is agoraphobia without panic disorder. This article won't go into detail about the two different types, but generally, agoraphobia with panic disorder generates sudden panic when a person is out of their comfort zone.

What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is characterized by intense anxiety and fear of being in situations and places that are out of your comfort zone. Many people with agoraphobia can leave their homes, but feel anxious and panicky in places and situations away from home. Still, other people with this disorder don't feel comfortable enough to even step outside their homes at all. The feelings associated with agoraphobia can be somewhat circular. Depression may stem from loneliness and loneliness stems from being shut in the home or not being able to get out and enjoy time spent with others.

A person with agoraphobia rarely feels safe and secure in an environment they aren't accustomed to. An individual with agoraphobia may be afraid of elevators, bridges, driving, public transit, airplanes and in shopping malls.

Some phobias start in childhood and are outgrown. Quite often though, people can develop some form of anxiety disorder in their teenage years which may grow into agoraphobia or some other disorder during their lifetime. The progression of agoraphobia could start out innocently enough during childhood. For instance, my daughter developed a phobia of elevators when she was 9 years old. As she grew to adulthood she became fearful of open and confined spaces. She not only was afraid of elevators, but she is afraid of flying and she is afraid of being alone in stores, supermarkets and shopping malls.

The causes of phobias like agoraphobia aren't exactly known. It is believed that some phobias are related to some mental disorders. For instance, a person with agoraphobia may have some type of personality disorder, such as social anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder.

Avoidance of the situations that cause anxiety can interfere greatly with your activities of daily living. Avoidance just reinforces the anxiety associated with agoraphobia. Constantly worrying about avoiding the stress associated with any type of phobia can cause more stress.

If you get anxious when you leave home, or you feel anxiety just thinking about leaving your home, you could have agoraphobia. Even if you can leave your home, but you feel anxious getting out into traffic, in grocery stores or you are fearful of elevators or any public place, you could have agoraphobia.

When should you see a doctor or therapist?

Agoraphobia and other phobias can control every aspect of your life. If your fears are taking over your life, you should get help. Many doctors and therapists believe it is best to face your fear; however it is important to do it in steps. For instance, your therapist may suggest that you let yourself experience the fears associated with agoraphobia in your mind first, before you actually do it. The therapist may suggest that you to pay attention to your level of anxiety as you mentally face your fears. You may, mentally, walk yourself through certain situations a number of times and notice that your anxiety level decreases each time.

My daughter conquered her fear of elevators the same way. She, mentally, rode an elevator several times before actually doing it. When she finally did take her first ride in over 30 years she was surprised that she wasn't scared at all.

Author's note: I have never been diagnosed with agoraphobia, but I do have a fear of driving outside of my comfort zone. I am deathly afraid of driving in traffic, if I am not too familiar with the area. I can drive in an approximate 20 mile radius. If I begin to drive into an area where I am not familiar, I will panic. I am also afraid of driving over bridges. I don't have to be driving. Just being a passenger riding over a bridge can send me into a panic attack. The worst panic attack of my life was when we were riding across the George Washington Bridge in New York City.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/agoraphobia/DS00894

http://www.medicinenet.com/agoraphobia/article.htm
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