Overcoming Agoraphobia

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What does Agoraphobia mean to you? Many people assume that agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces but it’s more complex than this.

Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.

Most of us feel some anxiety at different times in our lives, however, it becomes a problem if you feel so anxious that it interferes with your normal day-to-day activities and general wellbeing. That said, anxiety is a very treatable condition and there are many lasting ways to manage and overcome it. 

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Complex problem

 A person with agoraphobia may be fearful of:

  • Visiting a shopping centre
  • Leaving home
  • Being in crowds or public places
  • Travelling alone on buses, trains or planes

Agoraphobia can often lead to a change in behaviour where a person with the condition will avoid situations that may cause them anxiety. It is estimated that probably 1% of the population suffer agoraphobia that causes significant impairment to their daily functioning and about 5% suffers from varying degrees of agoraphobia.

It can greatly limit a person’s daily activities such as visiting family, going to school or work and also running errands. Depending on how severe the agoraphobia is, without treatment people can become housebound for a great length of time.

Anxiety disorder

Although often confused with social phobia – the inability to communicate well in work or in social situations, Agoraphobia is a stand-alone anxiety disorder. In some cases social phobia may be a contributor to agoraphobia, but it is important to remember that these are two separate disorders with different symptoms. Agoraphobia typically occurs in association with prolonged panic disorders or anxiety issues. It is estimated that 1 in 9 individuals will suffer an anxiety disorder just like agoraphobia over their lifetime.

Those living with agoraphobia tend to spend all of their time in their own home, or in places that are comfortable in. Agoraphobia may also cause panic attacks, especially if the person either has to go outside or thinks about the idea of being in an area that doesn’t have an immediate exit.

“It’s just I realized when I started going outside,It felt like the buildings were going to eat me”

-Macaulay Culkin

Symptoms

Agoraphobia symptoms include:

  • Overdependence on others
  • Inability to leave your house or only able to leave it if someone else goes with you
  • Fear of losing control in a public place
  • Fear of being in places where it may be hard to leave, (e.g. elevator, train)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feeling of helplessness/need to escape
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Shortness of breath and light-headedness.
  • Dizziness
Treatment

Treatment types depend on what is causing the agoraphobia, (e.g. whether or not they have agoraphobia with or without panic attacks.)  An approach proven to be successful when treating agoraphobia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to break the vicious cycle of panic, anxiety, avoidance, fear and depression. While helping the person to achieve greater confidence in facing what they fear.

Another form of therapy that has been found effective in managing agoraphobia includes self-exposure. This form of therapy includes the person imagining or putting themselves into situations that cause increasing levels of agoraphobic anxiety, and using relaxation techniques in each situation in order to overcome their anxiety.

Self-help

There are also some self-help techniques proven to be effective that can be followed during an attack to help get emotions under control:

  • Stay where you are
  • Focus
  • Breathe deeply and slowly
  • Challenge your fear
  • Creative visualisation
  • Don’t fight an attack

“Now I wake up and enjoy life. I wanted to face everything I was afraid of’’

– Kim Basinger

At MyMind, we not only offer face-to-face therapy but also online sessions via video chat. 

The online or e-therapy option can be an important and useful factor for people experiencing agoraphobia by encouraging them to take that first step in overcoming their issues. This approach allows the person to talk to a therapist in the comfort of their own home and when they feel ready to do so.

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