Agoraphobia

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. It causes an intense level of fear of being in places where it would be difficult to escape, or where it might not be possible to get help.

Those who suffer with agoraphobia may be afraid of being outside on their own, and they may be afraid of bridges and crowds.

The fear that is caused by agoraphobia can be anticipated or real. You may, for example, be afraid of being or thinking of being in an enclosed or an open space, using public transportation, or even standing in line.

Often, individuals will find it difficult to feel safe in public places, particularly if those places are crowded. They may feel the need to have a companion with them. For some, the fear is so intense that they are unable to leave home.

What are the Symptoms of Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia can produce several fears, such as the fear of finding yourself alone, of finding yourself in a crowded place, of losing your control while in public, and of being in an enclosed place where it might be difficult to leave (such as a train or elevator).

You may feel helpless, overly dependent upon others, and unable to leave your home unless you are with someone.

A lot of people who suffer with agoraphobia actually develop the disorder after they have experienced one or more panic attacks.

Symptoms of a panic attack include

A rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, sweating excessively, feeling tingling, numb, or shaky, chest pressure or pain, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, sudden chills or flushing, diarrhea or upset stomach, a loss of control, and fear of dying.

Agoraphobia Causes

Agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of public places, is a condition with a variety of causes. People may develop the condtion as children due to abuse or bullying, but others will develop it at a much later age as a result of trauma. Agoraphobia may be a standalone condition or the result of another more serious condition. There are many examples of people with post traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia developing agoraphobia as a result of their diseases.

Both environmental and genetic factors are involved in agoraphobia. Genes involved in the production of dopamine and testosterone play a major role in agoraphobia. However, experiences are known to be important as well. It is this combination that gives rise to the condition and determines how severe the symptoms are for each given individual.

How is Agoraphobia Treated?

Agoraphobia is generally treatable.

Treatment includes

Treatment that combines medication (anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants used for the treatment of panic disorder) with psychotherapy can help you overcome your fear and cope with the symptoms associated with agoraphobia.

Therapy

The two main stages of therapy generally consist of learning how to cope with panic attacks/anticipatory fears and gradual exposure to the situations that trigger anxiety or panic.

Agoraphobia Prevention

Preventing agoraphobia relies on parenting and schooling. Most agoraphobes develop the disorder as children. For parents, the most important thing to do is to let kids play outside and interact with others. This will help them avoid their fear of others and learn to accept public spaces. Additionally, more action is needed in school systems to confront bullies and cliques. These factors can discourage children from forming bonds with each other and learning to confront their fears.

Outside of social factors, there are a number of other factors to control. Agoraphobia is strongly linked to high levels of stress hormones and can easily be stirred by excessive stress. Cortisol, a hormone produced during the experience of fear, is higher in isolated individuals. Agoraphobes who experience regular social interaction are less likely to have high levels of cortisol than those who do not. Increasing the social interaction of those who are at risk of this anxiety disorder can prevent it from ever arising.

Resources
Last Reviewed:
September 11, 2016
Last Updated:
June 08, 2018