Do I Have Agoraphobia?
Do you struggle to leave the house without a friend? Are you frightened of what might happen if you get stuck on a busy train or in an elevator on your own? Do you feel a sense of panic at the thought of being left alone or in a large crowd of people? Do you do everything in your power to avoid these situations? If so, it is possible you may be suffering from Agoraphobia.
What is Agoraphobia?
At its simplest, Agoraphobia is a fear of experiencing a panic attack. A known complication of Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia can be described as the anxiety associated with being in a particular situation or place from which escape may be difficult or help may be hard to access if a panic attack does occur. Commonly known as a fear of open spaces, Agoraphobia is actually much wider reaching, and can lead to avoidance of any feared situation, including being alone at home or away from home, being in crowded areas, including shopping centres and even buses, trains and plains, or even being in an elevator or an a bridge.
How can I tell if I have Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is characterised by anxiety or fear about being in places or situations where a panic attack might occur. As with panic attacks and panic disorder, no two people will experience Agoraphobia in the same way. In order to avoid the anxiety, people suffering from Agoraphobia may completely avoid the situation, only enter the situation or place with a companion, or reluctantly endure the situation under duress and with extreme anxiety.
How common is Agoraphobia?
Approximately 2% of the population will experience Agoraphobia in any given year. Agoraphobia tends to be more common in females, and will usually start in their mid to late twenties.
If left untreated, agoraphobia can become a chronic and disabling disorder that can significantly interfere with an individual’s work and social functioning. Like other anxiety disorders, however, agoraphobia responds very well to treatment and successful recovery is seen with a variety of treatment programmes.
What are the Treatment Options?
Because Agoraphobia is based on a fear of panic attacks, similar treatments to those of panic disorder and panic attacks are used.
As always, it is important to consult a Doctor to rule out a medical condition if you suffer anxiety or panic symptoms. Some drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, so it’s best that you let them know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies or recreational drugs that you might be taking. If a medical cause is ruled out, the next step is to see a psychologist who has experience treating anxiety and panic disorders, and more specifically, Agoraphobia.
The specific treatment approach will depend on the severity of the panic attacks, and whether they are happening in tandem with any other depressive or anxiety disorders. Treatment options for Agoraphobia tend to include exposure therapy, cognitive therapy, assertiveness training, group therapy and medication. As with anxiety, panic disorders and panic attacks, Agoraphobia has been found to respond very well to treatment, but the best results are found when people are motivated and willing to make a change to their lifestyle.
Some changes that have been found to reduce the intensity of attacks include:
- Utilising deep relaxation techniques, such as meditation or muscle relaxation
- Regular exercise
- Cutting back on stimulants, such as coffee and alcohol
- Learning to acknowledge and express your feelings, rather than ignoring them
- Using positive self-talk to create a calmer and more accepting attitude
How can we help with Agoraphobia?
At the core of Agoraphobia is the fear of panic attacks, which themselves are a biological fear response. The key to treatment is to develop strategies that help remove this fear so that the attacks no longer have the power to frighten you.
When you come in, your Psychologist will firstly make sure you feel comfortable and supported. They will then gain an understanding from you about how you are feeling and thinking, and what is happening in your life. You will most likely be asked to do some simple tests, and these will help to assess the severity of your Agoraphobia and associated panic attacks, and whether you are suffering any other symptoms of anxiety or depression.
You will also be asked questions to uncover what might be the causes and stressors in your life, and your Psychologist will work with you to devise a treatment plan that will suit you and your lifestyle.
After your initial session, you will have some insight into what the problem is, a plan for therapy for the future, and some initial strategies to help get you started.
If you're concerned about the possibility you may be suffering from Agoraphobia, Anxiety or Depression and would like to see one of our experienced psychologists, contact us today.