Anxiety can come in many forms and can affect people’s lives in different ways. A more severe type of anxiety disorder can occur in the form of agoraphobia which can seriously inhibit a person’s ability to function. People with agoraphobia have numerous symptoms including panic attacks that can make it difficult for them to go about their daily lives.
Agoraphobia is a condition in which a person avoids certain activities and places because of an intense fear of being unsafe. These places can include open spaces, public transportation, airplanes, shopping malls or even simply leaving their own home. They might even be places or activities that the person enjoyed in the past before their symptoms started to develop and caused them to react differently.
People with agoraphobia frequently experience panic attacks when they are in a situation that makes them feel afraid. Naturally they feel inclined to avoid the places and situations where they know a panic attack will be triggered. However, it is this avoidance that can perpetuate the problem and make it harder for them to recover.
Avoidance of specific places can intensify a person’s feelings of fear about them and make their symptoms worse in some cases. People with agoraphobia need to overcome some of their anxiety by gradually being exposed to the places that make them feel afraid. They must learn how to manage their fear and their panic attacks so that they can eventually increase their comfort level in the situations that they normally avoid.
People tend to develop agoraphobia when they have panic attacks and start to believe that there are certain safe zones where their attacks will not occur. They might feel safe inside their home and identify specific public places as the cause of their feelings of panic. Someone who suffers from agoraphobia will usually try to limit their activities and stick to their “safe zones” as often as possible.
Agoraphobia can sometimes be compounded with a fear of social embarrassment which may be one of the reasons why public spaces trigger panic attacks. Mostly though an agoraphobic person fears places where they have had panic attacks in the past and are worried that they will experience them again. When there is an environment where they feel unsafe or have little control over the situation they will go to great lengths to avoid having to be there.
Even though people imagine an agoraphobic person as someone who can never leave the house, this only occurs in the most extreme cases. People with agoraphobia can often still go to work and school unless their symptoms worsen and their safety zone begins to shrink.
How Agoraphobia Can be Treated
The cycle of agoraphobia is that the more you avoid the places you are afraid of, the more your anxiety increases. An agoraphobic person will feel better by staying in their safe zone but it does nothing to resolve the underlying issue. In order to treat agoraphobia, a patient will need to learn how to face their panic attacks and manage the symptoms instead of going to great lengths to prevent them from occurring.
Learning to deal with feelings of panic can be difficult and it is best done with the help of a professional therapist or treatment program that specializes in agoraphobia. A therapist can help you to understand that although panic feels like you are experiencing danger, in most cases you are not in a dangerous situation. Understanding that panic attacks themselves are not dangerous and that they do not indicate any danger is the first step in treating agoraphobia.
Agoraphobic people rely on many safety behaviors to help them cope with situations they find scar. They might rely on a support person or certain objects that help them feel safer. Their safety behaviors tend to perpetuate their fear and must be gradually eliminated. Their tendency to avoid can also be a safety behavior that can be reduced over time.
People suffering from agoraphobia may find it intimidating to re-enter situations in which they have had panic attacks in the past. They may believe that treatment means eliminating their fears and feelings first and then going back to these situations. However, the only way to truly reduce their fears is to learn to manage them while they are happening.
Handling fear requires real life practice using strategies learned from a therapist to minimize the symptoms of a panic attack. You can learn breathing exercises or tools such as grounding yourself by noticing your surroundings or any number of other tactics. Your therapist can help guide you to gradually face the places and activities that you fear.
If you suffer from agoraphobia, you can overcome your symptoms if you seek professional treatment from a qualified therapist or a treatment center in your area.