While some generalize it as a fear of being outside, what agoraphobia actually is is a fear of losing control. Someone with this disorder experiences extreme anxiety when confronted with a situation that triggers them and makes them feel as if they are losing control. Sometimes, this can lead to panic attacks in the individual. Overall, the disorder interferes with a person’s ability to go through daily life.
Myths and misconceptions about disorders such as agoraphobia can cause problems for those with a disorder. These faulty ideas can create a stigma around the disorder or even discourage people from getting help. For this reason, it is important to dispel such misconceptions.
Agoraphobia is different in every individual. While the stereotype is of someone who cannot leave the house, the disorder actually manifests in many different ways. Many agoraphobes do leave their homes, but may get triggered in certain public settings, such as waiting in a crowded line or taking the subway.
Some may feel that their agoraphobia is not “serious” enough to merit treatment. This is one of the most dangerous misconceptions. Anyone experiencing symptoms of agoraphobia that interfere with their daily quality of life should seek treatment and support.
Phobias in Agoraphobia
Patients with agoraphobia often experience one or more phobias. Phobias present in agoraphobia can include:
- Fear of public transportation, including bus, train, and subway transportation
- Fear of standing in lines
- Fear of crowds
- Fear of open spaces
- Fear of small or crowded spaces
- Fear of traveling or going out alone
- Fear of elevators
This list is not comprehensive. There are still other phobias a patient may experience. Each patient has their own unique experience with the disorder.
Symptoms in Agoraphobia
Those with agoraphobia may experience a wide range of symptoms. Some of these symptoms are similar to those experienced by patients with panic disorders. Those with agoraphobia often experience panic disorders as well. Symptoms of agoraphobia can include:
- Excessive perspiration
- Difficulty breathing
- Experiencing profound dread or anxiety
- Increased heart rate
- Flushing in the face
- Feelings of impending death or doom
- Stomach trouble
Agoraphobia can also come with emotional symptoms that can be harder to spot. These can include:
- Avoiding settings that trigger phobias
- Depending on others for easy tasks
- An apathetic or detached demeanor
- Feeling hopeless
As with many mental health disorders, agoraphobia can be treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of both. Exposure therapy is the form of therapy that often works best for agoraphobia patients.
In this type of therapy, a patient is exposed to triggers of their agoraphobia in a slow and carefully monitored way. The therapist might ask a patient to take one step down the subway stairs, for example, if they are afraid of public transportation. After that, the patient would discuss what happened with the therapist in session, focusing on the fact that no great trauma had in fact occurred. The patient might then return to take two steps, and so on.
Prescribing medication during exposure therapy can help the patient. Medication can ameliorate certain symptoms as they work to face their triggers.