Author: Nishaanthini M
This post is neither meant for self-diagnosis nor is it an exhaustive list, information on this post mainly serves to give you an idea about the condition. If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms or signs, please consult a physician for a complete diagnosis involving comprehensive tests.
What is agoraphobia?
The American Psychological Association defines agoraphobia as "an excessive, irrational fear of being in open or unfamiliar places, resulting in the avoidance of public situations (from which escape may be difficult) such as standing in line or being in a crowd.” This is a type of anxiety disorder that is likely to cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment of being in particular places or situations.
How does it affect people?
People who have agoraphobia tend to stay in places that they find safe and comfortable - mostly their homes. What starts as mild anxiety can become severe over time, leading to an extreme fear of being in public or crowded spaces. They might have a hard time visiting any place where they feel they could lose control or embarrass themselves. They may require a companion at these places to feel safe.
Causes and risk factors:
Agoraphobia may develop in people who get panic attacks in public spaces or in certain situations. It makes the individual think that timely help might not be available when a panic attack occurs; hence they start avoiding places they think might trigger similar attacks.
Several factors are also known to increase the risk of developing agoraphobia. These include having:
->Other types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder
->History of traumatic experiences in public spaces
->Substance abuse problems
How is it diagnosed?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM 5) criteria for agoraphobia is -
1.Extreme fear of exposure to two or more of the following scenarios:
d.Waiting in a queue or crowded places
e.Being outside of the home alone
2.The person fears being in any of the above mentioned scenarios because of the belief that help may not be available in case of panic attacks or other incapacitating situations.
3.These scenarios always provoke fear or anxiety and hence are regularly avoided and/or require company.
4.The ill feelings caused by the scenarios is disproportionate to what the scenario might actually cause.
5.The fear, anxiety, or avoidance of the above scenarios
a.has lasted for a period longer than 6 months.
b.causes significant distress to the individual.
c.is excessive in relation to another medical disorder.
d.is not better explained by the presence of another mental disorder, specific phobia, or situational causes.
Agoraphobia can affect the quality of daily life if timely intervention is not provided. If not treated properly, the individual might feel overwhelmed while thinking about going outside and might not even leave their home, thus affecting productivity. It may also lead to other conditions such as depression, alcohol/drug abuse, personality or anxiety disorders, etc.
How can it be treated?
Agoraphobia is treatable. Treatment includes visiting a physician, psychologist, or a psychiatrist in severe cases. These professionals’ treatment methods may involve psychotherapy, medication, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and support groups, among possible others.
Agoraphobia is a relatively common condition that can be treated by visiting a physician or a psychologist. Some self-help tips to overcome agoraphobia include practising relaxation techniques and getting enough exercise. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and recreational drugs can also help. Gradual exposure by facing the fear in a controlled manner could also be a way to overcome agoraphobia.