Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is defined as the fear of open spaces with the basis of  agoraphobia being the fear of having a panic attack. Agoraphobics are afraid of  being in a place or situation where, should they have a panic attack, escape is  difficult or help is not at hand. It is normal for the sufferer to use avoidance  techniques to help them cope with this disorder.

A list of common situations which are avoided would include:

  • Being home alone
  • Confined places including tunnels, perhaps a cinema or even the dentist’s  chair
  • Crowded public areas such as a restaurant or supermarket
  • Public transport, bus, train or aeroplane

 

It is interesting to note that agoraphobia is the most common of all the  known anxiety disorders. Estimates suggest that one in twenty of the worlds  population suffer from some degree of agoraphobia.

The most recognised feature of this disorder is anxiety about being away from  home (a safe place) or distant from partner, spouse, parent (a safe person).

If you are an agoraphobic you also tend to suffer from anxiety much of the  time. This is anticipatory anxiety, you are anxious that if you were unable to  get away from a situation you would have a panic attack.

Agoraphobia can be mild, you feel uncomfortable in certain situations but do  not go out of your way to avoid them, moderate, you are avoiding public places,  staying close to home etc or in severe cases you may not feel able to leave your  house alone and are unable to visit public places such as restaurants etc.

Because your condition severely restricts your everyday activities it would  not be uncommon to also suffer from depression.

Agoraphobia can affect people from all walks of life with women appearing to  suffer more than men. Agoraphobics may have a close relative, brother, sister or  parent who also suffers from the disorder and it is thought that in identical  twins if one twin has the condition it is likely that the other twin will  develop agoraphobia too.

Methods used to treat agoraphobia include:

  • Exposure therapy – gradually being exposed to your fears
  • Group therapy – it helps to know you are not alone
  • Cognitive therapy – learn to replace harmful thoughts with constructive  ones
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Medication – most popular being SSRIs and possibly low doses of  tranquillisers

 

If you think you or someone close to you is suffering from this disorder then  seek help initially from your family doctor who may decide to refer you to a  specialist in anxiety disorders. There is help available, you do not have to  suffer in silence.

© Andrew Tudor Jones