Agoraphobia is derived from two Greek words, agora and phobos. It refers to the fear of being in crowded places or an enclosed public place. It is a panic disorder that occurs when the affected individual has the fear of developing a panic attack in a place, from where he/she might not be able to escape.
In reality, these people are scared to go out to places from where they might not get an easy escape, when they wish to leave. For example, people affected by this phobia might be scared to visit the Disco or a dance club. They have a fear that they will never be able to leave the place without drawing any attention towards them.
In other words, these people feel cornered in a social setup. Let us look into some of the symptoms that might be felt by an affected person when he/she encounters such a social situation.
The exact cause is not known. It is believed to be a complication of a panic disorder. It has been observed that people mostly get affected by this phobia between the age of 18 and 30 years. Stressful life events such as physical abuse during childhood, tendency to get nervous, alcohol/substance abuse, etc., could be contributing factors.
Any frightening experience in life that causes deep fear in the affected individual may cause him/her to develop this phobia. People, especially women who have an inherent tendency of panicking or becoming nervous, are more likely to develop this condition.
People affected by this phobia avoid going to the malls, parties, traveling by bus, train or planes, or standing on the bridge. They avoid situations where they might be a part of a crowd. They avoid attending social gatherings. They have a fear that they may never be able to escape the place without embarrassing themselves.
Some of them may not leave their houses for many years due to the fear. They may go out only if they are with a trusted family member or friend. As the fear continues to grip their mind, they become more and more dependent on their caretaker or the trusted aide.
They refuse to go anywhere, if that trusted person is not around. It soon becomes too stressful and embarrassing for both the agoraphobic and the caretaker. The symptoms of this condition can be categorized into physical and emotional symptoms.
- A constant fear of having a panic attack
- The fear of being alone
- Dependency on others like family members or trusted friend
- The fear of losing control and being embarrassed in public
- Fear of being in an embarrassing situation
- Feelings of helplessness
- Avoidance behavior
- Fear of crowds, shopping malls, churches, elevators, or other situations with limited or no option to escape
- Breathing problems
- Racing or rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Pounding in chest, discomfort, and feeling of a crushing weight on chest
- Heaviness in legs
Association with Panic Attacks
This kind of fear may develop due to depression, depersonalization and anxiety. This phobia often develops in combination with panic attacks. When one has this disorder, the person fears that he/she may have a panic attack in a place, from where he/she might not be able to escape. In order to avoid the panic attacks, one starts avoiding more and more places.
Here are some of the symptoms that might be experienced during such panic attacks:
- Chest pain
- Fear of going 'crazy'
- Hot flushes or chills
- Feelings of throwing up
- Shortness of breath
- Fear of being alone
- Feelings of anxiety in difficult situations
- Feeling detached or separated from other people
- Dependency on others
- Inability to leave the house without a trusted helper
The treatment usually involves drug therapy and psychotherapy. Medications that might be prescribed include antidepressants and antianxiety medications. Psychotherapy, which is an important part of the treatment, involves counseling the patient and helping him overcome his/her fears.
During the sessions, the affected person learns and understands the factors that may trigger an episode. The doctor may even try exposure therapy that helps the patient confront his fears. This includes going to the places they fear the most, and traveling by public transport.
What you need to know about agoraphobia is that it is a treatable condition. One can live a free, independent life if the therapy is successful. One needs to fight the fears and overcome them, so as to live a fulfilling life. It is very difficult to confront your fears, but taking even one small step in that direction will make a whole lot of difference.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.