What is Agoraphobia and How is it Treated?

agoraphobia

What is Agoraphobia and How is it Treated?

Agoraphobia is a mental health condition that causes intense fear and anxiety connected to a place where an escape may be difficult. Sometimes this condition causes people to be afraid to leave their homes in any situation. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “An estimated 0.9% of U.S. adults had agoraphobia in the past year.”[1]

Agoraphobia can make it extremely difficult for someone to complete daily tasks. Due to the anxiety they experience associated with leaving their home or going to certain places, individuals may have a hard time going to the grocery store, doctor’s appointments, or maintaining a social life.

If you or a loved one experiences anxiety or fear associated with leaving your home, know that help is available. Reach out to Florida Recovery Group today to discuss your treatment options.

What Causes Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety condition that causes you to experience intense fear related to becoming overwhelmed or being unable to escape from a place. Oftentimes, this can cause you to avoid new places and situations outside of your home, in crowds, or in a variety of open areas and enclosed spaces.

While researchers are not sure of the exact causes of agoraphobia, it’s often linked to panic disorder. Panic disorder causes frequent and unexpected panic attacks. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, several factors contribute to the development of agoraphobia and panic disorder, including:[2]

  • Genetic and family history of both or either condition 
  • Biological factors 
  • Personality types 
  • Psychological factors 
  • Stressful life events 
  • Environmental stressors

Oftentimes, people who develop agoraphobia have pre-existing panic disorder. The fear of experiencing a panic attack while out of the house might cause an individual to develop the symptoms of agoraphobia, such as avoiding places or situations to prevent themselves from becoming overwhelmed or fearful. 

What are the Symptoms of Agoraphobia?

While everyone experiences anxiety sometimes, agoraphobia causes intense fear and panic when leaving the house or going to a place that causes stress. One of the main signs of agoraphobia is avoiding going places because of fear and anxiety. Many of the symptoms of agoraphobia are similar to a panic attack. 

Someone with agoraphobia might be afraid of:

  • Leaving the home
  • Traveling on public transport 
  • Visiting a shopping center 
  • Going to a large, open area
  • Visiting an enclosed space 

If you or a loved one experience the following symptoms when you are in a space or going to a specific place, you could be struggling with agoraphobia:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chest pain 
  • Fear 
  • Shakiness 
  • Hyperventilation or trouble breathing 
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness 
  • Sudden chills or flushing of the face 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Upset stomach
  • Racing thoughts 

How is Agoraphobia Treated?

Agoraphobia can make it difficult to complete even the most simple tasks, like shopping for groceries or even checking the mail. As a result, people suffering from agoraphobia must receive professional treatment to learn how to cope with anxiety and fear. Oftentimes, treatment for agoraphobia involves a combination of therapy and medication. 

Diagnosis

Before you receive treatment, your mental health provider will want to assess you to determine whether you are struggling with agoraphobia or another type of mental health condition. Getting a diagnosis will help your therapist or psychiatrist decide what route of treatment will best suit your needs.

To receive a diagnosis of agoraphobia, you must experience extreme fear or panic in at least two of the following situations:[3]

  • Using public transportation 
  • Being in an open space
  • Being in an enclosed space like a movie theater or a small store 
  • Standing in line or being in a crowd 
  • Leaving your home alone 

Therapy

After you have been diagnosed with agoraphobia, you will begin attending therapy. Therapy can be done in an outpatient or an inpatient setting depending on your needs. Typically, agoraphobia is treated using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

During CBT, your mental health provider will ask you to imagine situations or places that cause you anxiety. They will provide you with emotional regulation skills and coping mechanisms that you can use to relieve some of your stress. Eventually, you will be able to start practicing these coping mechanisms in real situations until you can successfully attend places that used to cause you to panic. 

Medications

In addition to therapy, you might be prescribed medications to help manage your symptoms. While medication is not necessary to treat agoraphobia, it may be recommended for individuals who experience severe panic attacks that are difficult to cope with using emotional regulation techniques. Most commonly, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat the symptoms of this condition. 

Find Help for Agoraphobia

If you or a loved one struggle with the symptoms of agoraphobia, it’s time to seek professional help. At Florida Recovery Group, our evidence-based behavioral therapy and medication-assisted mental health treatment can help you learn how to cope with your agoraphobia and anxiety symptoms. 

To learn more about our mental health treatment programs, contact Florida Recovery Group today. 

References:

  1. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Agoraphobia, Retrieved July 2023 From https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/agoraphobia
  2. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): Panic and agoraphobia, Retrieved July 2023 From https://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn22/panic_and_agoraphobia.pdf
  3. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Agoraphobia, Retrieved July 2023 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554387/
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