Contributed by – Healthians team
Going to a crowded grocery store or standing in a queue is a scary prospect for most of us right now because of the fear of coronavirus, a fear that is reasonable and rational. There are, however, some people who have an irrational fear of open spaces, standing in lines, or being in crowded places to the extent that they might deny leaving the comfort of their homes at any cost, and this fear has been identified as a specific type of anxiety disorder called agoraphobia. Here we examine what is agoraphobia and whether or not it can be treated.
What is agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia means an extreme fear of being in an environment where escape may seem difficult. Most of us feel a bit anxious when surrounded by a very larger number of people or while being along in huge open spaces. However, a phobia is when someone has extreme fear and would rather choose to avoid such a situation altogether. They may panic when they have to navigate through a busy grocery store or their heart may race when they are in any crowded area.
Agoraphobia has been identified as an anxiety disorder. It’s a psychological condition that causes excessive worrying and nervousness. However normal these emotions seem, in people with anxiety disorders, they can be overwhelming to the extent that their daily life gets disturbed. People with agoraphobia may have fear of open spaces, fear of crowded areas, or fear of leaving the house and such situations may make them feel embarrassed, helpless, or threatened.
What causes agoraphobia?
Researches are still working to identify the root cause of agoraphobia. But it has been established that someone who has a history of panic attacks is at a greater risk of developing agoraphobia. A sudden episode of extreme fear caused by a feeling of imminent danger is a panic attack. Sometimes agoraphobia may occur on its own as well.
Some Agoraphobia symptoms
Symptoms of agoraphobia can be physical, behavioural, and cognitive. Below is a list of physical agoraphobia symptoms that can occur in an individual, many of these symptoms are similar to panic attack symptoms.
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heart rate
- Feeling numb
- Chest pain
- Upset stomach
Behavioural symptoms of agoraphobia would be those when a person would avoid situations where they might feel anxious or helpless. Moreover, cognitive symptoms are those thoughts and feelings that occur in relation to an attack – that the person is losing sanity, that they would look stupid or people would stare etc.
How is agoraphobia diagnosed?
Health assessment by a healthcare professional, ordinarily within the field of psychiatry can help in the diagnosis of agoraphobia. The doctor may assess your symptoms and order various medical tests like this one to rule out other conditions that could potentially be causing the symptoms.
Diagnosis of agoraphobia is based on the presence of extreme anxiety or fear of at least two of the below situations:
- Public transportation
- Open spaces
- Enclosed spaces
- Being in the crowd
- Being outside of the home
Can agoraphobia be treated?
The treatment of agoraphobia is usually based on therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Research suggests that a combination of medication and therapy is the best course of treatment for long-lasting results.
To help reduce the severity of anxiety symptoms, antidepressants might be prescribed. But, the fact that antidepressants do not start working immediately, should be noted. To show results, they must be built up in the body over a few weeks.
Besides, another way to help a person challenge their anxious thoughts is cognitive therapy. The therapist helps the person to recognize the thoughts of anxiety and teach them ways to react to those thoughts. The therapist may also teach stress management and relaxation techniques to reduce fear and anxiety. To help the individual gradually learn to manage their anxiety in situations that cause fear, exposure therapy is also frequently used. In addition, peer support groups can prove beneficial as they can help them gain the courage to manage anxiety and fears.
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