Having some worry at times is not unusual. However, when the fears make you keep away from some places or situations because you think of getting trapped, the chances are that you have agoraphobia. Often, the problem is misconstrued as fear of open spaces. Though this is partly true, in reality, agoraphobia is more complex.
Agoraphobia is caused by intense fear that if anxiety intensifies, there will be no easy way to get help or escape. In this post, we delve deeper into agoraphobia to explore what it is, symptoms, diagnosis, and how to deal with it naturally.
What is Agoraphobia?
The term agoraphobia is derived from the Greek word “agora” that means a marketplace or assembly. It is a type of anxiety disorder that makes a person to fear and avoid situations or places that might make him/her feel trapped, embarrassed, or helpless. The fear is in most of the cases simply anticipated (it exists in the mind). However, it can be real at times.
Often, people develop agoraphobia after suffering panic attacks. These attacks make them start worrying that more severe attacks could develop when they get a similar situation or visit specific places. For example, if a person suffers from panic attacks when driving over a bridge, he might develop the fear every time he approaches a bridge.
People who experience agoraphobia find it very hard to feel safe especially in public places unless they are in the company of friends or relatives. This fear can be so overwhelming that they do not want even to leave home.
Facts about Agoraphobia
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), agoraphobia is listed as an anxiety disorder. The terms for agoraphobia diagnosis changed since 2013 when DSM-5 stated that those suffering from the condition no longer required acknowledging the excessiveness of their anxiety in relation to the phobia. Previously, people were required to have the condition for about six months to get a diagnosis.
The six months duration is now a requirement for all patients to prevent over-diagnosis of fleeting, transient or unrelated fears. Besides, some patients had shown signs of agoraphobia but did not have symptoms of panic attacks. Under DSM-5, agoraphobia and panic disorder are two different diagnoses.
The symptoms of agoraphobia can vary from one person to another depending on the severity of the disorder. For example, in severe cases of agoraphobia, a person might find it difficult to leave the house. But in mild cases, one might still be able to travel short distances without suffering from any problem. Note that many symptoms of agoraphobia might closely resemble those of panic attacks.
- Hyperventilating (rapid breathing).
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Feeling sweaty and hot.
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear).
- Chest pain.
- Feeling embarrassed or stupid when in front of people.
- Being worried that the heart might stop or being unable to breathe.
- Worrying that you will be unable to escape in the case of a panic attack.
- Perception that you will not be able to function without the assistance of a friend or family.
When a person starts manifesting the above symptoms, his/her behavior changes and may depict a number of behavioral changes including the following:
- Being housebound (this is commonly referred to as monophobia).
- Always needing somebody you trust when moving out of the house.
- Avoiding going far from home.
- Keeping away from situations that can cause panic attacks.
Most cases of agoraphobia arise as a complication of panic disorder. This means that many factors that cause panic attacks are also associated with agoraphobia. When the attack takes place in a specific environment, the affected person might associate it with that kind of a situation, place, or event. Then, he might try to avoid it in the future. Here are the main causes of the condition.
- Flight or fight reflex: One of the causes of agoraphobia development is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from dangerous situations (fight or flight). After suffering from panic attacks in the past, your body will want to stay away from anything that can ‘bring’ about similar attack.
- Neurotransmitters: Another factor that is closely associated with agoraphobia is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain that affects mood. This can trigger feeling of panic and make a person fear to go to specific places such as bridges or crowded areas.
- Fear network: This theory suggests that the human brain of a person who suffers from anxiety may be wired differently from others. One part of the brain might have malfunctioned resulting in generation of strong emotions. These emotions could further trigger a panic attack and agoraphobia.
- Spatial awareness: Panic disorders have at times been associated with spatial awareness. Some people suffering from panic disorders have weakened awareness about space. This can result in feeling overwhelmed when in specific places such as overcrowded areas and, trigger panic attacks.
These are psychological factors that heighten the risk of developing agoraphobia.
- Traumatic childhood experience of an event or happening such as the death of a parent or getting sexually abused.
- Going through a very stressful situation such as losing a job, divorce, or bereavement.
- Having a history of mental problems such as anorexia or depression.
- Abuse of drugs and misuse of alcohol.
- Being unhappy about a relationship or having a partner who is controlling.
Can You Suffer Agoraphobia Without Panic Disorder?
In some cases, people can develop agoraphobia even without signs of anxiety or panic attacks. This type of agoraphobia can be caused by a number of irrational fears including the following.
- Fear of being a victim of a terror attack or violent crime if you get out of your house.
- Fearing getting infected by a serious illness if you go to a public place.
- Fearing doing something that will result in embarrassing yourself in front of others.
How to Address Agoraphobia Naturally
If you start noticing signs of agoraphobia, it is important to get a way of addressing it. Here are some of the top methods that you can use to overcome the condition naturally.
Learn and use relaxation techniques
These techniques are considered self-help methods that relief the feelings of anxiety. They can assist to ease tension in your body and keep the mind relaxed. The good thing about relaxation techniques such as yoga is that they can easily be practiced at home.
This is considered a popular coping tactic that is often trained in therapy sessions. It requires you to imagine the triggers and learning how to overcome them. For example, you might be required to imagine yourself in places that trigger panic attacks to learn how to get in control. With time, you will realize that overcoming agoraphobia is not about staying away from the problem, but countering it.
Stress has been cited as a major source of anxiety and agoraphobia. Therefore, reducing it can help to decrease the danger of suffering from anxiety and other mental-related health problems. To reduce stress, you will need to deal with the situations that are causing it. For example, if you have a lot of tasks at your workplace, you will need to get organized to complete. However, if the cause of stress proves too much to address, do not hesitate to seek assistance from an expert.
One of the long term strategies of addressing the agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders is using dietary supplements. Studies have shown that some supplements or nutrients can help to reduce anxiety. Some of these supplements include:
- Green tea.
- Lemon balm.
- Kava kava.
- Valerian root.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
Note that though the supplements have been shown to deliver good results, you will need months of consistent use. Therefore, you should consider using them together with other remedies such as relaxation tactics.
To address the problem of agoraphobia, it might be necessary to review your lifestyle. You should particularly focus on changing your diet to reduce unhealthy foods such as fast foods and carbonated drinks because they have been associated with low blood sugar. Low blood sugar has in some cases been linked to anxieties. Instead, you should go for healthy foods such as fresh veggies, nuts, and whole-grain foods. Other important activities to include in your life include:
- Regular exercises.
- Meeting with positive people especially those who overcame the problem.
- Being positive about personal goals.
The Final Take
Agoraphobia is a devastating disorder that can have debilitating effects in a person’s lifestyle. By making you fear specific places or situations, you are likely to get trapped and find it hard to do some tasks. But the good thing is that agoraphobia, like other anxiety disorders, can be addressed.
Do not let agoraphobia bring your life to a halt! Using the strategies outlined in this post, you can progressively overcome it and make your life more fulfilling, successful, and enjoyable.