What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. You fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd.

Anxiety

The anxiety is caused by fear that there’s no easy way to escape or get help if the anxiety intensifies. Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to worry about having another attack and avoid the places where it may happen again.

Causes agoraphobia

Agoraphobia usually develops as a complication of panic disorder, an anxiety disorder involving panic attacks and moments of intense fear. It can arise by associating panic attacks with the places or situations where they occurred and then avoiding them.

A minority of people with agoraphobia have no history of panic attacks. In these cases, their fear may be related to issues like a fear of crime, terrorism, illness, or being in an accident.

Diagnosing agoraphobia

Speak to your GP if you think you may be affected by agoraphobia. It should be possible to arrange a telephone consultation if you don’t feel ready to visit your GP in person.

Treatment

Agoraphobia treatment can be challenging because it usually means confronting your fears. But with psychotherapy and medications, you can escape the trap of agoraphobia and live a more enjoyable life.

Lifestyle changes may help, including taking regular exercise, eating more healthily, and avoiding alcohol, drugs and drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and cola.

Self-help techniques that can help during a panic attack include staying where you are, focusing on something that’s non-threatening and visible, and slow, deep breathing.

Symptoms

-Leaving home alone
-Crowds or waiting in line
-Enclosed spaces, such as movie theaters, elevators or small stores
-Open spaces, such as parking lots, bridges or malls
-Using public transportation, such as a bus, plane or train

How common is agoraphobia?

In the UK, up to 2 people in 100 have panic disorder. It’s thought around a third will go on to develop agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as men. It usually starts between the ages of 18 and 35.

Prevention

There’s no sure way to prevent agoraphobia. However, anxiety tends to increase the more you avoid situations that you fear. If you start to have mild fears about going places that are safe, try to practice going to those places over and over again before your fear becomes overwhelming. If this is too hard to do on your own, ask a family member or friend to go with you, or seek professional help.

If you experience anxiety going places or have panic attacks, get treatment as soon as possible. Get help early to keep symptoms from getting worse. Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be harder to treat if you wait.

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