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What Is Agoraphobia?

What is Agoraphobia? When does this happen in your life? What does it feel like? What are some causes? When does it show up? How does it affect us? What are the results of this? Lets YAC about it!

agoraphobia infographic
 
Defined by the Mayo Clinic:
Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) 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.

So.. What Does This Mean?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not simply the fear of open or overcrowded spaces. Agoraphobia is the fear of having a lack of control and no escape when in certain situations whether it's an elevator by yourself, a bus during rush hour, or your school hallways. People with Agoraphobia often experience panic attacks when they're in a place they feel trapped or helpless, however not every individual who's diagnosed experiences this or panic disorder. Essentially you build up irrational fears surrounding certain events and places where often some sort of anxiety or trauma has already occurred.

What Causes Agoraphobia?
There is no known cause for Agoraphobia, but researchers point to a few factors that could contribute to the diagnosis. These include things like environmental factors, whether you've experienced trauma or abuse before, or had substance abuse issues, also any different learning experiences you've been exposed to. The biological make-up of your brain also appears to play a role, with limited research, it appears the part of your brain responsible for fear may be genetically different than those without Agoraphobia. Individuals with family members who have panic disorders are also more likely to develop Agoraphobia. If you are already experiencing other mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and/or depression, you could be more susceptible to developing Agoraphobia.

What Are The Symptoms?
Doctors typically diagnose Agoraphobia based on you having the intense fear of two or more of the following:
  • 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
  • Fear or anxiety almost always results from exposure to the situation

If these symptoms exist, it often means:

  • Your fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation
  • You avoid the situation, you need a companion to go with you, or you endure the situation but are extremely distressed
  • You experience significant distress or problems with social situations, work or other areas in your life because of the fear, anxiety or avoidance
  • Your phobia and avoidance usually lasts six months or longer
However, generally when someone with Agoraphobia is in a situation they fear they often exhibit symptoms of panic attacks which can look like:
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble breathing or a feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Feeling shaky, numb or tingling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Sudden flushing or chills
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Fear of dying
    How Is It Treated?
    Agoraphobia is treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. As for most mental illnesses, the mix of both treatments at any given time can have a much better success rate. Different types of psychotherapy may be used, however, its often Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that works to calm symptoms and ease those once feared situations for people with Agoraphobia. Over time, CBT can actually help to change the pathways in your brain to help limit anxiety and fearful thoughts. You might be wondering - if someone with Agoraphobia fears leaving their home alone, how can they seek treatment? This is when a support system is advantageous for working through your mental illness, also some therapists may be willing to offer in-house, online, or over the phone treatment while symptoms are heightened. Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can also be effective in treating Agoraphobia, in fact, one in three people go on to live symptom-free lives with combined treatment. It is important to note, with any anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication it can take up to six weeks to notice any improvements or results. You may also have to try taking different medications a few times before finding the one that works best for you. 

    Let's YAC About It!
    It's time to break down the barriers and end the stigma surrounding mental health. If you live with mental illness or just want to chat, our comments and inboxes are always open. We strongly believe in the value of sharing our experiences + stories in hopes even one person knows they're not alone. This blog is an introduction to a two-part series, the second part will introduce all sorts of resources and ways to find the help you need. Thank you again for everyone who got to this point- and again, don't be afraid to YAC about it!

    Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and are not able to provide licensed medical advice. This is a platform to relay information and share about mental illness. 

    Sources:
    1. Timothy J. Legg, C. (2017). Agoraphobia: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and outlook. Medical News Today. Retrieved 2 August 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/article

    2. Agoraphobia Management and Treatment | Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved 2 August 2019, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15769-agoraphobia/management-and-treatment

    3. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, M. (2019). Agoraphobia Treatment, Definition & Causes. MedicineNet. Retrieved 2 August 2019, from https://www.medicinenet.com/agoraphobi

    4. Agoraphobia: Types, Causes, and Symptoms. (2019). Healthline. Retrieved 2 August 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/health/agorap

    5. Agoraphobia - Symptoms and causes. (2019). Retrieved 2 August 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/agoraphobia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355987


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