While interpreted as a fear of being outside, agoraphobia is actually a fear of not having control of your setting or those things around you. The situations that trigger an agoraphobe's reactions are never actually dangerous or helpless, but are interpreted as such by the sufferer.
The fears and anxiety that those with agoraphobia go through are so severe that these patients may structure their lives to avoid experiencing them. This causes serious interruptions to their lives and ability to work or go to school.
Stereotypes and Agoraphobia
The popular cliches around agoraphobia typically depict a person who stays isolated in their home or apartment. While this can be the case with some patients, it is only one small sample of what agoraphobia patients go through. Many sufferers do leave their home, but structure their lives around avoiding certain triggers, such as the subway.
Stereotypes can be dangerous and detrimental for any patient with a mental disorder. These stereotypes can make others dismiss or belittle an agoraphobe's experience. Some may even think that patients suffering from this disorder are just whining or too unmotivated to engage with the outside world.
As with any mental disorder, every patient with agoraphobia is unique. Stereotype and the stigma of these stereotypes can make patients self-conscious about getting help. Some patients may even think that since they can leave their place of residence, they are doing "okay". Anyone who believes they may be suffering from agoraphobia should consider seeking help and not compare their experience to others or to cliches.
Phobia & Agoraphobia
There are any number of phobias that can come into play with agoraphobia. Patients can have any one of the following fears in a variety of combinations:
Riding on buses, trains, or subways
Cueing up in crowds
Crowds in general
Wide-open and exposed locations
Small rooms or elevators
Going out alone
Those with agoraphobia can also experience fears and anxieties not on this list.
The Symptoms of Agoraphobia
People who have agoraphobia often also suffer from panic disorders. Panic attacks typically occur when the patient is in a situation in which they feel they have little control. As such, panic attacks and agoraphobia can share multiple symptoms, including:
Labored or rapid breathing
Feelings of anxiety or dread
Increased heart rate
A flushed face
Feelings of impending doom
Stomach problems, including diarrhea or nausea
Emotional symptoms that occur with Agoraphobia include but are not limited to:
Structured avoidance of situations that trigger fear
Excessive dependence on others for easy tasks
Staying emotionally removed from close friends and family
A sense of hopelessness
A mental health professional may recommend treating agoraphobia with therapy, prescription medication, or some combination of the two. One particular type of therapy that often works with agoraphobia patients is exposure therapy.
Exposure therapy involves exposing the patient to their triggers bit by bit. As an example, someone with a fear of leaving their apartment may start by just stepping outside. Eventually, that would progress to a walk down the street. The therapist would oversee the process, helping the patient to see that these simple acts are not inherently dangerous.
Medication can help assuage anxiety during the difficult process of exposure therapy. Medication can be an effective intervention in the short term for patients in these circumstances, but may be necessary in the long term for some patients.