Agoraphobia is often misunderstood as being primarily a problem in which people are afraid to leave their houses. Let’s take a look at accurately what agoraphobia is, and using this more accurate definition, the specific behaviors that suggest a person may have agoraphobia.
It may sound redundant to state that agoraphobia is a phobia, yet understanding agoraphobia as a specific type of phobia, makes it much easier to understand the symptoms.
Agoraphobia is often misunderstood to be simply a fear of leaving home; however, this is not quite accurate. Agoraphobia is a phobia of being in a condition where escape would be difficult or impossible, or help would be unavailable if a panic attack should happen.
What Is a Phobia?
A phobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or condition that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance. Unlike the brief anxiety most people feel when they give a speech or take a test, a phobia is long-lasting, causes intense physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your capability to function usually at work or in social settings.
Phobias are divided into three main categories:
Social phobia- More than just shyness, social phobia involves a combination of excessive self-consciousness and a fear of public scrutiny or humiliation in common social conditions. In social situations, the person fears being rejected or negatively evaluated or fears offending others.
Specific phobias– A specific phobia involves an irrational, persistent fear of a specific object or situation that’s out of proportion to the actual risk. This includes a fear of situation (such as airplanes or enclosed spaces); nature (such as thunderstorms or heights); animals or insects (such as dogs or spiders); blood, injection or injury (such as knives or medical procedures); or other phobias (such as loud noises or clowns). There are many other types of specific phobias. It’s not unusual to experience phobias about more than one object or condition.
Fear of open spaces (agoraphobia) – Agoraphobia is a fear of an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside the home alone. The anxiety is caused by fearing no easy means of escape or help if intense anxiety develops.
Essentially a Fear of Panic Attacks
Agoraphobia is often a progressive phobia, and may eventually lead to a fear of leaving the house. However, it is the panic attack, rather than the act of being in public, that is the reason for the fear.
Signs and symptoms of agoraphobia may include:
Panicked feelings: Agoraphobia can become a self-replicating cycle. The sufferer is anxious about having a panic attack which can, in turn, lead to a panic attack. With time, the specific condition which could lead to a panic simplify, leading to a further sense of anxiety, and on and on.
Avoidant behavior: Limiting life activities in an effort to avoid situations where help for a panic attack may not be available is referred to as avoidant behaviors. What initially may be a fear of a panic attack in one specific situation can slowly generalize, sequentially isolating a person.
Clustering: A pattern of the avoided condition is usually present. Common clusters include public transportation; shopping; driving; and leaving home. While early on in the condition, symptoms may cluster around only one of these common “open spaces fears,” with time, anxiety in others often develops as well.
It can be easier to understand the symptoms of agoraphobia if you recognize that the primary fear is of having a panic attack, rather than a specific condition. Hence, anything which could precipitate a panic attack, such as finding yourself in a place in which escape could be difficult, could lead to symptoms.