Understanding Agoraphobia

Understanding Agoraphobia. Woman having an anxiety or nervous attack in the middle of a crowd

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of situations or places that may leave a person feeling trapped, helpless or embarrassed. This is such as being in any open space, crowded area or traveling on public transport.

Someone with agoraphobia will try to avoid places or situations where they consider they might develop their uncomfortable, painful and often overwhelming feelings – and be unable to escape. 

The word “agoraphobia” derives from the Greek word “agora,” which means “place of assembly, marketplace;” and “phobia,” meaning “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic manual used by most mental health professionals in the US, two types of agoraphobia are included. These are panic disorder with agoraphobia, and agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder.

For some people with agoraphobia, even leaving their house can be very challenging. While this is not the case for everyone, agoraphobia is a debilitating condition that can have a significant negative impact on a person’s life.

How many people are agoraphobic?

It’s difficult to estimate the number of people suffering from agoraphobia because many people with the condition will never be diagnosed or seek treatment. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition throughout the world, affecting an estimated 301 million people (including 58 million children and adolescents). 

While not all these people have agoraphobia, it’s likely that a significant percentage of them do have at least some symptoms of agoraphobia. Anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia, are also the most common mental health condition in America – affecting around a third of adults at some point in their life.

Some research indicates that an estimated 1.3 percent of American adults experience agoraphobia at some time in their lives. Just over 40 percent of agoraphobia cases are considered severe.

Around 0.9 percent of American adults had agoraphobia in the past year. That is more than two million people.

Agoraphobia most frequently has an onset age of between 25 and 30 and is two times more likely in women than in men.

Some celebrities have spoken about or been reported to have struggled with agoraphobia. These include Michael J. Fox, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder and Woody Allen.

What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a condition that has both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms include:

The Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling hot and sweaty
  • Panic attacks
  • Tinnitus
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness

Psychological symptoms include:

Image of a woman sitting on a bed, alone in the room.  Agoraphobia concept.
  • Anxiety (including anticipation of anxiety if required to leave their safety zone)
  • Feelings of dread
  • A sense of being out of control 
  • A feeling of detachment from surroundings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Depression

These symptoms can cause agoraphobics to withdraw from college, work, social life, and can even make basic daily tasks such as shopping seem impossible to do. This frequently leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Agoraphobia often occurs alongside other anxiety disorders or depression. It can mean someone is more likely to drink alcohol excessively or turn to substances in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms (although this can make symptoms worse).

What causes agoraphobia?

It can be difficult to pinpoint a single cause. Agoraphobia is believed by many mental health experts to result from an interaction of psychological, biological, and environmental factors.

Some research has suggested there may be a genetic component to agoraphobia as people with a family history of anxiety disorders or panic attacks seem more likely to develop the condition. Or it could be that someone’s “family blueprint” tends towards outlooks and responses that are driven by anxious thinking.

Someone with panic disorder might avoid places or situations where they fear a panic attack could occur – which can lead to agoraphobia. Likewise, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other anxiety disorders can increase the risk of a person developing agoraphobia.

Certain environmental factors have been seen to increase the risk of developing agoraphobia. This could be such as a difficult job, a traumatic experience or a stressful life event.

Certain personality traits, such as introversion, neuroticism, and shyness may also increase the risk of developing agoraphobia. As well, abusing alcohol and drugs can cause paranoia, panic attacks, increased anxiety levels – and consequently at least be partly behind agoraphobia developing in someone.

What treatment is available for agoraphobia?

The good news is that agoraphobia is a treatable condition. Frequently, it is alleviated with a combination of therapy and medication, which usually involves antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

Therapies can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs. This is one of the most effective forms of talk therapy for those suffering with anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia.

Group therapy support

Exposure therapy is another treatment often used to treat agoraphobia. This is when, in a safe and controlled environment, people are slowly exposed to the places or situations they fear in order to gradually build their self-confidence and resilience.

Self-help strategies such as relaxation techniques, positive self-talk, and exercise have also been shown to be effective in managing agoraphobia. 

Support groups can also be helpful for agoraphobics, including online chat groups. Sharing experiences in a safe, trusting space, with others who understand, can provide much needed support and help limit feelings of loneliness.

Treatment at Tikvah Lake

It’s essential that anyone suffering from agoraphobia seeks help from a professional with expertise in it. With the right treatment and support, those with agoraphobia can learn how to effectively manage their symptoms and regain their quality of life and independence.

Tikvah Lake Recovery offers a wide range of evidence-based treatments designed to help people overcome all types of mental health conditions, including agoraphobia. Each of our guests is offered fully personalized treatment that includes one-on-one therapy every day.

With specialized luxury treatment at our Recovery Center, you can heal in a serene and tranquil environment, free from the distractions of everyday life. Our comprehensive programs, coupled with holistic healing techniques, offer a path to restoration for even the most severe cases.

As our guests are those seeking high-end treatment, privacy is mutually respected by everybody and your stay at Tikvah Lake Recovery is completely confidential.

Our friendly team of experts has helped people for many years to achieve long-lasting recovery and well-being. Call us today to speak in confidence about how we can help you or someone you know.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment