The word "agoraphobia" means a fear of open spaces; however, the essence of agoraphobia is a fear of panic attacks. If you suffer from agoraphobia, you are afraid of being in situations from which escape might be difficult — or in which help might be unavailable — if you suddenly had a panic attack. You may avoid grocery stores or freeways, for example, not because of their inherent characteristics, but because these are situations from which an individual perceives that escape might be difficult in the event of a panic attack. In some cases these particular situations are the places where an individual may have had their first panic attack. Fear of having a panic attack is often accompanied by fear of embarrassment if such an attack occurred in a public place. Most agoraphobics fear not only having panic attacks but what other people will think should they be seen having a panic attack. In summary, I like to think of Agoraphobia as "fear of fear".
It is common for the agoraphobic to avoid a variety of situations. Some of the more common ones include:
- Crowded public places such as grocery stores, department stores, restaurants
- Enclosed or confined places such as tunnels, bridges, or the hairdresser's chair
- Public transportation such as trains, buses, subways, planes
- Being at home alone
Perhaps the most common feature of agoraphobia is anxiety about being far way from home or far from a "safe person" (usually your spouse, partner, a parent, or anyone to whom you have a primary attachment). You may completely avoid driving alone or may be afraid of driving alone beyond a certain short distance from home, i.e., a "safety zone". In more severe cases, you might be able to walk alone only a few yards from home or you might be housebound altogether.
If you have agoraphobia, you are not only phobic about a variety of situations but tend to be anxious much of the time. This anxiety arises from anticipating that you might be stuck in a situation in which you might panic. Because of severe restrictions in your activities and life, you may also be depressed. Depression arises from feeling in the grip of a condition over which you have no control or that you are powerless to change.
Agoraphobia, in most cases, appears to be engendered by panic disorder. At first, you simply have panic attacks that occur for no apparent reason (panic disorder). After a while, though, you become aware that your attacks occur more frequently in confined situations away from home or when you are by yourself. You begin to be afraid of these situations. At the point you actually start to avoid these situations for fear of panicking, you've started to develop agoraphobia. From that point, you might go on to develop a mild, moderate, or severe problem. What causes agoraphobia? Agoraphobia is caused by a combination of heredity and environment. Over 15 million people in the U.S. suffer from agoraphobia. You are not alone!
Agoraphobia is 100% treatable using a variety of strategies! Dr. Ron Rice has over 25 years treating agoraphobia. He even makes "house calls" for those who are "housebound" and unable to come to his office.
Once again, remember that you can overcome agoraphobia with treatment so that you have a more productive, meaningful, and satisfying life. You can do it.