Many people have the mistaken belief that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces. While this is a common component of the disorder, it is not actually the entire problem. Agoraphobia is actually a phobia of being stuck in a situation which it is difficult to escape from, should things go wrong. This means that the person may be anxious about leaving the house, visiting busy public areas or traveling on public transport.
In most instances, agoraphobia is a complication of panic disorder. A panic attack can be overwhelming and frightening, and the sufferer may avoid situations where they have previously had an attack. Since a panic attack can also occur out of the blue and with no apparent trigger, the person may also become generally fearful of having an attack away from the safety of home – particularly if the attack was to happen in public and cause embarrassment. In a third of cases, people who suffer from panic attacks become so anxious about this that they develop agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia can trigger further panic attacks if the person finds themselves in a situation which causes them anxiety. The symptoms of this can include hyperventilation (rapid breathing), a racing heartbeat, feeling sweaty and too hot, and feeling nauseous. It can take anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours for a person to recover from a panic attack.
Treating Panic Disorder And Agoraphobia
Since there is such a strong link between agoraphobia and panic disorder, treating the panic attacks will normally help a person to recover from their agoraphobia as well. Because the causes of the disorder are normally psychological, therapy is the preferred way to treat it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the form of therapy supported by most doctors, as it has the highest success rate. Since anxious thoughts – which are often irrational – can trigger or perpetuate a panic attack, the therapist will help people to become more aware of these thought processes and help them to replace them with more helpful ways of thinking. It can take many weeks or months of CBT to successfully control a panic disorder or agoraphobia, but the relapse rate is relatively low.
In recent years, relaxation training has also become popular as it can be just as effective as the CBT approach. This technique uses the link between body and mind to help the patient to develop coping strategies. The idea is that if a person relaxes certain muscles when they feel tense or anxious, then their mood will be become more relaxed as well. A person will normally require 12 to 15 sessions to master relaxation training.
Sometimes, a doctor may feel that the patient needs medication to control the symptoms in addition to psychological therapies. This will allow the patient to cope with daily life a little better, while they learn to overcome the psychological aspects of their panic attacks and agoraphobia.
Although panic attacks and agoraphobia can make life very difficult, most people can resume a normal life through support from their doctor.