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What is Agoraphobia?
You know those people out there who say they’re not afraid of anything?
Those people are phonies, because we shall all know fear when the time comes for us to kneel before the, say, buzzing chainsaw.
There are normal fears and there are abnormal fears. We call abnormal fears phobias. Phobias are different from normal fears in that they evoke a really pronounced response in the person suffering that fear, so much so that it makes it difficult for them to live their life normally.
The other thing about phobias is they’re unreasonable as far as fear goes. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid of men in ski masks wielding shotguns. That’s a normal fear. Being afraid of party balloons is an unreasonable fear.
Some phobias are extremely specific, almost exquisitely so.
For example, cremnophobia is a fear of cliffs or sheer drop offs, which I get actually. Then there’s scriptophobia, which is a fear of writing in public.
The there’s phobias that are the opportunity of exquisitely specific.
They’re maddeningly vague. They tend to make diagnosing them really, really difficult. Probably chief among these very vague phobias is what’s called agoraphobia.
I’ll bet you have heard of agoraphobia before, but I will also go double or nothing that what you heard is wrong. Agoraphobia is not a fear of crowds, it’s not a fear of wide-open spaces, it’s not a fear of being closed in.
In fact, it’s none of those things, but it can involve all those things. Allow me to explain.
The definition of agoraphobia is a fear of being in a situation or a place where you may experience panic or some other kind of debilitating episode like public incontinence, and as a result will feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.
This may be the queen mother of all phobias. There’s criteria to an agoraphobia diagnosis. You have to have at least two or more of the following fears. You have to be afraid of enclosed spaces, like for example, movie theaters.
You have to be afraid of open spaces like a parking lot or a beach. You have to be afraid of standing in line or being in a crowd. You have to be afraid of being outside of your house without help, and you have to be afraid of using shared transportation of any kind.
There’s criteria to these criteria. You have to experience panic-like symptoms, things like shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, trembling, that kind of stuff, for at least six months.
You have to basically experience these symptoms every time you’re present with the situation or the place that strikes this fear in your heart. Perhaps most troubling of all, this has to all impact your life so much that you’re not capable of living it normally.
That last part is particularly saddening, because as much as 1/3 or more of people with agoraphobia are housebound and unable to work. That number may be even higher. That’s because agoraphobia is notoriously difficult to diagnose.
For example, is the patient afraid of flying because they’re aviophobic, they have a fear of flying? Or is it because they’re afraid of being on an airplane, cut off from help, and being afraid of either panicking or some other horrible situation and feeling embarrassed or helpless or trapped as a result, which would make it agoraphobia?
You can see how this would confuse the diagnostician. Now because the basis typically of agoraphobia is a fear of having a panic attack, it very often develops out of a panic disorder that already exists. Take for instance having a panic attack in an elevator.
You will learn very quickly to avoid those hanging boxes of death. As a result, you will develop agoraphobia at the thought of being in an elevator, trapped, cut off from help, and experiencing some sort of horrible episode.
There is, however, reason for hope. It turns out that medications in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy can work wonders for people with agoraphobia. If you or someone you know is suffering from agoraphobia, seek help because there is help.
If you have agoraphobia or someone you know or love does and have questions, feel free to call and speak to Behavioral Health Counselor.
He or she will be able to answer any questions you might have about treating anxiety disorders like agoraphobia.