The term agoraphobia has been widely misunderstood. It is literally defined as a fear of “open spaces”. Agoraphobics, however, are not necessarily afraid of open spaces. Rather, these individuals are terrified of experiencing panic attacks, wherever these attacks may occur. Sometimes, panic symptoms occur at home, in houses of worship, or in crowded stores, places that are not typically considered “open”. Agoraphobia occurs when sufferers begin to avoid spaces or situations associated with these attacks.
Typical “phobic situations” might include driving, shopping, crowded places, traveling, standing in line, being alone, meetings, social gatherings or other situations. Because of fear, the agoraphobic avoids the place or situation, endures it with distress, or requires someone else to accompany them. Agoraphpboa is both an an internal anxiety condition and a faulty thinking process that causes the sufferer to fear going anywhere or doing anything where these feelings have occurred before. They are particularly vulnerable in those situations from which it might be difficult to escape should they have a panic attack. In agoraphobia, these fears become so debilitating that the person is unable to leave what is perceived as the safety of their home.
Once panic attacks have started, the actual attacks themselves become the ongoing stress, and significant emotional energy gets expended trying to avoid the feared situation. This vicious cycle actually increases the frequency of panic attacks and general discomfort.
Treatment for agoraphobia often includes both psychotherapy and medication. Treatment may involve psychiatric medications and carefully targeted cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. Most commonly prescribed medications include SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Meditation, yoga and other self-soothing techniques may help the individual cope more effectively with their symptoms.
More information about agoraphobia, panic disorder and other related anxiety disorders may be obtained by contacting any of the resources listed below.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
8730 Georgia Ave., Suite 600
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy (AABT)
305 7th Avenue, 16th floor
New York, NY 10001
Freedom from Fear
308 Seaview Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10305
Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Rm. 12-105 Parklawn Building
Rockville, MD 20857
National Institute of Mental Health
Office of Communications
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Toll Free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)