Agoraphobia

Teresa says that several years ago she was attacked by her cousin and felt he was trying to kill her, an experience that left her traumatized. One year after the alleged incident, Teresa says she began to feel panicked when she left her house. Her condition quickly devolved to the extent that she could no longer go to work.

“When I think about leaving here, the panic takes over,” Teresa says.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Victoria Boccanfuso, Teresa suffers from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder characterized by an intense and irrational fear of being in crowded or enclosed places and the avoidance of places or situations from which escape might be difficult or impossible. 

“Agoraphobia is something that your brain has created as a survival mechanism,” Dr. Boccanfuso explains. “But what your brain has done to protect you is create this anxiety about being outside your home.”

Causes

According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals with an underlying anxiety or panic disorder, or those who have experienced a stressful life event, are more likely to develop agoraphobia.

Common symptoms:

  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of crowded places
  • Fear of loss of control, especially in public
  • Fear of places that might be difficult to leave, such as elevators or public transports
  • An inability to leave one’s home
  • Feeling of helplessness

Additionally, people suffering from agoraphobia may experience symptoms of a panic attack, including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Upset stomach
  • Fear of dying

Treatment

Agoraphobia is often treated with antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. Additionally, Dr. Boccanfuso explains that there are three essential elements to treating the condition: the motivation to want to get better, understanding the role you play in feeding the phobia, and having a strong support network for encouragement.

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