Agoraphobia is a mental health condition that involves fear, anxiety, and apprehension. This condition is classified as an anxiety disorder and is related to panic disorder. Even though agoraphobia often co-occurs with panic disorder, it is still considered a separate condition with a distinct set of diagnostic criteria.
The tem agoraphobia is derived from the Greek language and is loosely interpreted as a “fear of open spaces.” More specifically, agoraphobia typically involves fear and anxiety concerning the experience of panic attacks.
Many agoraphobics are afraid of having a panic attack in a place or situation in which it would be difficult and/or embarrassing to flee from. The fears around agoraphobia can become so intense that the person’s life is greatly impaired. In some cases, this condition can lead to extreme impairment in which the person is homebound with agoraphobia.
How Agoraphobia is Diagnosed
Getting treatment for agoraphobia begins by receiving the proper diagnosis. If you suspect that you are suffering from the symptoms of agoraphobia, your first step will be to schedule an appointment with your doctor or therapist. He will be able to evaluate your symptoms to determine if your experience matches the diagnostic criteria of agoraphobia.
During your initial appointment, your doctor will inquire about your medical history, current symptoms, and recent life stressors. All this information will be necessary to ensure that your doctor can provide you with an accurate diagnosis.
Once your mental health care specialist provides you with a diagnosis of agoraphobia, he will then help determine a treatment plan that is appropriate for you.
This plan will outline your treatment goals and interventions. Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend that you take prescribed medication, attend psychotherapy, practice self-help strategies, or complete any combination of these options.
Medications for Agoraphobia
Prescribed medication is one of the most common treatment options available to help in managing the symptoms of agoraphobia. Prescribed medications can provide a safe and effective way to decrease anxiety, nervousness, and panic attacks. Your doctor will most likely prescribe to you one of two medications: antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
As the name implies, antidepressants were initially prescribed to treat the symptoms of depression. These medications were later found to be beneficial for the treatment of anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia. Antidepressants can help lessen the severity of anxiety and panic attacks, making the symptoms of agoraphobia more manageable.
Anti-anxiety medications, on the other hand, can provide fast-acting relief for panic attacks. These medications quickly reduce the intensity of panic attacks by impacting the central nervous system and eliciting feelings of calm. Anti-anxiety medications are often prescribed to rapidly reduce panic attack symptoms while stimulating a sense of relaxation.
Psychotherapy for Agoraphobia
Psychotherapy, or simply called therapy, is another typical part of the treatment plan for agoraphobia. Therapy involves meeting regularly with a trained specialist to discuss your symptoms, develop coping techniques, and work through your negative emotions. Through the therapy process, you will begin to learn healthy ways of coping with the symptoms of agoraphobia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of psychotherapy provided to those with anxiety disorders. CBT is largely based off the notion that one’s thoughts can influence how one feels and how one behaves. For example, a person with agoraphobia may have fearful thoughts, such as “If I have a panic attack here, others will notice me and think I’m losing my mind ” or “If I have extreme panic and anxiety while out alone, no one will be available to help me.” As suggested by CBT, such thoughts may influence the agoraphobic to engage in maladaptive and avoidance behaviors, in which she copes with her fears by staying away from certain situations altogether.
CBT strategies, such as behavior modification, desensitization, and cognitive restructuring, all work towards assisting the agoraphobic in generating more positive thoughts and actions. Through CBT, a therapist can work with a person with agoraphobia in overcoming fears and returning to previous levels of functioning.
Self-Help Strategies for Agoraphobia
In addition to medication and psychotherapy, you may also be recommended to develop self-care strategies to manage agoraphobia. Self-help involves activities and exercises that you continually work on and develop on your own that are designed to help cope with your symptoms. When practiced regularly common self-help techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, journaling, and visualization, can help in managing anxiety and panic attacks. These techniques may be learned through therapy or by reading self-help books.
Regardless of which treatment options you and your doctor determine are best for you, getting any professional treatment is better than attempting to deal with your symptoms on your own. Through treatment, you can expect to begin to feel much better as you learn to effectively cope with agoraphobia.