Definition: what is agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a fear of public places and by extension, a fear of crowds. Its name comes from Ancient Greece, specifically Agora, which was a public place, whilst phobia describes a fear. This fear stems from feeling insecure and feelings of not being able to be rescued in case of problems.
Around 2% of the population is affected by agoraphobia. The average age of the first attack happens around the age of 27, and women are usually more affected than men.
Symptoms of agoraphobia
Agoraphobia involves panic attacks during an anxious situation. This results in a faster heartbeat, finding it difficult to breathe (shortness of breath, feeling of being strangled), trembling, shivering, nausea, vertigo, perspiration, etc. These attacks repeat whenever faced with a stressful situation.
An agoraphobe will do everything they can to avoid these situations, which can eventually lead to isolation and a fear of leaving the house, even if accompanied. A number of circumstances can be responsible for a panic attack, such as crossing a bridge, taking public transport, going to the cinema, queueing or being in enclosed spaces like an elevator or underground parking.
Causes of agoraphobia
Agoraphobia normally occurs after a tragic event or mental trauma (divorce, mourning, accidents) which will be the trigger for these panic attacks. There is also a hereditary factor, meaning having a parent with agoraphobia, increases the risk for the child one day.
The most appropriate treatment for agoraphobia is the use of cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy. Exposure therapy is a behavioural therapy which involves facing your fears in small doses by putting yourself in anxious situations responsible for panic attacks. This allows the agoraphobe to get used to it and desensitise.
Another approach is to understand why agoraphobia has appeared, rather than just trying to forget. This is so the affected can regain their self-confidence, which is the essential step for being able to get over this phobia. Other therapies, such as diaphragmatic breathing (controlling your fear through breathing), can be issued.
In order for all the treatment to work, it is necessary that the agoraphobe has total confidence in the therapy. Some medications are sometimes recommended to overcome these anxiety attacks.