Were you puzzled by the frantic lady dashing out of the mall, or the young lad who trembled at the mere thought of exiting the cab and walking along the marketplace? Chances are high that they were both victims of ‘agoraphobia’. Essentially, an anxiety disorder, agoraphobia is traditionally believed to be triggered by an intense fear for public and open spaces. “Agora” in Greek signifies “marketplace”, hence reinstating the phobia. Agoraphobic individuals do their best to avoid the trauma of facing such situations, but the truth remains –nobody can escape the outdoors. However, the concept of agoraphobia has been widely misunderstood, as symptoms often spring from strong sensations of paranoia (about feeling panicky) and not necessarily the fear of broadened spaces. Agoraphobics loathe unfamiliar places or any place outside their comfort zone. Panic attacks are never pleasant and negatively affects both, the concerned individual as well as their friends, acquaintances and family. This is why cognitive, psychological or medical treatment is vital. Continue reading this article to gather a couple of important facts about this phobia.
- Panic attacks propelled by agoraphobia are strongly characterized with disorientation, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, heightened perspiration, dizziness, diarrhoea and of course, constant irrational fear, amongst other common symptoms. If these symptoms keep recurring, the individual’s health might be at stake.
- Travelling by public transport is something that agoraphobics will avoid to the maximum. Even for short distances, agoraphobics tend to feel uncomfortable and jittery. This can be a major setback as the concerned individual grows more and more reluctant to step out of his or her “safe territory”.
- Very often, agoraphobia is infused with a fear of social embarrassment. Popularly referred to as 'social agoraphobia', the agoraphobic dreads the possibility of manifesting a panic attack and hence, appearing distressed and hysterical in front of a big crowd.
- Agoraphobia is best defined as -"A fear, sometimes terrifying, by those who have experienced one or more panic attacks”. For instance, say a man experienced a strong panic attack in a particular restaurant; he would never want to return in fear of having another anxiety attack (irrespective of how good the food is).
- Agoraphobia occurs about twice as commonly among women as it does in men.
- Agoraphobia can be split into three intrinsic levels. The first is identified when an ideational fear or actual panic attack emerges as consequence of being away from the general perimeters of the region one resides in (city or country). While the second level agoraphobia is identified when one is beyond the general perimeters of one’s neighbourhood and the third, when one is too frightened to step outside the boundaries or premises of his or her abode.
- Although the definite cause of agoraphobia remains unknown, many link it to the prevalence of other anxiety disorders, stressful environments or substance abuse. Excessive use of tranquilizers and sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines is a potential culprit for this phobia.
- Agoraphobics are known to be blighted with weak vestibular function and in turn, rely heavily on visual or tactile signals. Therefore, when confronted with dim lighting and overwhelming crowds, visual cues are exacerbated and this subsequently causes disorientation amongst agoraphobics.
- Large amounts of 'epinephrine' are released during panic attacks, hence triggering the body's natural fight-or-flight response. These attacks last for 10-15 minutes, with 30 minutes being the maximum.
- Many people with anxiety disorders resort to self-help or online support groups and achieve commendable results.
- An agoraphobic individual is constantly on the lookout for escape route and outlets. They prefer to be restricted and homebound without acknowledging what they’re missing out on.
- In a small minority of cases, agoraphobia may occur without panic disorder.
- A common hypothesis states that agoraphobia stems from a stimulus to repeated exposures to anxiety-provoking events.
- “I don’t know, but my heart is pounding in my chest. I really don’t know why but, I just want to be alone. Take me away, I feel like I’m dying”- is a standard agoraphobic phrase.