Agoraphobia Strikes Women of All Ages
The first thing most people think of when they hear the term 'agoraphobia' is being afraid to leave your home. While the fear of open spaces is definitely part of agoraphobia, that definition doesn't go into a whole lot of the detail that is needed to understand this common disorder. Luckily, it seems that the level of awareness of agoraphobia is rising as more is being learned about the, and people affected with it are able to find help where they couldn't before.
Symptoms and Signs of Agoraphobia
Do you think you or someone else you love might suffer from agoraphobia? Here are some warning signs and symptoms of agoraphobia to look for. While some studies point to a genetic or hereditary component to agoraphobia in women, it's probably just as likely (if not more) that its causes are more 'nurture' than nature.
Some of the symptoms of agoraphobia and more common signs of agoraphobia; this list will probably grow as awareness of agoraphobia grows:
- Being extremely and irrationally afraid to leave your home. Agoraphobics often restrict their activities outside of the home to the point that they become like shut-ins. A lot of the anxiety in agoraphobia involves fear of losing control or having a panic attack in public. If you've never had one, 'panic attacks' are anxiety-induced episodes that can feel very much like a heart attack. The chest pain, rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath and other symptoms associated with heart attacks can also happen with people who are having the kind of severe anxiety that agoraphobia has been known to show. I've had a few of these and, believe me, they're not fun! They add to the 'fear that you're losing your mind' that can go along with social anxiety and agoraphobia.
- Many agoraphobics create 'safe zones'. Like the storm shelters you might find in houses in tornado-prone areas, 'safe zones' or 'panic rooms' are places a person retreats to when they feel a panic attack coming on. They might also have 'safe people' for the same purpose.
- Fear of being in crowded places, such as a sports stadium or auditorium. Similarly, an agoraphobic might also be afraid of being in places such as subways where they might not be able to leave if they feel anxious.
- Obsessively monitoring yourself for odd physical symptoms.
- Fear of being alone, or being overly dependent on others for daily needs and activities.
Treating Panic, Anxiety and Agoraphobia
Like so many other mentally- or emotionally-based illnesses, agoraphobia can be hard to spot because it shares symptoms with so many other disorders. It's also very common for a person to have agoraphobia alongside some other disorder; generalized social anxiety and agoraphobia are pretty strongly linked, so they can often occur together. Agoraphobia is also often associated with depression, panic disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders and substance abuse. This is what is known in the mental health community as comorbidity-the occurrence of two or more mental or emotional disorders in the same person, often feeding off of each other. This is an important point to understand because the presence of other disorders can have a great affect on the kind of treatment a person with agoraphobia will receive.
The treatment for agoraphobia is multi-faceted, using a combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. One of the more effective forms of therapy for agoraphobia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy revolves around recognizing the irrational thoughts that go along with social anxiety and agoraphobia. This therapy helps you learn to control your anxiety by teaching you how to identify and reframe irrational thoughts, as well as developing relaxation techniques. Medication is also used to control symptoms of agoraphobia. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are most commonly used, although some anti-anxiety medications can be addictive. A doctor might also suggest lifestyle changes like increasing exercise or cutting out caffeine. Of course, the course of treatment varies from person to person.