The phrase safety in numbers is supposed be comforting. However, in the case of Agoraphobia, that perhaps doesn’t apply. The intense fear of crowds and open spaces can be extremely limiting in some cases, with sufferers barely able to survive without help.
The name Agoraphobia comes from the Greek words, Agora, meaning public square, and Phobos, meaning a deep fear or dread. Affecting around 1.5% of the population, it is most common in young adults, and is extremely rare in children. Typically, twice as many women suffer from it than men, and while it is prevalent in young adults, it is far less common in old age.
The most extreme cases can result in the sufferer becoming housebound by their fear. This can lead to more serious issues such as depression and substance abuse. If left untreated, Agoraphobia is unlikely to self-resolve, and can torment sufferers for many years.
CAUSES OF AGORAPHOBIA
It’s believed that there are a number of varying issues, both mental and physical that can cause Agoraphobia.
It is believed that one of the most common causes of Agoraphobia is an underlying social anxiety or panic disorder. The theory is that the sufferer experiences a panic attack in public and feels great shame and embarrassment. In an effort to avoid the same thing ever happening again, they avoid similar situations. This effect can be amplified after a life shattering event, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or natural or manmade disasters.
Agoraphobia may also be substance induced, with research finding links between both tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Similarly, long term alcohol abuse can also lead to Agoraphobia. In various studies, the symptoms of Agoraphobia dramatically reduced after a year of withdrawal.
People with a poor sense of balance and spatial awareness are also susceptible. Normally, people use a mix of visual cues and information gathered by the proprioceptors and vestibular system (used to coordinate movement and balance), to create balance and spatial awareness. Those with a weaker vestibular system, rely too much on visual cues, which are overwhelming in crowds, and sparse in open areas. This can lead to confusion and dizziness, and eventually a full panic attack.
SYMPTOMS OF AGORAPHOBIA
Symptoms vary from case to case, with some Agoraphobics actually being okay in crowds, while others are prone to panic. Common to all cases is the fear of suffering a panic attack in public, or in a place that you can’t escape, or easily get help in.
An anxiety or panic attack is normally accompanied by the following symptoms;
- Rapid heartbeat
- Hot or cold flush
- Feeling like you will die
- A strong desire to escape, while feeling frozen
- A loss of control
Sufferers will do all they can to avoid a situation or place where they previously had a panic attack. These can be open spaces, such as bridges, carparks, fields, or enclosed spaces, such as crowds, queues, public transport, etc.
In extreme cases, sufferers will be extremely reluctant to leave the house, potentially resulting in depression and the development of numerous other phobias and mental disorders. In some cases, sufferers will rely on someone else to help them, and may have severe separation anxiety when they’re not around.
There are a number of ways to overcome Agoraphobia, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Therapy both providing long lasting results. Both aim to reduce the effects of a panic attack and remove the triggers, by gradually exposing the patient to their fear. In addition, relaxation techniques are used to combat anxiety, allowing the patient to fully face their fear.
These methods are often more successful if the patient is accompanied by a trusted companion. Approved medication, recommended by your therapist, can also be used in conjunction with these techniques, and often this combination provides the best results.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Hypnotherapy are good alternatives for those who are not quite ready to face their fears. They can be carried out at home, or with a trained professional, and work by replacing negative concepts with positive ways of thinking.
In today’s digital world, there are even apps or audio therapy sessions such as subliminals you can download to help rid you of your phobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF CROWDS
Extreme Agoraphobia can reduce an otherwise healthy personal to a husk, hidden away from the world. This is not how life should be lived. There is an exciting world out there, full of fantastic people and exciting opportunities.
By overcoming your fear of crowds and open spaces, you suddenly gain access to all that the world has to offer. The anxiety and stress that previously dogged you, keeping you on edge, will be gone, allowing you to relax, and be the person you want to be.