In Europe and many parts of the world, entire cities have been locked-down due to the Corona Virus, also known as Covid-19.
Cities, where people can still go out, are encouraged to observe proper social distancing, a term that just a few months ago was not even heard of, but has now been a popular meme in social media.
Not so fortunate are people who have been mandated by their local governments to stay home and avoid going out to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
Ironically, while most people are stressed out by being confined to the four corners of their homes, a few are perfectly happy with it. These people who fear leaving their houses are suffering from what is called Agoraphobia.
Signs and Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia comes from the Greek word ἀγορά, agorā́, meaning a “public square” and φοβία, -phobía, meaning “fear”.
Below are the signs and symptoms that are usually experienced by people with agoraphobia:
- Increased heart rate, or palpitation
- Difficulty breathing, or feeling of being choked
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shaking or trembling
- Perspiration or excessive sweating
- Cold or hot flushes, chills
- Feeling of helplessness or loss of control
- Fear of death
Causes and Common Triggers of Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is a form of social anxiety disorder. Its cause is usually associated with an event experienced by the sufferer usually in childhood.
Below are some of the causes and common triggers of agoraphobia:
- The traumatic experience of being lost from a parent at a public place
- Drug and alcohol abuse which leads to impaired faculties
- Trauma of war or natural disasters
- Death of a parent or someone very close
- Divorce of parents especially when the sufferer is still a young child
- Long term use of sleeping pills or tranquilizer
Treatments of Agoraphobia
A treatment is strongly advised if the phobia affects the person’s way of life, whether personally or at work, and his or her relationship with friends, family, and colleagues suffer.
Psychotherapy is the recommended treatment on these types of situations where the person can talk about his/her irrational fear.
Here are the proven treatments for people with phobias including agoraphobia. Studies have shown that these treatments have helped lessen the fear or even eliminated it in most patients:
For most phobias, exposure therapy is said to be the most successful. There are several studies conducted about treatments of phobias using imaginal exposure. This means for people with Agoraphobia, they will be gradually exposed to images that imply public places with crowds. Based on studies, 90% of sufferers subjected to the treatment exhibited a considerable fear reduction. And around 65% no longer experienced any symptoms of their phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is another form of treatment for persons with phobias. It is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. What it does is it helps the patient to challenge or change their thoughts or beliefs, in addressing their problems. This treatment was originally meant to treat depression, but has since been expanded to treat other conditions including anxiety, which is common and exhibited by most or all phobic people.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)
In this type of therapy, the patient is given a simulated experience using computer programs and artificially created environments. They use Virtual Reality gadgets to provide the patient a controlled stimuli as part of the treatment. They then monitor the patient’s reaction. It’s a series of VR-based treatment where it involves adjusting the virtual environment. Sometimes smell or adding vibrations allow the clinician to determine the level of the patient's reaction to the stimuli. Replaying virtual scenes multiple times with or without adjustment depending on the patient's reaction.
Societal and Cultural Impact of Agoraphobia
Persons suffering from agoraphobia may find themselves unable to function normally in society. The fact that they fear leaving their house means their social and professional life will suffer. A simple trip to the grocery may become an ordeal for someone with agoraphobia.
How Common Is Agoraphobia?
It is estimated that almost 2% of youths and adults suffer from agoraphobia. Women are two times more likely as men to experience this type of phobia. It typically occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, children can also suffer from this disorder. Age seems to determine the thoughts that cause fear and anxiety for agoraphobia sufferers: Children fear of becoming lost while with a parent or loved one; adults may fear going through panic anxiety attacks while older adults may fear falling or passing out. Like other phobias, agoraphobia is often accompanied by other social anxiety disorders.
What Should You Do If You Have Agoraphobia?
Getting emotional support from your loved ones is important once you found out that you have agoraphobia. If your condition is mild, self-help is possible. However, you must seek professional help if you think you cannot cope by yourself. Joining online support groups related to your phobia may also help, as you will be able to find people that can relate to your situation. You might even meet people who were in the same situation as you but were already able to overcome it. The worst thing to do is keep it to yourself, or worse pretend that it doesn’t exist. Acknowledging that there is a problem is always the first step towards a solution.
Agoraphobia, just like any type of phobias has underlying causes that need to be identified. As it varies from persons in terms of the degree of severity, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for agoraphobia, or any other phobia. But the good news is, it can be treated and people do overcome it. The sooner you acknowledge the problem, and the sooner you seek help to treat it, the stronger the chance of conquering your fear fast. People who sought help who eventually overcame their fear of leaving their house, soon found themselves enjoying the beauty of the world which their irrational fear almost blurred out.