Agoraphobia is not a common condition, but it can be very serious when left untreated. People who have agoraphobia have a fear of being in situations that they believe may cause serious harm to them, either physically or emotionally. When people with this condition experience environment or situations that they consider unsafe, they may exhibit mental and physical symptoms of fear and panic. Counseling and anti-anxiety medications are two of the most common treatments for agoraphobia. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of agoraphobia to identify and treat the condition.
Fear of Open Spaces
People who have agoraphobia often have a hard time venturing into open public spaces, like shopping malls, parks, or sporting events. Two primary reasons for this are the noise and the lack of physical security. With no way to observe all directions at once, open spaces can make people with agoraphobia feel at risk of physical harm. It can also cause self-consciousness and fear of embarrassment, especially if the patient is prone to panic attacks that would draw a lot of attention. This is why people with severe agoraphobia rarely leave their homes, even in the event of an emergency.
Fear of Enclosed Spaces
People with agoraphobia aren’t just afraid of open spaces; they are also fearful of enclosed spaces. Being in a small hallway or on an elevator is likely to set off a panic attack, which will only further increase your fear of that environment. Because people with agoraphobia worry that some kind of harm will occur to them, the uncontrollable nature of a small space makes them uncomfortable. Since there is usually only one way to enter and exit a smaller space, it may lead them to feel trapped and overwhelmed by their lack of options. They may also feel anxious about being forced to interact with other people in these spaces.
Those with agoraphobia feel anxious when they encounter an environment that they perceive as unsafe, but they also must cope with anxiety when imagining those situations. Because agoraphobia includes a fear of humiliating yourself during social interactions, the thought of having a panic attack that would draw attention is enough to make those with agoraphobia avoid any triggering situations. As a result of this compounding anxiety, it can be very difficult for people to face their fears and try to overcome this condition without professional help. Patients are more likely to continue to avoid these situations, for fear of further embarrassing themselves in public.
Sweating or Overheating
For those who do venture out of the house, a common physical indicator of agoraphobia is increased sweating or overheating. Even in cool environments, you may feel hot all over your body as your fear increases. In extreme cases, this can feel like a hot flash sensation. This reaction is part of the adrenaline reaction that occurs when you are experiencing extreme fear. This symptom can be a precursor to a panic attack and may exacerbate the situation. For people with agoraphobia, sweaty hands or flushing can cause additional anxiety about embarrassing yourself in public.
Increased Heart Rate
When a panic attack occurs as a result of agoraphobia, you may experience many physical symptoms. One of these is an increased heart rate, caused by adrenaline. When your body senses your fear, it shifts into a “fight or flight” mode. This allows you to expend more energy and strength than you otherwise might be able to, to fend off your attacker or run away. During a panic attack, however, you are usually unable to do either of those things. Instead, your heart rate simply increases, which can intensify stress or the feeling that your body is out of control.
In addition to an increase in heart rate, agoraphobia-related panic attacks can also cause chest pain or difficulty breathing. Although an agoraphobic perception of danger is not typically an accurate analysis, it still causes extreme stress because it seems very real to the person experiencing it. Due to the stress involved, many panic attack symptoms may mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. In addition to generalized chest pain, patients may also feel as though they are hyperventilating, or having difficulty catching their breath. In severe cases, this should be treated as a medical emergency.
Chills or Shakiness
Another common symptom of panic attacks caused by agoraphobia is shakiness. As heart rate increases and breathing becomes labored, patients may begin to shake. Chills are also a very common symptom at this stage. Shakiness is often the result of nervousness and can become worse if the patient is also having trouble breathing. Like most other symptoms, shaking is caused by an increase in adrenaline. As the person experiencing the attack begins to calm down, this symptom will subside on its own. This may require them to be completely removed from the stressful environment that triggered the attack.
Dizziness may occur as a result of the other symptoms. An inability to take deep breaths and a racing heart can cause you to feel lightheaded. If this happens, you should not attempt to walk away on your own. Instead, you should find a nearby place to sit down until the dizziness subsides. A trusted friend or relative can also guide you to an exit so that you can escape the situation. Dizziness is very serious because it can cause unconsciousness and falls, and these falls often lead to more debilitating injuries like concussions or broken bones.
Avoidance of Crowds
People who suffer from agoraphobia may be especially anxious about venturing out into crowded places. The uncertainty of being around so many strangers, especially if they are loud, is a common panic attack trigger. This makes events like concerts or sporting events extremely terrifying for patients since they involve thousands of people. However, smaller spaces, like public transportation or airplanes, can be equally frightening if they are very crowded. For someone with agoraphobia, these crowds are viewed as a source of danger. It can be difficult for people without the condition to understand that fear since the danger is exaggerated by the patient, but it is important to exercise patience.
Inability to Leave Home
Someone with agoraphobia may make excuses as to why they are unable to leave their home, even if they previously could venture out into public spaces. This is because prior panic attacks reinforce the belief that the patient will simply be an embarrassment to themselves in public. In severe cases, the anxiety may be so great that the patient has panic attacks even when just thinking about the possibility of leaving home. This fear of the outside world can be extremely problematic, especially if the person with agoraphobia is unable to do simple errands and tasks, like shopping or visiting the doctor.