What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia literally means fear of open spaces, but it actually is a form on anxiety in which a person fears being in a location where escape or help can be difficult if they suffer from a panic attack. A person with agoraphobia can eventually deteriorate to the point that a person is afraid to leave their own house. Places a person who suffers from agoraphobia may find difficult to be include cars, crowds, planes, stores or even being alone. A person with agoraphobia often has a “safe” person whom they feel comfortable with and will only go places in the presence of that person. So, now we come to answering the main question, “What can cure my agoraphobia?”
A doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe an antidepressant to help with feelings of anxiety or depression associated with the agoraphobia. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often a frontline treatment in anxiety and depression disorders. Other antidepressants include serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers that can be prescribed to help ease symptoms of panic.
Benzodiazepines can be physically habit-forming and addictive, and over time higher doses have to be administered to achieve the desired treatment effect. Symptoms (including withdrawal symptoms) may become worse after stopping medication, so they are often given on a short-term or as-needed basis. BuSpar is another anti-anxiety prescription medication that is available as a treatment option. It is important to note that many antidepressant medications can take up to four to six weeks to reach their full effect. Your doctor may have to tweak your dosing a few times or try a few different medications to find the one that works for you. Missing doses can reduce their effectiveness as well.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be useful in understanding distorted thinking patterns behind agoraphobia and help a patient learn how to gain control back over their life. Desensitization, or exposure and response therapy, is often coupled with cognitive therapy.
Desensitization involves taking small steps toward leaving the house or approaching feared locations. You may start by standing on your porch for a few minutes. Once you feel comfortable on your porch, you may move on to walking to your mailbox. You would keep making small additions until you are successfully able to leave the house again. Do not despair if you do not succeed on your first try. This can take a lot of work to overcome.
Distorted thinking patterns are common for many people. Once you realize how your thinking is “distorted,” you are better equipped to notice it as it happens, and focus on replacing those negative thoughts with more healthy and realistic ones. A perfectionist, for example, feels that everything needs to be done absolutely right. Anything done below this level is considered unacceptable. This thinking pattern can make life extremely difficult and stressful. Everything does not have to be perfect, and allowing yourself room for error is a healthy change that can be made. We are all human, after all.
Patients who suffer from agoraphobia often have comorbid anxiety and depression disorders. For them it is hard not to become depressed when even leaving the house can cause significant distress.
Examples of relaxation exercises that can help keep your stress levels down when practiced on a daily basis include progressive muscle relaxation or yoga. A healthy lifestyle and regular practice of relaxation may be useful in reducing your vulnerability to panic and other types of mental illness. Other vulnerability factors that need to be changed include a stressful environment, poor diet, lack of exercise or improper sleep patterns.
“The Anxiety & Agoraphobia Workbook”; Edmund J. Bourne Ph.D.; 2005