Edit Content

Find Healing & Learn to Thrive

Agoraphobia, Explained


Agoraphobia, Explained

For some, certain spaces or situations can cause anxiety. If there’s too much noise or if the circumstances are wrong, anxiety can quickly turn into fear and panic, potentially leading to panic attacks.

Anxiety is a common response to stressful situations, but it can lead to fear and avoidance of public places, even to the detriment of your mental health. Because feeling like you have no choice but to go out of your way to avoid certain places or situations can, at a certain point, start to interfere with your job, relationships, and necessary self-care. For someone who’s experiencing these types of things, it may be time to consider whether he or she suffers from agoraphobia. 

Being agoraphobic significantly restricts a person’s quality of life. So if you’re experiencing agoraphobia, you’ll hide at home to avoid stressful situations. 

Without proper help, agoraphobia—and, more specifically, the effects of agoraphobia on one’s life—can cause significant problems. By having the knowledge to recognize agoraphobia, we’re able to intervene before a loved one’s agoraphobia causes irreparable damage. If you or someone you love are in need of treatment for agoraphobia, Silicon Beach Behavioral Health can provide the support needed to live a happy, healthy, and very fulfilling life.

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is widely assumed to mean “fear of open spaces” when it actually refers to the “fear of stressful situations,” which, depending on the person, could refer to traveling on public transport, visiting a crowded shopping center, or even just walking out our front door.

It begins as a mild and escalating anxiety about a particular event or place that morphs into a fear of being in public.

In terms of its etymology, agoraphobia means “fear of the marketplace,” which is fitting because sources of agoraphobic anxiety are often public areas that are highly trafficked. 

The onset of agoraphobic anxiety is mild and escalating before eventually morphing into the fear of being in public. Thus, it’s clear that agoraphobia is rooted in the fear of physical and mental sensations of anxiety, panic, or losing control that could lead to the individual embarrassing himself or herself. Of course, nobody likes being embarrassed in public, so those with agoraphobia mitigate the mere possibility by steering clear of triggering situations altogether.

When someone is agoraphobic, what he or she really dreads is the prospect of not being in familiar, safe environments. As a result, activities outside of the home essentially become a no-fly zone. If you’re looking at simultaneous financial hardship, isolation, and loneliness, there can be even greater feelings of distress. But because the individual recognizes the fear as irrational, there can be feelings of frustration and anger that are directed inwards, damaging one’s self-esteem and self-worth. This can ultimately lead to depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g. comfort eating, substance abuse) that can lead to other health problems.

From 2001 to 2003, 40.6 percent of adults suffering from agoraphobia exhibited serious impairment while 30.7 percent had a moderate impairment and 28.7 percent had only mild impairment. This tells us that the number of agoraphobics who experience no impairment (i.e. adverse effects on health or circumstance) was negligible. For this reason, it’s important to have some level of understanding of agoraphobia, including being able to identify some of the warning signs.

Signs of Agoraphobia

A person may have agoraphobia if he or she:

  • Feels anxious in response to distance from environments deemed “safe.”
  • Experiences panic attacks.
  • Anticipates anxiety when required to leave this safe environment.
  • Has low self-esteem and a loss of self-confidence.
  • Is reluctant to leave the house or venture beyond familiar surroundings.

Depression can also be a symptom of agoraphobia although it’s important to remember that not eveyone who suffers from agoraphobia will experience or exhibit depression. There have also been other conditions and diagnoses associated with agoraphobia and, potentially, offering clues as to whether or not a person is agoraphobic.

But even when there are observable symptoms of agoraphobia, it’s not very common for agoraphobia to be an individual’s first diagnosis for the sheer fact that many of the signs of agoraphobia also happen to be signs of other disorders, some of which are much more common, like social anxiety, panic disorder, and acute stress disorder. In fact, when agoraphobic tendencies manifest in combination with apathy, insomnia, a loss of energy, or low self-esteem, it’s possible the individual suffers from major depressive disorder instead of agoraphobia. 

Agoraphobia is most commonly identified in young adults.

Diagnosis of agoraphobia requires an individual to experience fear of exposure to public spaces and go out of his or her way to avoid them. The symptoms must have been present for at least the last six months and cause significant detriment to their lives. 

Most commonly identified in young adults, agoraphobia has many common risk factors, including parental overprotectiveness, intense childhood fears or night terrors, traumatic experiences, unprocessed grief or bereavement from early in life, traumatic childhoods, or genetic predisposition. 

How is Agoraphobia Treated?

Treatment of agoraphobia begins with a diagnosis. After diagnosis, the provider can choose and implement one (or more) mental health treatments that have shown to be effective in treating agoraphobia, including:

  • Medication (e.g. antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Relaxation training
  • Support groups
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Self-help (e.g. research, lifestyle changes)

Each of these treatments could help to alleviate someone’s agoraphobia, at least to one degree or another. However, cognitive behavioral therapy is the most important.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, allows the patient to regain control over his or her thinking patterns by learning ways to manage and alleviate agoraphobic anxiety. Additionally, taking the initiative by looking for alternative methods of managing agoraphobia is the ultimate self-help.

Shed the Fear at Silicon Beach Behavioral Health

Having an understanding of agoraphobia, from origin to side effects to treatment, is an important step on the road to recovery. From there, you can take advantage of the mental health organizations that help individuals in need to find the right care. 

If you or someone you love is suffering from agoraphobia or another mental or emotional disorder, then Silicon Beach Behavioral Health is here for you. Our cutting-edge mental health treatment programs in Los Angeles can get you where you need to be in your recovery journey. For more information or to take advantage of our free assessment and insurance verification services, call Silicon Beach Behavioral Health at our toll-free number today.