• Category: Psychology
  • Words: 1146
  • Grade: 98
You know it is coming. No, you can't feel it creeping up on you, but it is there, nonetheless. At
any moment, in any place, it could grasp you in its powerful jaws and refuse to release its grip
until it has ravaged your mind, leaving you a trembling shell of the person you once were. All at
once, almost as if bidden by its all-consuming presence in your thoughts, it is there. Your heart
begins racing at an alarming rate. Suddenly, breathing becomes laborious and you feel as if there
is not enough air in the world to satiate your growing hunger for its soothing properties. The
room begins to spin while you choke, gasp, and tremble. Beads of sweat course in streams down
the goose bumps on you arms. Thoughts screech across your terrified mind. Are you going crazy?
Are you about to die? Then, as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone, leaving you shaking and
heaving, having experienced yet another panic attack . Your only comfort is that
you were at home when it happened, though it is unlikely that you would have been anyplace else,
given the fact that you have locked yourself away in your home now for the past several weeks
for fear that a panic attack might occur someplace where you may embarrass yourself. What is
causing this erratic and abnormal behavior? Does terror like this have a name? Yes. That name is
        In the past, agoraphobia has commonly been associated with a fear of wide, open spaces.
The truth lies much deeper than that, however. Agoraphobia is the fear of having a panic attack at
any time and at any place where you might become embarrassed . It is
a condition which develops when a person begins to avoid places that have been known to cause
anxiety or places where a person has previously had an attack. The idea of having another episode
is one which constantly presents itself in the mind of the victim, often causing enough anxiety to
bring the attack about. These people begin to associate the panic attack with the
place in which it occurred and will often avoid that place until they develop a phobia towards it
. When a person begins to avoid almost anyplace and continually stays at home to
avoid any situation which might provoke an attack, they are said to have agoraphobia. Therefore,
agoraphobia is not so much the fear of open spaces as the fear of a panic attack.
        There are obvious consequences to this disorder. Being agoraphobic causes a person to
miss out on much of life. They become withdrawn and reclusive to the point where they can
barely function. They tend to be more emotionally and financially dependent upon others, because
they cannot go to work or perform any sort of lengthy task that could conceivably promote
anxiety . As with any panic disorder-prone phobias, agoraphobics are more likely
than the average person to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. They have a greater risk of
suicide, spend more time in the hospital and less on hobbies or other forms of enjoyment, and, if
not already living a self-confinement in their house, are afraid to drive more than a few miles away
from home . If left untreated, agoraphobia can become severely debilitating,
restricting, and dangerous.
        You may wonder how a normal, functioning person could suddenly become consumed by
this sort of emotional disorder. So do many doctors, psychologists, and scientists. They have
debated among themselves about what causes anxiety disorders. Is it body, mind, or both? There
is sufficient evidence supporting the "body theory." Some victims have stated that a family
member also had an anxiety disorder and numerous studies have been done upon sets of twins,
both of whom suffer, further proving that there may well be a genetic disposition toward it . While all ethnic groups are equally susceptible to it, women are twice as likely to suffer
from an anxiety disorder as men. It could also be due to a biological malfunction, though
scientists have been unable to pin point a specific "biological marker" .
        Stressful events in life have also been known to trigger agoraphobic behavior, supporting
the "mind theory." Often, sufferers have been able to identify the beginning of their symptoms as
the same time that a traumatic experience occurred, such as the death or separation of a loved one
        Most scientists agree, however, that both mind and body are the likely causes of
agoraphobia. At first, attacks may occur with seemingly no provocation, they may eventually be
caused by a person recognizing a physical symptom of an attack, such as a racing heartbeat
caused by exercising, and bring about an attack by focusing on this and identifying it with an
attack. Those who suffer from agoraphobia never know how to isolate the provocations of an
attack and , so, simply isolate themselves.
        Does any treatment exist for agoraphobia, or are those who suffer simply doomed to never
again live a normal life? Yes, there is treatment and, with it, agoraphobics can regain the life they
have lost. There are, in fact, a variety of treatments available, and,once treated, agoraphobia does
not lead to any permanent complications . To resume a normal life, a combination of
both cognitive and behavioral therapies is in order. Cognitive restructuring is often necessary to
help a sufferer . They often believe that these attacks mean that they are "going
crazy." In this part of therapy, they learn to replace those negative thoughts with positive ways to
view their attacks. In this portion of the therapy, the patient begins to identify what components
tend to bring about their attacks, and become able to view them as wholly separate from the panic
attacks .
        In the behavioral portion of the therapy, doctors often use a form of what has been termed
"interoceptive exposure" . This means that the doctors will try to desensitize the
patient to their fear. In agoraphobia, since what the patient really fears is a panic attack, the
doctor will expose them to sudden heat or cold, elevate their heart rate, induce sweating and
various other symptoms of an attack, all in a controlled and monitored setting to teach them that
these symptoms do not necessarily indicate an approaching attack .
        Some less widely used, though still common forms of treatment are anti-anxiety
medications, anti-depressants, and even beta blockers and other heart medications, to control an
irregular heartbeat. Support groups have often proved beneficial, as well. It typically helps a
patient to see that there are others who suffer from the same disorder. None of these treatments
can take the place of therapy, however. They are merely an addition that is sometimes necessary
to facilitate a patient's recovery. Such treatment, like any other, does not work
overnight, but within ten to twelve weeks, a patient should notice a definite improvement.
        Agoraphobia is a debilitating disorder which wreaks havoc on the lives of thousands of
people. With all the available treatment, however, no one should suffer for long.        


1.) Dr. Philip Nayman "Agoraphobia"
2.) American Psychological Association "Answers to Your Questions About Panic Disorders"
3.) Anxiety Disorders "Phobias" psych_girl/phobias.html
4.) Zuercher-White, Elke Treating Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia: A Step-by Step Clinical
        (c) 1997
        New Harbinger Publications, Detroit
        296 pgs.
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