The past year has been tough for most of us. Who hasn’t felt scared? Who wouldn’t want to withdraw from the world sometimes? Staying home if possible as COVID-19 rates were rising felt safer – and in many places it was required by lockdown rules. Could one get used to feeling less safe in public spaces to sow or feed the anxiety disorder known as agoraphobia? If you are wondering whether the discomfort is normal or has crossed a line, read on.
What is agoraphobia?
People with agoraphobia become anxious in places where they feel helpless, out of control, stuck, or judged. Someone suffering from agoraphobia might avoid places where they might be trapped (e.g. an office meeting) or be brought in and judged – perhaps during a conversation at a party. You can also avoid situations or places that get out of hand, such as: E.g. a trip with other people where they don’t control the schedule and timing, or an open public space like a park. As a result, people with agoraphobia are often afraid to leave their homes.
In the US, around 2% of adults and adolescents suffer from agoraphobia, according to US data Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition. About one-third to one-half of people with agoraphobia had panic attacks before they were diagnosed.
What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?
A dreaded situation – or even the thought of such a situation – triggers panic or panic attacks, often when a person is away from their home. A panic attack is an intense fit of anxiety that is physically felt by a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, and dizziness. Worrying about another panic attack, especially in front of other people, makes agoraphobia worse.
Where does the pandemic come into play?
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes people to fear and avoid situations in which they feel embarrassed, helpless, or threatened. Your fear of a situation is disproportionate to your actual risk. Fear of public spaces as COVID-19 continues to spread is a normal response to such a threatening event.
Americans are experiencing a nationwide mental health crisis that could affect years to come, according to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA). Her survey shows that mental health problems such as stress and anxiety have increased since the pandemic began. However, it is unclear how this relates to agoraphobia. Since crowded spaces are currently potentially dangerous, avoiding these spaces is more of a natural response than a sign of disruption. It is normal to be afraid of public spaces now because the danger is dangerous.
When do anxious feelings move beyond the normal?
If you are concerned about struggling with agoraphobia or any other anxiety disorder, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my answer correspond to the potential danger?
- Are my loved ones concerned about my level of concern and avoidance?
- Do I follow CDC guidelines to avoid getting or spreading COVID e.g. B. social distancing with people outside of my household, wearing a mask, and washing hands? Or do I avoid more people and situations than necessary?
If you are concerned about your anxiety, consult a psychologist. You can schedule a telemedicine visit for help assessing whether your anxiety and avoidance is healthy or problematic. Check with your health plan and request a list of behavioral health professionals.
How is agoraphobia typically treated?
Agoraphobia is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people understand relationships between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Usually a mental health or behavioral health specialist will help
- Understand the triggers of anxiety and agoraphobia
- Understand your inner thoughts about the situation creating the fear
- Build skills to better tolerate anxiety
- slowly and confidently begin to deal with the situation that creates fear and subsequent avoidance. This is generally done by practicing facing the dreaded situation in a controlled environment.
Medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, are sometimes used with CBT.
How can I get help?
Getting over agoraphobia without treatment is difficult (only 10% of people are successful).
The SAMHSA National Helpline (800-662-4357) or website may be able to refer you to psychiatric doctors in your state who are treating anxiety. Some may accept Medicare or Medicaid, or have lower fees based on income. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers helpful resources on its website and through its voluntary HelpLine (800-950-NAMI (6264) or email@example.com).
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that can seriously affect the quality of life as those who struggle with it avoid many events and social situations. Although it doesn’t usually go away on its own, therapy and appropriate medication can help people fight anxiety and live life fully.