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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Agoraphobia, Panic Attacks and You

 by Dr. Craig April, Director of The April Center For Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles

Agoraphobia and panic attacks have a special relationship. In fact, one might say they often go together like peanut butter and jelly - just not in a nice way!

It is often the case that Agoraphobia is a byproduct of an ongoing struggle with panic attacks - creating what is known as Panic Disorder.

But just what is Agoraphobia?  There are many misconceptions.  For example, one is that it is a fear of open spaces.  This can be a symptom, but one I have rarely seen over the years.  Another misconception is that it is a fear of leaving your home.  Agoraphobia can result in this fear, especially in the most severe cases, but this is not the definition.

So what is it then?

Agoraphobia is truly defined by a fear of being trapped in a setting that one feels there is no quick escape or help immediately available.  Generally speaking, those with this fear have a panic attack in these situations.

Because this fear can be triggered in a multitude of contexts for those that suffer, it is called a complex phobia.   

Here is a list of common Agoraphobic fears and symptoms:

- Difficulty driving out of one's comfort zone away from home.   Those with this phobia often have a certain radius in which they feel comfortable and do not travel beyond it easily or at all.

- Difficulty in crowds, including crowded concerts, sporting events and movie theaters.  Sitting in the middle of a row is usually avoided.

- Difficulty being away from home without their labeled support person, often a spouse or family member.

- Fear of flying focused on feeling trapped in an enclosed space with no easy escape.  For similar reasons, fear of traffic, fear of elevators, fear of being on a bus, and fear of driving over bridges are also common.   For some, Agoraphobia can be triggered during weddings, after ordering in a restaurant, on a rollercoaster and while seated in class at school.  

- When confronted by an agoraphobic fear, a panic attack can occur.  Interestingly enough, a panic attack is often the precursor to developing Agoraphobia.  Due to a fear of having another panic attack, one can begin to fear experiences where they cannot escape from quickly, in the event of panic.  For these reasons, panic attacks and Agoraphobia can become inextricably linked.  That said, even if panic attacks devolve into Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia is not always an issue.  So, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia can also be their own separate diagnoses.

No matter what form these symptoms take, help is available in the form of anxiety treatment provided by specifically skilled anxiety doctors.  Relief is often experienced following Cognitive Behavioral Therapy provided by these specialists.  This therapy is not traditional talk therapy.  It is structured, focused on the present and provides clear cut strategies/tools to overcome anxiety.  It is highly collaborative, which means the anxiety doctor you choose should be verbally engaging.

You can break free of Agoraphobia.  Being limited or, GASP!, house-bound does not have to be your reality.  Seek help and live life!

All the best,

Director of The April Center For Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles

P. S.  Don't forget to sign up for my anxiety newsletter on my website's home page where you'll receive free anxiety tips!


The April Center for Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles and The South Bay

The April Center for Anxiety Attack Management is committed to helping you remove the destructive barriers of anxiety, so that you may lead a calmer, healthier, happier life.

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