Agoraphobia : Fear of the Outdoors

Agoraphobia is more than a simple reluctance to go out. It is a potentially disabling and quality-of-life diminishing unrealistic fear of being outside or of going there. It can turn a person’s home into a prison! Here is some helpful information about the condition.

Phobias are unrealistic fears. That is to say they cause people to feel nervous/anxious to a degree that would seem by most unwarranted given the observable realities. Phobias can be quite severe and can interfere with a person’s ability to live an OK life. Agoraphobia is one of the more commonly found examples of this type of fear.

Defined in the DSM-IVR: Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Agoraphobia is “…extreme nervousness about not being able to easily or quickly escape from a difficult or uncomfortable situation … usually of going into a space where such a situation might occur.” In actual practice, its most common manifestation is in the fear of leaving home – of going out.

Some people with Agoraphobia don’t like to go out of their home because it simply feels safer inside. Some can’t tolerate being in a big open space. Literally, (from the ancient Greek) a fear of public places, Agoraphobia is a lot more common than is often realized.

It usually associated with an Anxiety Disorder of some kind and is ordinarily not, in and of itself, a Psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, it is a specific feature of an often more pervasive condition …. Like a Specific or Generalized Anxiety or Panic Disorder.

The condition is managed, in secret, by many people who live their lives in ways that their fear does not show. If they never go out, no one ever sees them anyway except for those that may come to visit. Of course, people who never go out tend not to know many people who would come over! Internet relationships frequently become the social life of the person with Agoraphobia.

Some sufferers force themselves to do the uncomfortable thing in the hopes that by doing so, the phobia will lessen. The reality is that this technique, called ‘desensitization’ or ‘exposure therapy’ actually can and does work for many people!

Often treated successfully by psychotherapists practicing from a behavioral perspective, common approaches to lessening it’s effects include the techniques mentioned above of desensitization and various exposure techniques which, in a safe way, allow the person to move, incrementally, toward the feared situation.

Evidence Based and validated treatment approaches to anxiety issues also include behaviorally oriented Group Therapy. Individual psychotherapy has actually been found to be less effective than group for most people suffering from anxiety-related symptoms.

It is not unusual for psychoactive medicine to be used in tandem with these behavioral group treatments in situations where a person may have become seriously disabled and has had their live disrupted or ‘frozen’ in place by the agoraphobic symptoms. Agoraphobia can occur with or without panic attacks.

In most instances, if a person finds themselves unable to engage with the rest of the world in a moderately satisfying way, a consultation with a mental health professional may well be in order. Being afraid to go out most or all of the time would be a valid indicator that something is wrong and does need some attention. Those unsure where or how to begin are generally best advised to start by speaking honestly with their own Doctor.

Agoraphobia, like most diagnosable psychological issues that reduce the quality of a person’s life, once established for an extended period of time, is not apt to go away without some professional help.