When Panic and Health Anxiety Lead to Agoraphobia
Its always hard to know what came first, the chicken or the egg, right? Well, people with health anxiety are irrationally fearful of having a health emergency, and are extremely conscious of their bodily changes, and any symptoms they experiencing. People with panic attacks experience periods of intense fear or apprehension that can come along with some scary physical symptoms that can lead many sufferers to think they are experiencing a health emergency. Many people with panic attacks repeatedly go to the emergency room because they are not sure if their physical symptoms are anxiety or something more. So, in many cases onset of panic symptoms causes health anxiety, and for people who suffer from health anxiety, the constant stress of worrying can lead to panic attacks.
That being said, Panic attacks are very scary, especially when a person first starts to experience them. This is usually in young adulthood, but can vary from person to person. Panic attacks come with physical symptoms such as lightheadedness, trouble breathing, dizziness, sweating, rapid heart rate, nausea, and derealization, just to name some of them. The common belief about panic disorder is that attacks only last for a short time, and you are ok the rest of the time. That is very untrue, the rest of the time, a person is still feeling anxious, often, the anxiety never fully leaves, . This is because sufferers are worried about when another panic attack will come, and they start to feel as if they are not in control of their own body. Since there is constant anxiety, there is also constantly physical symptoms resulting from the anxiety.
When you add health anxiety to the mix, it can really exacerbate things. When a person has health anxiety along with panic attacks, there is really no telling where one ends and the other begins. The mindset from people who suffer from these intertwined disorders is very on edge. Many of go through every day debilitated by the health worry. They are afraid they are not in control of their body, that something is wrong, that they might have a heart attack, a stroke, multiple sclerosis, whatever. They look up symptoms on the internet, schedule doctor appointments, and are always aware of their body. Constantly being under stress can also affect the immune system, which is another thing to factor in.
The anxiety can be overwhelming, and when anxiety is at its peak, panic attacks are likely to occur. At this point, it does not really matter which came first, all of this is clearly affecting ones life and it slowly starts to make a person’s world smaller. Sufferers may not want to go out in public places, be in crowds, stand in lines, have a job, or socialize. Mostly, this is because they do not feel like they are in control of their own body, the anxiety attacks and the symptoms they are dealing with, and without treatment, it will only get worse.
Agoraphobia is defined as an irrational fear of wide open spaces or places that are crowded, or hard to escape. It is a disorder that usually goes hand in hand with panic disorder and most sufferers stay in “safe zones” to avoid losing control or having a panic attack in public. Obviously, people usually have panic attacks when they are anxious. If people avoid situation where presume they will feel nervous or not in control, they will be less likely to panic. If untreated, their world becomes smaller and smaller, until they may not even leave their own home anymore.
Agoraphobia is a very debilitating mental disorder, because it affects a person’s life so much, it is said that 4% of people suffer from some degree of agoraphobia, women are twice as likely to suffer as men. It almost always occurs along with panic disorder, but not nesicarrily health anxiety, this is just one of the possible causes. It may also be caused by poor spacial perception, a trumatic experience, or ocd, or other conditions, but the root is always anixiety of some kind. Agoraphobia is highly treatable though, with phychotherapy and sometimes medication. Exposure therapy is a very effective treatment method for agoraphobics, and those who stick with treatment are very likely to live normal lives again.