Understanding Agoraphobia

Many people have what are called “specific phobias” (e.g., air travel, enclosed spaces, heights, snakes, spiders, etc.).  These phobias are called “specific” because they relate to only one type of situation.  Usually, they don’t greatly interfere with daily life.

Agoraphobia, on the other hand, affects many different types of situations and greatly interferes with daily life.

A large proportion of people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia, which results when the individual restricts his/her activities in an effort to avoid panic attacks.

For example, let’s suppose my first panic attack is on a freeway.  I might then avoid that particular freeway.  Later on, let’s suppose I experience near-panic on another freeway.  I might then start avoiding all freeways in an effort to avoid panic.

Unfortunately, the panic response is located inside the mind and body, not on the freeway.  So, the pattern of avoidance and withdrawal continues.  The association of panic and anxiety to many different situations is called agoraphobia.  Most often, these situations have to do with being away from home, being away from a “safe” person, or being in situations in which a quick “escape” could be difficult.

Panic disorder and agoraphobia often go together – like two sides of a coin.