Signs and symptoms of agoraphobia

The majority of agoraphobia sufferers are often diagnosed as a result of panic attacks. The sufferer will identify situations in which they are not comfortable and go to extreme lengths to avoid such environments.

Look out for a pattern of panic attacks when in large spaces as a key factor of agoraphobia. Typically, a panic attack is an immediate rush of physical symptoms, for example muscle spasms, nausea and shortness of breath. Agoraphobia is linked with uncontrollable anxiety and sometimes a sense of feeling trapped.

Recent figures suggest that agoraphobia is approximately twice as common in women as it is in men. This gender difference has been attributed to a number of theories. Women are said to display a greater expression of avoidant coping strategies, whereas men may, for example, consume alcohol as a reaction to the anxiety and their initial condition will be disguised by an alcohol addiction. A popular theory, as is the case with many mental health conditions, is that women are more likely to seek help. However, research has not identified one overriding explanation for the gender difference.

Whilst most people are able to combine their balance and sense of space with their visual system, and understand that information with the relative position of parts of the body, many agoraphobics have been found to have a weakened system of balance and space. This causes an imbalance so that they rely on visual or tactile signals.  As a result, they become disorientated in wide open spaces because visual cues are not as prevalent, or they can become overwhelmed in crowded environments.

Common symptoms of agoraphobia

While symptoms of agoraphobia can differ from person to person, sufferers will often experience the following symptoms:

  • Feeling faint, dizzy or light headed within a large outdoor space or in a situation where there is a large crowd of people
  • Feeling nauseous for example when travelling within large groups of people
  • Chest pains and shortness of breath - a tightness of the chest and feeling as though it’s a struggle to breathe
  • Palpitations when struggling to cope with a large open space
  • Hyperventilating in some instances because of your fear. Have you ever passed out as a result of a situation?
  • Numbness and tingling for example tingling of the lips and numbness in fingers and toes. This is common as a result of a panic attack
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack or increase of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Social isolation
  • Lack or increase of sleep
  • Paranoia

7 tips for dealing with Agoraphobia

  1. Understand the symptoms that are often associated with agoraphobia. This will help you to recognise any patterns in behaviour so that you can then work on certain situations where the feeling of panic may occur.
  2. Know your triggers and remove any negativity, stress or pressure which may be adding to the situation.
  3. Accept a panic attack for what it is and the symptoms will be greatly reduced. It can be a daunting time when you experience a panic attack, but knowing that it is short lived and will pass will enable you to deal with the attacks.
  4. Realise that you are not alone – panic attacks are incredibly common for all kind of people from all kinds of backgrounds, not just those who are struggling with agoraphobia.
  5. Speak to friends and relatives about your problem; this will reduce any further stress as people close to you will be wondering what is wrong, and may be confused if you refuse an invitation to go to an occasion such as a music festival. Also, it is very likely that you will receive great support and understanding from your friends and relatives.
  6. Speak to a health professional and take small steps to overcome your fear. For example going into a crowded place for ten minutes with a close and trusted friend.
  7. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to ‘get over it’. These things take time to understand and conquer.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding agoraphobia, please call 0845 277 4679.   For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here