Agoraphobia is a condition in which one experiences extreme discomfort and anxiety symptoms after leaving a perceived safe area or going into uncertain situations. Because few people know about this condition, there are many agoraphobia myths and misconceptions passed as fact. Uncover the truth about agoraphobia here.
1. Myth: People with agoraphobia never leave the house.
Fact: For some people with agoraphobia, leaving the house can be extremely challenging, but this is not true for all people with the condition.
Not all cases of agoraphobia present in the same way. Some people who live with agoraphobia do not struggle with leaving their home, but experience difficulties in situations in which it may be difficult to escape or it would feel embarrassing to do so. Often it is the fear of having a panic attack in such situations that perpetuates the high anxiety characteristic of agoraphobia.
Like with any condition, people with agoraphobia can have flare-ups. There may be times in which someone with agoraphobia is managing well and can leave home and go into crowds or other triggering areas with few symptoms. During more intense periods of the disorder, it can be far more difficult to push through the anxiety and panic; such periods may result in isolation and in extreme cases, the inability to leave one’s home.
2. Myth: Agoraphobes don’t go outside.
Fact: The symptoms of agoraphobia can vary widely, and not everyone with the condition avoids going outside.
Agoraphobia ranges in severity. In severe circumstances in which someone has debilitating panic disorder with agoraphobia, it may be difficult to leave the home, but this is not a common circumstance. The challenges people with agoraphobia face depend on the level of intensity of the condition. Many people with this condition have no problem with being outside or in familiar locations. For people with agoraphobia who do struggle to go outside, the isolation of the condition is even more intense and limiting. It can be challenging for people with this level of agoraphobia to function or meet their basic needs.
As with most anxiety-based disorders, agoraphobia gets worse if left untreated. If the condition worsens, it can become more likely for the avoidance techniques to become more complex, which can involve an increased fear of being outside.
3. Myth: People with agoraphobia are lazy.
Fact: Agoraphobia is not a character flaw; it is a set of behaviors that arise from intense anxiety and fear.
The stereotype of people with agoraphobia being lazy is a damaging mischaracterization of people with this condition. People who judge others with agoraphobia most likely do not comprehend the severity of the condition. If one has never experienced a panic attack or phobia of any kind, it might seem as though someone with a condition like this is exaggerating their fear.
One of the most important facts that anyone can learn about a mental health condition is that, regardless of whether we understand or have experienced such things, they do exist and they are very real. Judging someone as “lazy” instead of trying to understand their mental health struggles is in itself, lazy. People with agoraphobia need compassion and understanding rather than judgment. Being judged negatively for a condition one cannot control is unfair. In reality, people with agoraphobia often struggle with shame and guilt about the limiting nature of their condition. Undue criticism and judgment only worsen the negative self-evaluation of those struggling with this challenging disorder.
4. Myth: Agoraphobia is the same as introversion.
Fact: Agoraphobia and introversion are the same.
It is true that people with agoraphobia tend to score lower in extroversion scales. However, agoraphobia is a mental health diagnosis and introversion/extroversion ratings are not. Everyone has a level of introversion or extroversion as part of their personality style. One can be highly introverted without any anxiety or social phobia. Agoraphobia is not a personality trait, it is a type of anxiety disorder. Introversion and agoraphobia can result in similar avoidance of crowds, but the difference lies in the internal experience. Someone who is introverted may dislike crowds without having any particular fears associated with them, while someone who is agoraphobic could also be extroverted and struggle in specific ways that are unrelated to interacting with people. Agoraphobia can manifest in any number of ways that are unique to the individual experiencing it.
5. Myth: Individuals with agoraphobia are antisocial.
Fact: There are key differences between agoraphobia and social phobia.
People with agoraphobia may struggle with being in crowds or confined spaces, but this does not mean that they dislike people or wish to avoid others. Social anxiety can co-exist with agoraphobia but is a separate condition with different symptoms. Those who have social anxiety may struggle with interacting with others. This does not necessarily mean that people with social phobia experience anxiety about leaving home or going into areas in which there isn’t an easy escape. Social phobia is a type of anxiety that is based on fear of interacting with other people. Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety that is based on fear of leaving a perceived safe zone, or fear of being trapped in a situation in which one has limited ability to get out of the situation of stress.
6. Myth: Agoraphobia is the same as panic disorder.
Fact: Panic disorder and agoraphobia are not the same conditions.
One can have panic disorder without agoraphobia. Sometimes agoraphobia is a complication that occurs for people with panic disorder, but both conditions can exist independently. Agoraphobia was previously considered a subset of panic disorder. It has since been reclassified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition and has its own designation under the broader scope of anxiety disorders.
An important similarity between panic disorder and agoraphobia is the intense feeling of dread and physical symptoms that can manifest as a result of these disorders. In both agoraphobia and panic disorder, physical symptoms can manifest as difficulty breathing, shakiness, heart palpitations, nausea or feeling a loss of control when experiencing a flare-up. These similarities can make it complex to differentiate the two conditions at times, and this is why agoraphobia was listed as a type of panic disorder prior to 2013. Both agoraphobia and panic disorder are treatable conditions, even if they co-exist in an individual. Identifying triggers and determining whether symptoms stem from one, or both conditions is a good first step.
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Peterson, Tanya J. MS. “Avoidance and Agoraphobia Come From Fear, Not Failure.” Healthy Place, January 21, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2019. Carrera, M. et al. “Personality traits in early phases of panic disorder: implications on the presence of agoraphobia, clinical severity and short‐term outcome.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, June 15, 2006. Accessed May 26, 2019. Psychiatry.org. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.” 2013. Accessed May 26, 2019.
Peterson, Tanya J. MS. “Avoidance and Agoraphobia Come From Fear, Not Failure.” Healthy Place, January 21, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2019.
Carrera, M. et al. “Personality traits in early phases of panic disorder: implications on the presence of agoraphobia, clinical severity and short‐term outcome.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, June 15, 2006. Accessed May 26, 2019.
Psychiatry.org. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.” 2013. Accessed May 26, 2019.