Agoraphobia can develop from having panic attack
This page is to explain what you can do to prevent it from happening, if you are already having panic attacks. It will also discuss what to do if you already have agoraphobia.
What is agoraphobia
People often think that agoraphobia is having a fear of being outside, in large spaces. I find it more useful to think of it as a fear of situations where you believe you might have a panic attack or not be able to escape from. Somewhere where you do not feel safe, and every part of you wants to return to where you think you will feel safe. It is this fear that eventually causes avoidance. Over time, you can start to avoid more and more situations until you are afraid to leave your home and may even feel unsafe if you are at home alone.
What causes agoraphobia? Signs and symptoms
It often starts with panic attacks. If the attacks are not treated and become more frequent, you might begin to live in fear of the next attack, which might result in panic disorder, which in turn may turn into panic attack disorder with agoraphobia.
The first panic attack.
Often comes out of the blue. One minute you are feeling ok, and the next, your heart is pounding, you are finding it difficult to breathe, shaking, sweating, your pulse is racing and you are terrified. Often, finding out that what you have just experienced was a panic attack, may not give you the reassurance you need, especially if you start to experience frequent panic attacks. Pretty soon your headspace if full of thoughts relating to panic attack.
How do I know it is just a panic attack?
Even though some part of you can start to accept that the physical symptoms you are experiencing is part of a panic attack, it is almost impossible to think this during an attack. Your whole life can be quickly turned upside coping with attacks as they happen, and living in fear of the next one.
It is very difficult to “get out of your head” with panic attack disorder as the symptoms are so severe and naturally worry you. It can seem such a roller coaster ride, that you try to make sense of what is happening. You start looking for triggers, something that can help you understand what caused the last panic attack. If you notice that you have had several panic attacks in the shopping mall, it makes sense that you might be fearful of returning to the mall. What happens if it happens again there?
The start of avoidance
You might decide to return to the mall and as soon as you go inside you quickly scan the building to make sure you know how to get out, in case you need to. Going into shops may cause you feel anxious and you are no longer concentrating on what there is for sale as your head is more concerned with what you are starting to feel in your body. You can feel panic starting and rather than face that again, you quickly leave and return home.
Once home, your anxiety starts to calm down. Your brain is quick to note this.
Shopping mall is similar to Panic Attack
Home is similar to Safe
Even the thought of the mall makes you anxious and afraid. Next time you need something, you might go to the local store instead of the mall. This is the start of avoidance.
Our brain works to protect us from danger. The brain might notice similarities in the shopping mall and the local store. Your thoughts might quickly turn to worrying if something might happen in the smaller store. This is enough to send alarm bells ringing in your brain that something is wrong and you get a stress response. You start to panic attack again.
Over time, you might start to notice that there are fewer places where you feel safe. Fewer places where you do not panic, until the only place that you feel comfortable is at home. This is agoraphobia.
If you have an attack at home, it can be more bearable as you do not have to have to contend with worrying what other people are thinking of you, or how to get out of where you are.
If agoraphobia is left untreated, you may start to feel unsafe if you are at home alone. Having someone around means you have help at hand if you need it, or someone to help to distract you from what you are feeling in your body and mind.
Agoraphobia and Panic Attack