The answer is...
Probably more people than you realise!
Is Agroraphobia on the Rise
In a recent article, I discussed the fear I hear people voice about rejoining society in a more normal way. I now want to turn to the quiet, often-overlooked cousin to fear, agoraphobia.
Many think agoraphobia is just a fear of open spaces, but it is more complex than commonly assumed.
The Collins dictionary defines it as an irrational or disproportionate fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, often accompanied by anxiety attacks and, in extreme cases, avoidance behaviours may render affected individuals homebound.
Agoraphobia in 2021
Now think about it. In the main, over the last year, we have been cooped up, isolated, and mixing with very few people.
I would suggest that agoraphobia will be seen in a great many more people than you might think.
The solution to this issue lies in us being aware of it, allowing for it, and not applying the usual stigma associated with agoraphobia.
We’ve all seen films or dramas where a poor female is stuck in her house.
Peeking out from behind closed curtains, she never ventures out, and her groceries are delivered to her doorstep. And, of course, she avoids any interaction with another human being. (Notice any similiarities to recent events?)
In reality, however, this is a pretty extreme portrayal and is, thankfully, rare.
Agoraphobia can manifest in subtle ways, and sometimes a person won’t realise this is the condition they have.
The one constant is the anxiety a sufferer feels. If this anxiety is not dealt with, it can lead to panic attacks making the person feel physically unwell.
My experience with agoraphobia
I’ve had numerous small episodes of agoraphobia during the aftermath of a PTSD episode.
As I emerge out of the accompanying depression, the thought of leaving the safety of my home fills me with overwhelming dread.
On opening an external door to step outside, the daylight suddenly seems too bright. The street noise sounds too loud. And everything beyond my driveway feels like a personal threat.
The very idea of venturing beyond my home causes me to sweat.
My heartbeat quickens, and my breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Then my stomach starts flip-flopping, and a queasy feeling rises, sapping my energy.
Next, my legs and arms feel weak, and at that point, I can convince myself that I am really not well enough to leave.
My mind begins to work out how I can put off or cancel whatever I am supposed to be doing outside. At the same time, it slows to the point where I can’t think clearly.
The thought of talking to someone now seems impossible.
I suddenly perceive everything outside my house as a danger to my life and wellbeing.
How I cope with it
Luckily for me, these spates of agoraphobia were identified many years ago.
I’ve learnt that, with my temperament, I just have to put one foot in front of the other and force my body to carry out the outside task in hand.
I have to deliberately ignore the feelings I’ve just described and push through the extreme discomfort.
In this situation, I am not very communicative on the first excursion. I tend to do what needs doing and then get back home. However, I always feel better for forcing myself out.
From there, I make sure I leave the house every day, extending the trips and the social contact. And it is not very many days before I’m back to normal, and the agoraphobic symptoms have gone completely.
What to do to help yourself and others
How I deal with agoraphobia is not going to work for everyone. It is a personal experience, and seeking help if you are thus afflicted is probably the best first step.
The rest of us can help by being more understanding of agoraphobia.
The stigma attached to the condition (probably linked to drama portrayals) makes it harder for people to admit they are suffering from it.
This doesn’t just affect the weak or introverted – no, even the most dynamic people can have episodes.
And for some, as in my case, agoraphobia is not a constant condition. It can be triggered by specific events and can (hopefully) fade without a person realising that this is what they’ve had.
In some cases, however, it can affect their life.
Changes in habits, availability or avoidance traits are things to watch out for.
Instead of ignoring these if seen, we should empathically question and offer our support. Perhaps, thinking of ways to coax the person out for brief periods and understanding if they turn and leave part way through.
The solutions for agoraphobia are pretty simple if it’s caught early. And I believe if the condition was acknowledged and accepted as reasonably commonplace, its effect on peoples’ lives could diminish remarkably rapidly.
Addressing this is going to be an essential piece of the puzzle as we rebuild our futures.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, let me know in the comments section below!
As a leadership trainer and professional online speaker, I help individuals and businesses move forward and overcome challenges with confidence, strength, and compassion. To discover how I can assist you, check out my in-person and virtual services.
Alternatively, contact me and let’s connect.