Published on: February 6, 2018
Fighting your way through a busy mall. Waiting in line for a sold-out show. Stepping into a crowded elevator. For you, these situations are nothing unusual; it’s just going about your day-to-day life. But for someone suffering from agoraphobia, these everyday occurrences can cause crushing chest pain, rapid heart rate, disorientation, and an overwhelming sense of anxiety and panic.
If you’re a friend or relative to one of the 1.7 percent of Americans suffering from this extreme anxiety disorder, you already know how debilitating agoraphobia can be. Agoraphobics often find themselves unable to go to school or work, run errands, or attend social events; in the most extreme cases, they’re not even able to leave the home.
So what causes agoraphobia? It can stem from a variety or combination of factors, including genetics, life experiences, and psychological traits. Agoraphobia is more common in women, with onset usually beginning in the late teenage years, though it has been known to develop much later in life as well. The Mayo Clinic highlights seven risk factors that can lead to agoraphobia or are associated with the disease:
- Having panic disorders or other phobias
- Responding to panic attacks with fear and avoidance
- Experiencing stressful life events such as abuse, an attack or the death of a parent
- Having an anxious or nervous temperament
- Have a blood relative with the disease
- Alcohol or drug abuse
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent agoraphobia. And while there are some medications that can reduce the frequency and severity of attacks, treatment generally revolves around simply helping the agoraphobic function more normally. This is where you can help.
If you’ve never experienced a panic attack, it can be difficult to understand exactly what an agoraphobic is going through. To gain insight into what they’re experiencing, read books, articles, and browse online forums where you can read posts written by agoraphobics and their loved ones; you’ll read about successes and setbacks, and may even be able to find a local or online support group.
2) Be Patient
The situations that cause an agoraphobic stress are likely to be nothing out of the ordinary for you. But even if you can’t understand their feelings, it’s important to be supportive and sympathetic. Resist the urge to trivialize their situation with comments like, “it’s no big deal” or “there’s nothing to be scared of.” To them, it is a big deal and it is scary.
3) Encourage MAP Creation
Building an anxiety plan, or MAP (My Anxiety Plan), can help the agoraphobic better cope with the challenges they face every day. AnxietyBC, a British Colombia-based charity dedicated to supporting those suffering from anxiety disorders, has created a variety of online tools that can help. If the agoraphobic is very young, the group has also created a MAP for children.
4) Take the Journey With Them
Agoraphobics have learned avoidance; they know what situations cause them great stress and do everything they can to sidestep them. But resolving to face those situations is an important step that needs to be taken to overcome their fears. Don’t pressure the agoraphobic into situations before they’re ready; they will let you know when the time is right. When they are ready, it is important for you to be beside them offering encouragement every step of the way. And if at first they don’t succeed, try, try again.
5) Celebrate Their Accomplishments
The smallest achievement is a really big deal to an agoraphobic. Therefore, positive reinforcement can be helpful at any age; everyone likes a pat on the back. You may also choose to do something special to celebrate a win, whether it’s cooking their favorite meal or buying them a special treat.
From taking the first step with them to making the most of small wins, there are many ways you can help your loved one with agoraphobia. But it’s important to remember that some people may be hesitant or even opposed to making a change. If that’s true for your situation, it may be time to suggest counselling. Psychology Today has compiled a list of various anxiety treatment centers in Florida.
To learn more about about the disorder and how to receive disability benefits with agoraphobia, contact the Disability Experts of Florida today.