The word ‘agoraphobia’ originates from agora meaning ‘marketplace’ in Greek and phobia meaning ‘fear’.
It is the fear of being in spaces where you can’t easily escape, and where help isn’t readily available should you need it.
The condition is derived from panic disorder – so people who suffer it typically try to avoid situations like crowds, public transport or even queues (to avoid having a panic attack).
But in extreme cases, it can make an individual fearful of leaving their own home for anything at all – ‘just in case’ they end up caught in one of these situations.
Think about some of the most common places you visited (before the coronavirus pandemic, that is). Shopping centres. Congested trains. Busy workplaces.
Now imagine that you felt as though you had no choice but to avoid these places, just to keep your anxiety levels under control.
How would you get to work? And once you were there, how would you even function and perform your duties if your workspace was filled with people?
This is the reality for many people experiencing agoraphobia. It can be limiting – and often, extremely debilitating. And it can lead to long-term consequences if not managed or treated.
As part of the lockdown, we are being told to stay at home. And this means that people who were already suffering from agoraphobia are effectively being encouraged to self-perpetuate their condition.
This is because they are required to avoid the very thing that’s causing them the most distress: leaving home.
While at surface level this appears to be a positive, when it comes to overcoming such conditions, exposure is one of the best treatment methods.
But there’s also a flip side too…
Since the pandemic began, we’ve already seen a rise of other anxiety-related disorders such as OCD, health anxiety and panic. Agoraphobia is another natural consequence for people who may have a predisposition to the condition.
While lockdown may exacerbate an individual’s pre-existing agoraphobia, it can also initiate it in people who haven’t experienced it before – because it inherently prompts avoidance behaviours.
If you’re someone who is already predisposed to the condition, when you’re faced with long periods indoors and a general feeling of anxiety, you could be at risk of developing agoraphobia.
The main issue is that the current situation normalises staying at home. And creating a habit of doing so is a trigger for agoraphobia.
If you think that you or someone you love is displaying agoraphobic tendencies, here are some useful things you can do to manage it:
Like many other anxiety conditions, exposure is one of the most effective treatments.
Although that’s probably not the news you want to hear, doing so in the company of a therapist can help.
One of the newest (and widely successful) techniques some of our practitioners have introduced for treating agoraphobia is Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET).
VRET is designed to help people overcome specific phobias. It utilises technology by replicating real environments virtually. This allows us to expose our clients to specific objects or situations without leaving the safety of the therapist’s office.
During application, the therapist has control over the virtual situation and its gradation. This allows for immediate feedback on what our client is feeling – and the ability to modify as necessary.
If you suspect agoraphobia or its tendencies could be affecting you or a loved one, we provide a range of treatment techniques (including VRET) to help you overcome it. And as always, we still offer sessions via telehealth. Contact us today by calling 1300 995 636.