Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is marked by recurrent and typically unanticipated panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a combination of many frightening physical symptoms and upsetting thoughts. For instance, during a panic attack a person may experience physical sensations, such as shortness of breath, shaking, accelerated heart rate, and chest pain. Additionally, the person may become afraid that they are having a medical emergency, experience feelings of depersonalization and derealization, and even fear that they are dying.
In spite of these disturbing symptoms, most people with panic disorder will learn strategies to overcome panic attacks. There are many safe and effective treatment options that can assist in recovering from this condition. However, approximately one third of people diagnosed with panic disorder will develop a separate mental health disorder known as agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia involves intense fear and anxiety about one’s panic attacks. Specifically, a person with panic disorder with agoraphobia fears that they will have a panic attack in a place or situation in which escape would be difficult. The person may also be afraid that they will humiliate themselves in front of others if they have a panic attack in a situation where it would be hard to flee from. Additionally, many people with agoraphobia are fearful of having panic attacks in places where no one would be available to help them.
The extreme fear and anxiety associated with agoraphobia often leads to avoidance behaviors. These avoidances occur when the person stays away from various places and situations that they fear will trigger a panic attack. Avoidance behaviors vary for different people and may include a distancing oneself from means of transportation, open spaces, and large crowds.
Avoidance behaviors can greatly limit an agoraphobic’s quality of life. It is not uncommon for these fears and avoidances to become so extreme that a person with agoraphobia becomes homebound out of fear.
If you are afraid to leave your home due to agoraphobia, you are most likely experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation. However, there are some steps you can take to manage your symptoms. The following explains ways to cope with and overcome your avoidance behaviors.treatment options.
Agoraphobia typically develops within the first year that a person begins having persistent and unexpected panic attacks. Therefore, it is important to seek out professional help as soon as symptoms arise. However, people with disabling and long-term agoraphobia typically have positive results and improvements through professional help.reduce negative thoughts, and elicit your relaxation response.
Desensitization begins by gradually imaging yourself in anxiety-provoking situations while learning how to relax through your feelings of apprehension. While picturing yourself in places or situations that typically trigger panic attacks, you will use a relaxation technique to work through your fears and anxieties. Over time, you may be able to visualize yourself in feared situations and yet feel in control of your anxiety. By learning to relax through panic-inducing visualizations, you will eventually be able to reduce panic and avoidance behaviors.Stress has been known to contribute to many physical and mental health problems. Additionally, too much stress can potentially trigger some of your symptoms. To reduce your panic and anxiety symptoms, learn some stress management techniques.
American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.
Bourne, E. J. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 5th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2011.