Tag Archive for anxiety

What is Agoraphobia


Agoraphobia arises from an internal anxiety condition that becomes so intense that a person with this disorder feels a loss of control. This fear then turns into a pattern of avoidant behavior. Many people who experience agoraphobia oftentimes fear the outside world. They are afraid of being in places where help is not available, making them feel trapped. Most agoraphobics become housebound because it is the only place where they feel safe and secure. Some of the commonly feared places are:

  • elevators
  • bridges
  • shopping malls
  • sporting events
  • lines

The exact cause of this is unknown, but many develop agoraphobia after having a severe panic attack. Affected people will often avoid places or situations that have triggered an attack for fear that it may happen again. Many agoraphobics continue to be in a constant agonizing state of anxious anticipation due to these worries.

How Agoraphobia is Diagnosed

Mental health professionals frequently find it difficult to diagnose agoraphobia because it is often associated with severe panic attacks and acute anxiety. However, by asking questions, performing a physical examination, and through personal history from patients, doctors can begin to diagnose the disorder.

Family members and friends can also help professionals in the diagnoses of agoraphobia because they spend more time with the patient and can frequently witness the symptoms that a doctor may not be able to detect on the first visit. An example of this is a spouse may notice that the person affected by agoraphobia may become more and more reluctant to leave the house.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

However, there are several symptoms that can help doctors better diagnose the disorder. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • feeling that the body or environment is not real
  • becoming dependent on others
  • becoming housebound for long periods of time
  • fear of crowded places/ public places where escape may be difficult causing a loss of control
  • feeling helpless and anxious
  • experiencing dizziness, lightheadedness, and a rapid heart rate

Some phobias can affect job performance, as well as social and interpersonal relationships. Many who have the disorder oftentimes become housebound for years. Some of the risk factors associated with agoraphobia are:

  • nervousness and anxiety
  • extreme stress due to certain situations
  • heredity
  • being between the ages of 18 and 35
  • personality disorders


The goal of treatment is to help people with agoraphobia to learn how to function effectively. However, because the phobia is often accompanied by other disorders (panic disorder and anxiety disorder), mental health professionals have to treat those as well. There are three types of treatment: therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Therapy is normally the treatment of choice of mental health professionals. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help teach relaxation techniques and allows the patient to face the fear that may be causing the disorder. It prevents the patient from falling back into their avoidant behavior by helping them become aware of the situations that might trigger an attack.

Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications can also be used. These kinds of medications can help make situations lose their intensity and allow the patient to cope with the stress and fear that the phobia creates.

Agoraphobia is a serious and severe disorder that affects less than one percent of the American population (Agoraphobia, John L. Miller, MD). The phobia is not something that should be ignored or taken lightly. People who are experiencing these symptoms and who have high anxiety levels should seek out a trained professional as soon as possible.

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Exercise Towards A Better Mood

Feeling down-in-the-dumps lately? How about anxious or irritable? If so, join the club. It is estimated that 17 million people in the United States suffer from depression. Women are at a higher risk than men due to a variety of biological, social, and psychological causes (infertility; sexual abuse; poverty; being a minority, lesbian, adolescent, alcoholic or drug abuser; and having the personality style of being passive, dependent, pessimistic or negative in attitude and thinking). Also, men have different coping styles. Men are more likely to involve themselves in work, sports or going out with friends, all of which distract them from their worries and give them a sense of control. Women tend to dwell on their problems, often with other women.

Before you go running for the Prozac, consider it’s been proven that a program of exercise, coupled with counseling, can reduce depression and speed up the healing process. Exercise will elevate your mood, increase your metabolism, give you a higher energy level, decrease your stress, reduce your blood pressure, and lower your cholesterol – all important factors of the complex puzzle of depression. Also, by increasing energy levels, you alter your body chemistry. This could eliminate the need for medication (though this depends on the severity of depression). Ultimately, the need for medication must be monitored by a doctor.

Studies have found that exercise, whether mild or vigorous, makes a big difference in mild to moderate depression. Three studies compared exercise to psychotherapy, concluding that exercise was at least as effective. One study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that emotional benefits from exercise are related to elevated feelings of self-confidence. When people believe they are capable of achieving more, it has a positive reinforcing effect.

Taking a walk when you’re anxious will reduce tension, while regular exercise encourages a calmer state of mind. One woman I know takes a walk through the grove of trees in back of her house, focusing on the chirping of the birds, the crunch underneath her feet, and the way the sun filters through the trees. She said when she was a little girl, she used to sing to the pixies and elves in this forest! A walk through these trees clears her mind and eases her mood instantly. A friend of mine in Canada takes a walk with her dog by the lake, sometimes going solo, other times bringing along another friend and her dog. An instant physical, mental, and spiritual booster.

Consider these other factors with respect to exercise and mood:

  • Exercise boosts the quality and quantity of sleep. (Now who doesn’t feel better after a good night’s rest?)
  • Exercise increases immunity, with regular exercise giving a 50% increase in the blood’s killer cell activity and up to 20% more virus antibodies. (You know – the mind-body connection thing.)
  • Movement increases the blood and oxygen to the brain, which boosts mental sharpness, vigor, and creative thinking. (Who needs Gingko Biloba?!)

So what types of exercise are the best for combating depression or anxiety? Speed walking, jogging, aerobics, hiking, bicycling, rowing, and cross-country skiing are good, as these activities use the large muscle groups in a rhythmical way and give you a good aerobic workout. Throw in three days per week of strength-training of moderate intensity, and you’re on your way to feeling and looking your best.

As for counseling, according to Donna Bellafiore, LCSW, CADC, and Katharine Huss, Fitness Consultant, counseling can provide a mechanism for venting feelings and reducing thoughts that deplete energy. New skills learned in counseling are used for the handling of stressful situations that occur daily. These skills give a person new perspectives and a fresh way of looking at situations.

You have the power within to gain control over your life. Take time to take care of yourself by getting regular exercise and seeking counseling, if needed.