Understanding Agoraphobia or Fear of Leaving the House

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Often mischaracterized merely as a "fear of leaving your house," agoraphobia encompasses the anxiety of being in certain situations for which escape is difficult or potentially embarrassing, or where help is not readily available. More specifically, the focus is on the fear of having a panic attack in such situations.

What Is Agoraphobia?

A fear of leaving the house is associated with agoraphobia, though not all people with this condition express this concern. Agoraphobia can occur on its own but is more commonly a complication of panic disorder.

You do not need to be homebound to be diagnosed with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia generates a panic response in a variety of situations, including traveling by car, train, plane or bus; being in an elevator, crowd, large store, or confined area; being on a bridge or standing in a line. The fear associated with agoraphobia is so intense that a person will usually go to great lengths to avoid these situations. At the most extreme cases, agoraphobia can develop into a fear of leaving one’s house altogether. One’s home becomes his or her “safe zone.”​

With support and the proper training, you can effectively manage your symptoms.

Get Professional Help

The sooner treatment begins after the onset of agoraphobia, the more quickly symptom reduction or elimination will be realized. However, even people with long-term symptoms will generally experience improvement with treatment, and most will regain the freedom to resume many of the activities they once enjoyed. Your doctor can help you get connected with the right therapy programs.

Learn and Practice Relaxation Techniques

Your fear of leaving the house is fed by anxiety. By learning and practicing relaxation techniques, you could reduce the level of your anxiety and the frequency of your panic attacks. You may even be able to defuse an attack in the making. Some popular relaxation mechanisms include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, mindfulness meditation, and visualization. These skills are generally easy to learn and can be practiced for short durations of time to effectively reduce anxiety.

Keep Stress in Check

Stress and anxiety seem to go hand in hand—increase one and the others will follow. Relaxation techniques will help you manage stress and anxiety, but it may be most beneficial to deal with your stressors head-on. Ask yourself what is causing you the most stress and create a plan to reduce anxiety by eliminating some stressors from your life.

Learn and Practice Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization usually starts with imagining yourself in a progression of fearful situations and using relaxation strategies that compete with anxiety. Once you can successfully manage your anxiety while imagining fearful events, you can use the technique in real-life situations. The goal of the process is to become gradually desensitized to the triggers that are causing your distress. This technique can be learned through your own self-help applications, but it can be more helpful to learn desensitization through the guidance of a professional therapist.

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  • American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.," 2013 Washington, DC: Author.