Anxiety and Agoraphobia

Over the past few months, I have been getting more and more calls about young people who are increasing afraid to leave home and who are having panic attacks. The past year has been tough on all of us. And feeling anxious has become the new normal.

Staying at home as Covid rates rose and new variants made their way into the US made us feel safer and in many places, it was required. One wonders if staying at home and feeling less safe in public spaces could have fed the anxiety disorder known as agoraphobia.

If your loved one has crossed the line from normal discomfort to problematic living, here are some things to consider

 What is Agoraphobia? 

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that makes people fear and avoid situations where they feel embarrassed, threatened or helpless. Their fear of a situation is out of proportion to the true level of risk. Paradoxically, fear of being in public spaces as COVID-19 and variants continue to spread is a normal response to a threatening event. 

 Panic Disorder 

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety that is most diagnosed in adults. While onset usually occurs in early adulthood, it can begin in teen years. Teenagers will experience the condition in similar ways to adults.

Teens and adults can both, however, be diagnosed with panic disorder without acrophobia and vice versa. Teenagers with panic disorder may experience these attacks through a combination of frightening somatic symptoms and disturbing thoughts and perceptions.

Some of the most common physical symptoms of panic attacks include:

∙ Chest pain

∙ Difficulty breathing

∙ Excessive sweating

∙ Rapid heartbeat

∙ Shortness of breath

∙ Trembling or shaking

∙ Feeling sick or faint

∙ Dizziness

∙ Trouble swallowing

These attacks are often accompanied by feelings of losing touch with oneself and one’s surrounding a conditions known as derealization and depersonalization.  The physical symptoms can be frightening and it’s not unusual for teenager to think that a panic attack is life-threatening if medical condition.

 Panic Disorders With Agoraphobia 

Since panic attacks an be terrifying experience, many teenagers with panic disorder try to avoid them to all costs, which means teens will avoid places, circumstances and situations they believe are contributing to their  panic attacks. Considering how teens desire to fit in, having a panic attach can be embarrassing

It can be difficult to comprehend how a person can develop avoidance behaviors. To get a better understanding, imagine that you are in a crowded movie theater when you an unexpected panic attack begins. You tremble, your chest hurts, your heart races, and you feel as though you are choking. You don’t want to make a scene, but you fear for your life. You wonder if you are having a medical emergency. You feel as though you are watching yourself from a distance. You feel trapped in the movie theater, and despite your embarrassment, you run out of the theater.

After you leave, your symptoms subside and you feel ashamed about how you reacted. The next time a friend invites you to go see a movie, you decline, finding it too difficult to go again. The fear that you’ll experience another panic attack prompts you avoid crowded areas such as shopping malls or concerts. Your avoidance behaviors put restrictions on your life.

According to Harvard Medical Health, approximately 1/3 of all folks who experience a panic disorder will develop agoraphobia.

Someone who has agoraphobia might avoid places where they might be trapped (such as an office meeting) or put on the spot and judged — perhaps during a conversation at a party. They also may avoid situations or places that feel out of control, such as a trip with other people where they don’t control the schedule and timing, or an open, public space like a park. As a result, people who have agoraphobia often fear leaving their homes. Teen girls are twice as likely as teen boys to develop agoraphobia.

Teens and adults with agoraphobia will often experience fears in clusters and may:

∙ become fearful of crowds,

∙ stay away from large groups such as school cafeterias,

∙ become fearful of driving on the freeway or of taking public transportation

If you are wondering if your anxious feelings are beyond the range of normal, ask yourselves the following questions:

∙ Is my response in line with the potential threat or danger?

∙ Are my loved ones concerned about my avoidance?

∙ Am I worried about getting Covid?

∙ Am I avoiding social contacts to the point I am harming myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually?

∙ Am I avoiding more people and places more than normal?

If you would like more information, Very Well Mind and Harvard Health are excellent resources.

Help is available. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these issues, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.