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Agoraphobia is a form of anxiety disorder. The name is literally translated
as "a fear of the marketplace", and thus of open or public spaces. Many
people suffering from agoraphobia, however, are not afraid of the open
spaces themselves, but of situations often associated with these spaces,
such as social gatherings. Others are comfortable seeing visitors, but only
in a defined space they feel in control of--such a person may live for years
without leaving his home, while happily seeing visitors and working, as long
as they can stay within their safety zone.
An agoraphobic experiences severe panic attacks during situations where they
feel trapped, insecure, out of control, or too far from their personal
comfort zone. During severe bouts of anxiety, the agoraphobic is confined
not only to their home, but to one or two rooms and they may even become
bedbound until their over-stimulated nervous system can quieten down, and
their adrenaline levels return to a more normal level.
Agoraphobics are often extremely sensitised to their own bodily sensations,
sub-consciously over-reacting to perfectly normal events. To take one
example, the exertion involved in climbing a flight of stairs may be the
cause for a fullblown panic attack, because it increases the heartbeat and
breathing rate, which the agoraphobic interprets as the start of a panic
attack instead of a normal fluctuation.
Agoraphobia can be successfully treated in many cases through a very gradual
process of graduated exposure therapy combined with cognitive therapy and
sometimes anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.