The Fear of Places or Situations That Cause Panic

Understanding Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes the extreme fear of leaving safe environments, like a home. Depending on the severity of fear and anxiety, a person may not leave their home or “safe space” for days, months or years.

There are reasons that a person might develop agoraphobia, and it’s important to know the risk factors:

When a person experiences an unexpected change in their life, it can be shocking and deeply upsetting. After or during traumatic events, a person may shift into a state of survival, causing them to act in ways that aren’t typical for them or turn to coping mechanisms that provide them with a temporary sense of security. Everyone deals with anxiety, trauma and fear differently, and agoraphobia is just that: an intense fear response.

If a person associates the outside world with danger, they may turn to an environment that allows them to feel less vulnerable. Agoraphobia may cause a person to avoid public transportation, grocery shopping or leaving their home altogether. By staying home, they feel they can avoid situations that spike their anxiety and leave them feeling uncomfortable.

What Agoraphobia Looks Like

Those with agoraphobic tendencies are more likely to avoid going outside of their homes and find other ways to get their needs met. They may opt for online grocery shopping instead of going in store, calling friends on the phone instead of seeing them in person, or avoiding things they used to enjoy, like going to their favorite coffee shop on the weekend. Some people even experience panic (heavy breathing, dizziness, sweating, nausea, etc.) when they are away from their safe space.

The following are common symptoms of agoraphobia:

  • Anxiety or fear of outside world
  • Panic attacks (rapid heartbeat, breathing, nausea)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Extreme dread

Agoraphobic symptoms can cause someone to withdraw from social situations or experience panic attacks in the same areas. People with agoraphobia may associate fear with places that they cannot control or leave easily, like entering an enclosed space, waiting in a long line or vast areas like open spaces or large crowds.


There are different levels of severity, ranging from mild to extreme. The severity and triggers a person may experience will determine their treatment plan on how to overcome agoraphobia. For any type of anxiety disorder, understanding the root cause of the behavior is essential, and this may or may not be obvious to the person themselves. Treating agoraphobia, like any mental health condition, is tailored to the patient and their needs.


Therapy is not one size fits all, which means there are options for every individual. Some common forms of therapy for agoraphobia include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Talk therapy focused on changing negative thought and behavioral patterns.
  • Exposure therapy or systematic desensitization – Talk therapy that gradually exposes a person to their trigger in a safe environment, which helps to desensitize them and reduce their anxiety or fears.
  • Psychotherapy – General talk therapy for mental or behavioral disorders. This includes family therapy, too.

Lifestyle Changes

Alongside medical or therapeutic treatment for agoraphobia, healthy lifestyle changes may help. Practicing methods of self-soothing, like meditation and deep breathing, can lessen the symptoms of a panic attack or fear response.

In situations of great fear or anxiety, knowing what coping skills help create a broader sense of well-being is a great tool. Relaxing approaches to physical activity, like yoga or rhythmic dance exercise, can help relieve stress naturally. It’s up to the individual in deciding what makes them feel best. That could mean running or walking, eating nutritious foods or creating a daily routine.

Support Groups

There are many different kinds of support groups, and joining one can have many benefits. Support groups can be a comforting space for those who feel alone in their struggles with agoraphobia to reduce anxious feelings.

Being able to connect with others over a shared issue can help to lessen the burden and shame. In support group meetings, a person will learn healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to alleviate symptoms and identify their triggers.


Agoraphobia treatment plans may require medication, especially if other methods have not been successful. Commonly considered options include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or sedatives, which may help ease agoraphobia symptoms and allow accompanying treatment methods to be more effective.