The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on many people living with a mental health diagnosis. For people living with anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, the COVID-19 situation has been incredibly challenging. Unfortunately, the pandemic was also the perfect circumstance for people at risk for agoraphobia to start developing symptoms.

agoraphobia

What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety that causes a person to avoid places or situations that they feel might cause them stress, cause them to panic. Public transportation, shops, theaters, restaurants, being in public alone, or irrational fear of something terrible happening are the most common triggers of this anxiety disorder. For a person living with agoraphobia, just the thought of going somewhere or being in the same situation where they’ve experienced a panic attack before can be enough for them to avoid going out.

People with severe agoraphobia have difficulty leaving their home to perform essential life tasks without experiencing anxiety symptoms that can last for hours; panic attacks, profuse sweating, heart palpitations, uncontrollable shaking, hot flashes, nausea, or other abdominal issues are some of the most common presentations.

Who’s at risk for Agoraphobia?

Although some people have a higher risk, anyone can develop agoraphobia symptoms. However, you might have an increased chance of developing agoraphobia if you:

  • Have been diagnosed with another anxiety disorder, including panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder

  • Are a habitual worrier.

  • Are a woman

  • Are under the age of 35

  • Have a family history of agoraphobia

Traumatic experiences can also cause someone to develop agoraphobia. For example, a victim of domestic abuse may be afraid to leave their home because that was one of the things that triggered abuse at the hands of their spouse.

Agoraphobia and COVID-19

Wearing a mask can be difficult for someone with agoraphobia. The condition often goes hand in hand with many other anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder. Wearing a mask can cause people with these disorders to feel claustrophobic and fearful of going out in public, and being singled out for not wearing one can be nerve-wracking.

During the pandemic, some people may feel trapped because of the stay-at-home orders, while some may feel anxious about leaving their home at all. In addition, many people with agoraphobia have family members or friends they take when they need to leave their homes. With social distancing protocols, that may not be possible in many cases, which could cause even more anxiety for them.

While many people with agoraphobia might be happy to stay at home, there are several for whom having to shelter in place can be a nightmare. Many people with anxiety feel safe because of their connection to emotional support, even though it means leaving their homes. For those who rely on others to assist them, stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules can remove that support that made it possible to function. They can’t even have face-to-face sessions with their therapist, which is another challenge. Even with the explosion of teletherapy, there are still those who do not have access to the internet.

There is always a chance that someone’s agoraphobia could worsen even as the pandemic is getting under control. In many places around the country, restrictions are lifted depending on COVID-19 case numbers, even though it is considered a fluid situation that could change at any given time. Certain businesses remain open as long as precautions are in place. However, the virus is not gone, and people continue to become extremely ill because of it. This situation creates uncertainty and fear, which is a perfect storm for anyone at risk of developing agoraphobia.

Managing agoraphobia symptoms as pandemic restrictions ease

One way to deal with symptoms of agoraphobia is to decrease exposure to any anxiety-provoking stimuli such as news coverage. Easier said than done, but sometimes the “out of sight, out of mind” technique can be very effective.

A typical symptom of an anxiety attack is the feeling that you may be having a heart attack, a stroke, complete loss of control, or loss of sanity. Keep reminding yourself that it’s a false alarm.

Make time for relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga. Help the body reach a resting state, so it’s not always in hypervigilant mode.

There’s a lot of peer support available online that can help normalize the difficulty of suddenly having to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 lifestyle. You will find that you are not alone and will likely get many tips for coping.

Seeking treatment for agoraphobia

One huge issue for many people living with anxiety disorders is the inability to see their therapist in person due to the pandemic. This situation has led many clinics to offer virtual therapy so that you can speak to a therapist from the comfort of your own home.

If you or someone you know is suffering from severe symptoms of agoraphobia to the point where it’s limiting their ability to manage their day-to-day activities, call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit us at www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment.