Agoraphobia and its Impact on a Person's Life
A phobic disorder is marked by a persistent and irrational fear of an object or situation that presents no realistic danger. Agoraphobia is an intense, irrational fear or anxiety occasioned by the prospect of having to enter certain outdoor locations or open spaces. For example, busy streets, busy stores, tunnels, bridges, public transportation and cars. Traditionally agoraphobia was solely classified as a phobic disorder. However, due to recent studies it is now also viewed as a panic disorder. Panic disorders are characterised by recurrent attacks of overwhelming anxiety that usually occur suddenly and unexpectedly (Weiten, 1998).
For a person diagnosed with agoraphobia, there are a number of restrictions and consequences associated with the disorder. A serious consequence is the incidence of severe and paralysing panic attacks. In the early stages of agoraphobia people suffer recurring panic attacks when in certain public places or situations. These attacks cause the person to feel generally uncomfortable in public settings. Eventually, fear of the recurrence of the panic attacks results in an obvious reluctance or refusal to enter all situations associated with the attacks. Other consequences of agoraphobia may include fear of being alone, fear of being in places where escape might be difficult, feelings of helplessness, dependence on others and depression. These consequences place many serious restrictions on a person with this disorder. Agoraphobia causes people to restrict their activities to smaller and smaller areas in order to avoid crowds, and open and public places or situations. This may finally lead to the inability of a person to leave their home without suffering a panic attack.
As with all other phobias, agoraphobia is often acquired through classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is a type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus (Weiten, 1998). Describing and explaining exactly how agoraphobia is acquired can be achieved by identifying the antecedents of the phobia. Antecedents are the events that precede a particular response. In the case of agoraphobia, this response is a panic attack. Agoraphobia is essentially anxiety of three kinds, phobic anxiety, panic anxiety (the panic attacks), and phobic anxiety, which is worry about the panic attacks returning. However, it is the panic attacks that form the basis of the phobic disorder. Agoraphobia starts suddenly with an unexpected panic attack. This usually strikes while the person is outdoors. This is likely to cause the person to avoid the situation or place where the original panic attack occurred. The panic attacks then begin to occur more frequently, and once they begin to happen monthly or more often, it is likely that the full agoraphobic pattern will emerge. The reason why these initial panic attacks occur is not known, but stress is...