At the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley, we offer therapy and counseling in Saratoga/San Jose for agoraphobia.
What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive fear about having a panic attack in a public place or anyplace where you might fear you might not get help if you need it or where you might be embarrassed if other people saw your symptoms. As agoraphobia develops, you start to avoid situations that you’re afraid might cause you to panic. You might avoid being alone, leaving your home or any situation where you could feel trapped, embarrassed or helpless if you do panic. People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather. The fears can be so overwhelming that you may feel your world closing in. At its most severe, you may become so anxious when you leave home that you eventually become homebound.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Typical agoraphobia symptoms include fear of being alone in a public place or any situation where you might have a panic or anxiety attack, fear of being in crowded places, fear of losing control in a public place, and/or a fear of being in places where it may be hard to leave. Places and situations you may avoid are airplanes, elevators, driving or car rides with or without other people, sporting events, concerts, bridges, public transportation, shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, crowds and/or lines of people.
When you are in a situation that triggers your agroaphobia, you may experience a sense of helplessness and a sense that your body is unreal. You may have signs and symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack, including lightheadedness, trouble breathing, dizziness, excessive sweating, rapid heart rate, flushing, nausea, upset stomach or diarrhea, chest pain, feeling a loss of control and/or trouble swallowing. If your agoraphobia is severe, you may be unable to leave your house for long periods or become overdependent on others for assistance.
Cognitive Behavioral Model of Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is usually a result of panic disorder or another anxiety disorder and not a stand-alone condition. Panic disorder is a fear of having a panic attack. With panic disorder, you may experience attacks of intense fear (panic attacks) that for no obvious reason trigger intense physical symptoms. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
If you believe you’re going to have a panic attack when you go out in public, you may indeed have one — causing a vicious cycle. The number of places you’re able to go may become fewer and fewer. You begin to develop agoraphobia when you make a connection (consciously or unconsciously) between your panic attacks and one or more situations in which the panic attacks have occurred. You may avoid similar places or situations to try to prevent future panic attacks. In some cases, fear of having a panic attack may be so great that you may not be able to leave the safety of your home.
Agoraphobia can severely limit your ability to socialize, work, attend important events and manage the details of daily life, such as going grocery shopping and running errands. With agoraphobia, you may have some “safe places,” or places you can go without severe anxiety, especially if accompanied by a “safe person” who is a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes they may muster up the courage to go somewhere, but they still feel extremely uncomfortable. In these cases, you may develop a variety of “safety behaviors” to get you through the experience. Safety behaviors are some of the ways that you may try to protect yourself from feeling anxiety symptoms or a panic attack. Some examples include avoiding situations, and leaving them when you feel anxious, relying on support people and support objects (cell phones, water bottles, etc.), and the use of distraction. Safety behaviors trick you into believing you are safe, but they actually keep your fear alive over time.
Cognitive Behavior Treatment of Agoraphobia
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for agoraphobia typically includes some or all of the following therapy components:
- Education: Learn about the typical elements of agoraphobia, including how it develops, the role of anxiety and panic symptoms, how avoidance and safety behaviors maintain agoraphobia and the elements of treatment.
- Self-Monitoring: Track the details of your agoraphobia episodes (triggers, thoughts/beliefs, behavioral responses, and frequency, intensity, duration of anxiety, worry, panic) to identify your patterns and guide the treatment plan.
- Cognitive Strategies: The cognitive part of CBT involves learning how to respond to your agoraphobia symptoms more effectively. You will learn what factors may trigger a panic attack or panic-like symptoms and what makes them worse. You will identify your safety behaviors and learn how to respond to panic attacks, and the anticipatory fear of a panic attack, in ways that will reduce the severity of the problem over time. Instead of fighting against a panic attack, you will learn ways to accept the symptoms without making them worse. Ironically, the less you fear your symptoms, the less likely they are to show up.
- Behavioral Strategies: The behavioral part of CBT involves exposure therapy. In this phase, you will learn how to safely face the places and situations that cause fear and anxiety. You will begin entering those situations you have been avoiding so you can get some practice using your newly learned responses in actual situations that you fear. In the early stages of exposure therapy, your therapist may join you on outings to help you stay safe and comfortable, such as trips to the mall or driving your car. The more you go to feared places and realize you’re okay, the more your anxiety will lessen.
How to Get Help for Agoraphobia
The Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley provide treatment for agoraphobia. We are located in Saratoga on the border of San Jose and Saratoga just 1/2 mile from Highway 85. With our convenient location near highway 85, we serve the Silicon Valley communities of San Jose, Saratoga, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Cupertino and Campbell, CA. Contact us at (408) 384-8404 for more information on how we can help you overcome agoraphobia.