Up until the last few days I had no idea how big of a problem this is. I knew that those who suffer from Agoraphobia avoid holidays like they are the plaque, and frankly, I think of Black Friday as a plague. But until I discussed my fear of crowds with others, I had no idea how many others suffered from this. Mine has been suggested to me, and is a very mild form, as is many others’, but when it comes time for the holidays, those who suffer from this can be greatly effected.
Agoraphobia is a fear of having a panic attack or panic symptoms in a place where it would be difficult or embarrassing to do so. This includes, wide-open spaces, crowds (which is most common), and uncontrolled social situations. This is one of the most common phobias out there, with the number one fear being fear of crowds. Most people avoid crowds, large social situations and or places such as airports where they could not escape if they had a panic attack. It is believed that the onset is for women between 20-40 years old, with women being the most common sufferers.
For those who have had panic attacks, some people with Agoraphobia may not return to the location of the panic attack, turning it into a fear of that particular place. With extreme cases, this causes people to become housebound.
While there is no cause or cure currently known, many doctors suggest that it is a visible cause of other anxiety disorders or depression. It is seen quite commonly with other stressors such as a stressful home or work environment, substance abuse or physical abuse. People who do not have a secure environment are also prone to this phobia (ie: having a stable family, roof over their heads, etc).
Panic attacks can be easily triggered, some of the symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shortness of breath. The biggest complaint with panic attacks is the feeling of loosing control. If you are having a panic attack, you need to try to do the impossible: breathe. If you see someone having a panic attack, try to talk to them calmly, try to assist them in slow, deep breaths. When I’ve assisted others with their panic attacks I try to help them breathe and take their mind off of the fear. If the person is indoors and they can walk, assist them outdoors. Fresh air does help.
Personally I am not as scared of the panic attack, as I am of the uncomfortable feelings of being in crowds. If I am to be frank, I believe it comes at the fault of people being unaware of their actions, others reactions, and being ignorant due to overuse of cell phones and social media while being out and about.
I used to LOVE crowds. Movies on a Friday night? No problem. Crowded sports arenas? Bring it on! Busy restaurants on a Saturday? Why not! One day, I hated crowds. Hated people. Hated the whole concept of being out and about if I didn’t need to be. My husband loves people and crowds and struggled with this at first, but after a while our quiet date nights on Wednesdays at 3pm weren’t so bad. Our trips to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night didn’t seem so bad. I didn’t think twice about why I changed or if it were bad or not.
When I sat down to talk to my mother-in-law the other day she mentioned she hated crowds too. I asked her why she hated them and she provided me with a good reason: because they don’t pay attention and instead of being polite, are rude. When I mentioned it bothered me too, she nodded. “Well, yeah, based on what happened to you, I’d hate crowds too.” Pausing, I suddenly felt scared. What happened to me?
Apparently it bothered me and I have blocked it out, because her and my husband both remember quite well. I was four weeks post-op from my shoulder surgery and at Wal-Mart on a Friday night picking up some last minute items for my mother in law for a Christmas party. (She refuses to go to Wal-Mart, so she was at home.) While walking through the store a woman hit me very hard with her very full shopping cart, taking me to the ground. Since my arm was in a sling I was unable to catch myself and per my husband I hit very hard. I was in alot of pain and very angry, and he walked me out to the car so I could catch my breath and relax while he got the items. When we arrived home I just wasn’t okay. I told my mother in law what happened and that I was tired, then immediately went to bed. Per her I wasn’t myself for a few days. When I finally got back to being myself, I refused to go out in crowds.
With the holidays being in full swing this is something I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention. This isn’t something that is rare, this is actually quite common. It affects those at holiday parties, affects those at the stores, affects those who aren’t even trying to get the holidays taken care of, but just trying to make it through their day. If you have this, know you aren’t alone. If you do not have this, take the information and use it. Chances are, by at least offering to help, you are helping ease a phobia.