The term agoraphobia has been widely misunderstood. Its literal definition suggests a fear of “open spaces”. However, this is an incomplete and misleading view. Agoraphobics are not necessarily afraid of open spaces. Rather, they are afraid of having panicky feelings, wherever. these fearful feelings may occur. For many, they happen at home, in houses of worship, or in crowded supermarkets, places that are certainly not “open”.
In fact, agoraphobia is a condition which develops when a person begins to avoid spaces or situations associated with anxiety. Typical “phobic situations” might include driving, shopping, crowded places, traveling, standing in line, being alone, meetings and social gatherings.
Agoraphobia arises; from an internal anxiety condition that has become so intense that the suffering individual fears going anywhere or doing anything where these feelings of panic have repeatedly occurred before. Once the panic attacks have started, these episodes become the ongoing stress, even when other more obvious pressures have diminished. This sets up a “feedback condition” which generally leads to increased numbers of panic attacks and, for some people, an increase in the situations or events which can produce panicky feelings. Others experience fearful feelings continuously, more a feeling of overall. discomfort, rather than panic.
A person may fear having anxiety attacks, “losing control”, or embarrassing him/herself in such situations. Many people remain in a painful state of anxious anticipation because of these fears. Some become restricted or “housebound” while others function “normally” but with great difficulty, often attempting to hide their discomfort.
Agoraphobia, then, is both a severe anxiety condition and a phobia, as well as a pattern of avoidant behavior.