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Agora-what? Agoraphobia is when you fear having a panic attack in a place or situation that is difficult to escape from or where help may not be available. This anxiety can lead you to avoid some situations such as public transport, crowds or queues. If you think this might be you, there is help available.

This can help if:

  • you worry about having panic attacks
  • you want to know what agoraphobia is
  • you’re worried about someone who may be experiencing agoraphobia.
Boy at window looking down

What is agoraphobia?

If you have agoraphobia, it means you get anxious about having a panic attack. As well as crowds and queues, you may fear other places or situations where you’ve had a panic attack before. This fear makes you avoid these situations or do things to help manage your anxiety, such as only catching the bus with a parent or friend. While these behaviours can decrease your anxiety in the short term, in the long term they can make your anxiety worse.

Signs you may have agoraphobia include:

  • you avoid situations because you’re concerned you’ll have a panic attack
  • you worry that if you have a panic attack you won’t be able to get away easily or that nobody will be able to help you
  • you agree to go to certain places only in the company of others
  • you experience anxiety or panic when you can’t avoid certain situations.

What causes agoraphobia?

There’s no one, single cause of agoraphobia. If you have a family history of agoraphobia or other anxiety disorders, or have experienced a panic attack or traumatic event in the past, your likelihood of developing agoraphobia increases.

What treatment is available?

The first step in getting effective treatment is to seek professional help. The most common type of treatment for agoraphobia is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is based on:

  • Education – learning about panic symptoms and why they occur.
  • Change in thinking – identifying and reframing unhelpful thoughts that worsen the anxiety.
  • Change in behaviour – exposure to situations and symptoms that have been avoided in the past because they feel dangerous (such as a crowded place or a racing heart).

Changing your behaviour is often the most difficult, yet the most important, part of treatment. If it feels scary to think about putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, just remember that a mental health professional will work at a pace that suits you.

When you find yourself in a situation that causes you to panic, try these suggestions:

  • Focus on your breathing – feelings of panic and anxiety get much worse when you breathe too quickly. Try to breathe slowly and deeply, counting to three on each breath in and again on each breath out.
  • Focus on something non-threatening – remind yourself that your frightening thoughts are a sign of your panic, rather than of what’s actually happening, and that they’ll soon pass. Try counting backwards from 100, or recall the words of a favourite song.

What can I do now?