Get your free Progressive Muscle Relaxation download: Click here to join the Anxiety Sisterhood!


The Sister Scoop


We know traveling can be anxiety-provoking, but come with us to a faraway land—just for a minute.

The Agora, in Ancient Greece, was the center of the action. It hosted political and civic events, the arts, and sports. Eventually, it also became the major marketplace where all sorts of things were sold and traded. It was, in other words, the place to be. And yes, it is where we get the word agoraphobia (fear of the marketplace).

I take some comfort in imagining that the ancient Greeks recognized and acknowledged that some of us struggle with fully participating in the marketplace. I definitely would have been the one who couldn’t attend marketplace activities due to anxiety-induced dizziness and nausea. (Abs would have begged off because of her fear of germs.)

Perhaps one of the best ways to illuminate the disorder known as agoraphobia is to talk about what it isn’t. Since we are already hanging out in Ancient Greece, we might as well bring up some of the myths (get it?) around agoraphobia:

Myth #1: Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving home.

Actually, agoraphobia is the fear of being trapped or not being able to access help in a public place. For many Anxiety Sisters, agoraphobia is the fear of having a panic attack in a public place and not being able to get help or get to a “safe zone.” It’s not about being afraid to leave the house—it’s the fear of dealing with our phobias, panic, or physical illness when we do. My own agoraphobia stemmed from my worry that my panic attacks would cause me to pass out or vomit (or both) in the subway. I didn’t need to stay home as much as I needed to avoid the subway and a long list of places that might make me feel trapped.

Myth #2: Agoraphobics never leave home.

In all but the most severe cases, people with agoraphobia do leave home—as long as they are in a safe zone where they feel relatively comfortable. For some Anxiety Sisters, this means they will go anywhere in their own town, but will be too fearful to venture further away. For others, the safe zone can be even wider (or smaller).

Myth #3: People with agoraphobia are loners.

Many people with agoraphobia dislike being alone and are quite dependent on friends or family members, especially when venturing out of their safe zones. In fact, agoraphobics often have trouble going places alone because they are scared that, if something happens to them, nobody will be there to help them. When agoraphobics withdraw from loved ones, it may be because they feel that they are a “burden” to family and friends, which can cause profound loneliness and bouts of isolation.

Myth #4: You must have panic disorder or many irrational fears in order to develop agoraphobia.

Many people with agoraphobia do have panic disorder and/or phobias, such as driving. However, this is not the case for everyone. Some older folks may worry about doing something embarrassing in public (e.g., becoming incontinent or falling down) which is neither irrational nor panic-inducing. Children can get agoraphobia as well. When a child is extremely fearful about getting lost, [s]he may try to avoid big or crowded places.

So how do you know if you have agoraphobia?  

We are not doctors, and we would never feel comfortable diagnosing anyone; however, we do know that people with agoraphobia tend to avoid at least 2 of the following for at least 6 months:

1) Trains, buses, planes (public transport)

2) Open spaces like malls or parking lots

3) Enclosed spaces like movies, smaller stores, restaurants, meeting rooms

4) Waiting in lines or being in crowds

5) Leaving home alone

Although most people start to experience agoraphobia in their 20’s, people of any age can become agoraphobic. As is true of anxiety disorders in general, women are twice as likely to become agoraphobic as men. Also, feel free to blame it on your parents—in about 60 percent of cases, agoraphobia has a genetic component.

What is the treatment?

Whether or not you have a formal diagnosis of agoraphobia, if your world is shrinking because of avoidant behaviors, you probably need some type of help. Most often, unfortunately, standard “talk” therapy is not helpful. Experts will point you toward Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which involves analyzing and interrupting thought patterns, and Exposure Therapy, which involves exposing the sufferer to the source of her anxiety in progressively larger doses, as the most effective treatments for agoraphobia. For most of us, however, it is hard to find local practitioners of these exact therapies. We are limited by real-life challenges like our agoraphobia, our insurance coverage (or lack of it), and the limited resources in our area. If you cannot find anyone trained specifically in treatments for agoraphobia, you may want to consider some of the online programs and apps in order to find help.

One final note: we know that it is possible to deal with agoraphobia without medication, but we think it is very hard. We liken it to running a marathon with a fifteen-pound weight on your back. Yes, it can be done, but the situation is just so much more difficult. Unless you have a medical reason for avoiding medication, we strongly encourage you to consider it—at least until you are on your way to recovery.



  • Elisabeth Levien
    March 23, 2019

    This is such a useful post. My mother was an undiagnosed agoraphobic, and my son has been developing symptoms. Reading this clear analysis from people who have experienced it, which I have in to only a very minor extent, makes it easier to know how to be helpful to my son.

  • mags
    April 14, 2019

    When kids get agoraphobia it is really important to get it treated as soon as possible by someone that specializes in kids and phobias. The earlier we can treat this …. the better off the kids will be. Much luck with your son, mags and abs

  • April
    September 8, 2020

    Hi I have been on Celexa for almost 20 years and my psychiatrist insists it has run out of gas and it’s time for change. I have already tried to switch to different medicine and had horrible withdrawals. Any thoughts? Is that too long to be on Celexa? Thanks

    • Kathleen
      September 25, 2021

      I’m wondering the same for my Rx. I tried another about ten years ago, and it made me feel so bad, I never tried again. Best wishes to you!

  • Ove
    November 30, 2020

    Just wanted to give a little heads-up that this beautiful article is sited on our special section on Agoraphobia:

    • Abs
      December 19, 2020

      Thank you! So thrilled to be able to help…

  • Diane
    July 29, 2021

    Thank you been suffering from this since my late teens my Mother also had it.. Can really relate to the fear of driving.

  • Pam
    September 25, 2021

    After 3 days in sweats, and one day spent in bed, i made a Commitment To mom to Go watch couple ballgames that her Great Grandsons were playing. At one point she reach over And grabbed my hand that was Twitching, she said “Deep Breaths, You got This”. That was a first and brought me to tears. I made ir Through the whole day in Totality New and Uncomfortable places.

  • Bonny
    January 16, 2022

    It’s a never ending story with me, i have had this on and off for 40 years. It’s really bad now with the pandemic. Passed up Going to texas to see my daughter and her family, and they are very dissapointed. Wish it would just go away!

  • Carey Japhet
    June 26, 2022

    I’m 75 and retired and I’ve dealt with depression for about 20 years and the anxiety and panic for 4 or 5 years. I never leave my house, I can’t even go in the back yard, i feel like I’m suffocating and get lightheaded if I try. I’ve given up driving and that makes me very sad. I’ve tried quite a few medications but nothing helps. I’ve pretty much given up..

  • Leona Lowrey
    June 26, 2022

    Thank you.

  • Mariposa Blanca
    June 26, 2022

    Just like life after trauma…even with PTSD, just gotta do it!! I’ve had it for years and prefer home, but make myself get out, gi get my hair dibe, groceries. Gi downtown an just People watch. Just like panic snd anxiety. I start cleaning or cooking. My solution to get my brain cu contesting on anything that changes my thoughts. Today it was polishing all my appliances. Helps me. Just get my mind going a different place.

  • Cecile
    January 22, 2023

    I hfave had it off n on thRough out years. But as it came would go away w/meds. I drive but now more locally. My hubby goes with me to all Dr appts cause am so nervous cant drive. If I am going out shopping take 1/2 med n know it gives me about 2 hrs to shop n. Get home. Go to our clubhouse gym alone but any place more than 1/2 hour away i ask my husband to go with me. Everything u mentioned in article most are the reasons i have. Yes i can leave House but fear some will happen to me like a fall panic attack dizzy n faint etc. it confirts me to know som iswith me rather than something happening n will be alone. I hadnt had it for sever years but the pandemic Brought it back. We both had Covid over holidays n were stuck in for 2 weeks. Also fear of traveling though used to fly and go all over. Got anxious but never stopped me. Now am afraid to go for fear of being away alone n one of us getting strange place. Feel like Life is getting smaller n fear so confining that it Exacerbates anxiety n causes physical symptoms Awful to deal with
    Relate to your descriptions of agoraphobia but some of mine are much milder


Post a Comment