What is Agoraphobia? (300.22, now F40.00)

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What is Agoraphobia?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Agoraphobia is about fear.

Agoraphobia is often translated as “fear of the marketplace.” This disorder involves being overwhelmed when you encounter people outside your home or “nest.” People with this problem become fearful when they have to venture out. It is not required that the person actually leaves their house and experience the situation, just thinking about the possibility, and then having symptoms can qualify as Agoraphobia. For some people, these symptoms and their efforts to avoid feeling these feelings can result in their becoming home-bound.

This disorder has been associated with panic attacks and panic disorder. We used to diagnose this as Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia. The new trend, as dictated by the DSM-5, is to separate Panic Disorder from Agoraphobia as some people can have either one without the other, some people have both in which case they get both diagnoses put on their chart.

Current estimates are that between five and six million Americans have Agoraphobia. Somewhere between one-third and half of these also have panic attacks. Many do not receive treatment because they are too fearful to leave their homes and go for treatment. Agoraphobia is a major cause of disability with over one-third of those with Agoraphobia being home-bound and unable to work. There are treatments for Agoraphobia if you are able to access them.

Some people report that when they experience settings that would qualify them for the diagnosis of Agoraphobia they have “Anxiety Attacks.” Having a brief increase in Anxiety as in an “Anxiety Attack” can be a part of other illnesses such as any Anxiety disorder, trauma, and stressor-related disorders, depression, and so on.

To be Agoraphobia, by definition, you need to experience these fear-based symptoms in two or more specific situations. This helps separate the Agoraphobia condition from a narrower specific fear or phobia. These fears also need to be excessive or unrealistic. Fear of leaving the house does not count if you live in a war zone or a high crime neighborhood.

The 5 specific fears of Agoraphobia you asked?

  1. Being on public transportation.
  2. Open spaces.
  3. Closed or confined spaces.
  4. Standing in a line or being in a crowd.
  5. Being outside your home alone.

To get the diagnosis of Agoraphobia it is not enough that you just be scared or nervous in these situations. People with Agoraphobia avoids these and possibly related experiences. This interfering with the rest of your life is one of the hallmarks of a mental health issue that should get diagnosed and treated.

People with Agoraphobia also worry excessively that they may not be able to escape or won’t be able to get help in these situations. It is these two key characteristics, not being able to escape and the belief that something terrible will happen that make Agoraphobia so debilitating.

For this diagnosis to “fit” this intense fear can’t be just a one time or occasional occurrence. It has to happen most or all the time you encounter these situations.  People with Agoraphobia often insist on having a companion to reassure them when they leave the house and they can only endure these situations by ensuring intense fear.

Symptoms for Agoraphobia are a little wider than the psychical ones seen in Panic Disorder. Other possible symptoms would include the risk of having an embarrassing or incapacitating incident such as loss of control over bodily functions or falling, passing out, or getting lost. In the elderly, it is hard to separate real concerns from excessive ones that would count towards Agoraphobia.

As with the other things we are calling a mental illness this needs to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, your relationships, your enjoyable activities, or cause you personal distress. Otherwise, you may have the fear but you may not get the diagnoses if this is a preference, not a problem. If the only time this happens is when under the influence of drugs or medicines or because of some other physical or medical problem this fear needs to be more than your situation would warrant. These other issue needs treating first, then if you still have symptoms you could get the Agoraphobia diagnosis.

For more on these topics see Anxiety Disorders,

Stress and Trauma-Related Disorders,

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Sleep Paralysis – What causes it? Is it related to PTSD or demons?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Sleep paralysis.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Is Sleep Paralysis related to PTSD or the supernatural?

Imagine awakening suddenly in the middle of the night. Sitting on your chest is a demon; there are ghosts, dead people, or spirits standing around your bed. You try to scream but nothing comes from your throat. You would run if you could but your legs won’t work. You are awake and paralyzed. Looking up at the demons you are helpless to do anything beyond saying a silent prayer inside your head. You are experiencing Sleep Paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis is one of those unusual problems. This condition is especially terrifying to someone who has the disorder.  If you have a belief in the supernatural you may dread falling asleep.

Sleep Paralysis has long been more the province of legends and the supernatural than included in the area of mental health. This experience has been connected to many otherworldly phenomena. Similar experiences were described during the Salem witchcraft trials.

Today we have a scientific explanation that satisfies some, some of the time, but are we sure?

In Sleep Paralysis you can see, move your eyes and breathe, but the rest of your body is unable to move.  Some episodes of Sleep Paralysis last seconds. The average is six minutes. Occasional an episode of sleep paralysis will last longer than 6 minutes or on rare occasion’s hours.

Many people with Sleep Paralysis, up to 30% also have a history of Panic Attacks. It is more common among those with PTSD or anxiety disorders. Sleep Paralysis is also most common among those with minority status, especially African-Americans (Sharpless et al 2010.)

Other researchers have suggested that dissociation may be related to the old or “Lizard brains” freeze response to threat or danger. The same mechanism might explain the inability to move despite overwhelming terror found in Sleep Paralysis. Fear and anxiety may both cause and be the consequence of Sleep Paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is more common with overtired or sleep-deprived individuals. It is also associated with taking Antidepressants, Benzodiazepines, and some other medications. Ohayon et al., 1999 (Cited by Sharpless) also suggested a relationship between SSRIs and Sleep Paralysis but Sharpless did not find a connection.

Sleep paralysis can occur when falling asleep or when awakening from sleep. Its main characteristic is not being able to move for an extended period of time. This condition occurs naturally during REM sleep but we don’t know we are becoming paralyzed when we are asleep.

The episodes of paralysis while awake are most often accompanied by very vivid hallucinations. The more vivid the hallucinations the more terrifying the Sleep Paralysis. Sometimes the person will experience hearing sounds. Even when experiencing the full symptoms of Sleep Paralysis, both the visions and the inability to move, many people describe the experience as a “dream” (Fukuda et al, 2000.)

If the hallucinations occur when falling asleep they are called Hypnogogic. Hallucinations that occur when awakening are called Hypnopompic.

Sleep paralysis may be connected with a physical disorder such as Narcolepsy. Reports suggest that those who hear sounds are most likely to also have narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis has also been associated with Migraines. If this occurs more than once or causes significant distress it is wise to seek medical attention.

Sleep paralysis is more likely to occur when someone has moved to a new location, is under stress, or has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol.

Mental health practitioners, therapists, and counselors are mostly concerned with two relationships between sleep and mental health. Is the problem with sleep caused by a mental illness? Symptoms of depression include changes in sleep and appetite. Depression can be seen as the cause of a sleep problem.

Sometimes sleep issues can create symptoms that are diagnosed as mental illness. Nightmares play a role in maintaining depression and PTSD.

Beyond those two alternatives, most other sleep issues are in the providence of medical doctors. There are plenty of sleep problems that are in the International classification of sleep disorders that are not directly included in the DSM.

The following are past posts on connections between sleep and mental health issues.

Getting Rid of Nightmares that Maintain Depression and PTSD

Trauma Steals Your Sleep 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel