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Agoraphobia Could be a Hidden Danger of Covid-19 Pandemic

By Samuel Nordberg, PhD
Chief of Behavioral Health
Reliant Medical Group 

For many months, Covid-19 has caused most of us to dramatically change our daily routines, including avoiding people as much as possible, working at home instead of at the office, and attending schooling remotely. As restrictions lift across the country, this is beginning to change, much to the relief of many. However, for those who suffer from agoraphobia, all these changes in daily life can be incredibly difficult and stressful to deal with.

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of being in an environment or activity outside the home from which leaving or escaping is perceived to be difficult. People with agoraphobia may also feel panic-like symptoms in these situations. Typical examples of places that may inspire these fears include shopping in stores, attending a movie theatre or sporting event, using public transportation – anywhere that escape might be perceived as difficult or embarrassing. Those who have agoraphobia find it very difficult to leave the safety of their home, and worry about having an adverse reaction such as a panic attack if they do. People have a greater chance of developing agoraphobia if they experience any of the following challenges:

  • Another anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder
  • Generally have a worried personality
  • Have a biological relative with agoraphobia
  • Are under the age of 35

Fortunately, there are treatments and medications to help people overcome their agoraphobia. One type of behavioral therapy called “graded exposure” can often be effective. “In graded exposure, patients gradually, and in a planned manner, expose themselves to what they have been avoiding,” remarked Dr. Samuel Nordberg, Chief of Reliant’s Department of Behavioral Health. “For instance, they might do their food shopping in a small neighborhood grocery store and then gradually work their way up to going to a larger supermarket. Some patients also benefit from having a friend or family member accompany them to provide reassurance and support until they can go on their own.”

Since the Covid-19 pandemic has forced many people to isolate themselves at home and avoid others, many health professionals believe it may make it harder to treat those who are already suffering from agoraphobia. “For those patients who have made progress with their agoraphobia using exposure therapy, the recent lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions may have interrupted their progress,” remarked Dr. Nordberg. “Although they’ve worked hard to overcome their fear of public places, the recent social isolation they’ve experienced has them worried about losing some of the progress they’ve made.”

In addition, some health professionals believe that as Covid-19 restrictions lessen and society opens up again, some people will have trouble adjusting to normal life after so much social isolation and fear of infection. “The danger is that some people have been so worried about getting Covid-19 for so long that it could spark symptoms of agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders,” stated Dr. Nordberg. “Although most people are eager to get back to their routines, that won’t be true of everybody – some people will need help readjusting.”

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, such as agoraphobia, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, just over 19% of all American adults will experience at least one anxiety disorder during a 12-month period. If you believe you have a problem with anxiety or another mental health concern, it’s important to get help. You can learn more about how to receive treatment (including virtual visits) by talking to your primary care provider.

Agoraphobia Could be a Hidden Danger of Covid-19 Pandemic

About Samuel Nordberg, PhD -Chief of Behavioral Health

For Dr. Samuel Nordberg, it was the events of September 11th, 2001 that led him to ultimately decide to become a psychologist. “On that day I was at work in the World Trade Center,” he explains. “9/11 more or less changed my life. I decided to leave my job in the financial industry and pursue something that would give me more meaning and purpose in my life.”

Dr. Nordberg eventually decided to go back to school,...

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