Fear of Leaving the House: Causes and Treatments

Fear is an emotion that affects people of all ages. You may develop fear of places, activities or things. However, a fear of not-so-harmful thing/activity when reaches a point where it leads to physical and emotional distress is what we call phobia. Fear of leaving the house is one such phobia which like all others is characterized by panic, palpitations, breathing difficulty, overwhelming desire to escape and so on.

What Does Fear of Leaving Your House Mean?

This kind of fear is also called agoraphobia. You are afraid of leaving the house because of being alone outside home where you believe no one would be able to help or assist you and you might not be able to escape.

The fear that develops mostly around the age of 30 may make it very difficult for you to leave your house by yourself. You may need a friend or a family member to accompany you and in severe cases, even the presence of other body may not be of any help.

Agoraphobia often begins with panic attacks, although it may occur on its own, it’s often a complication of panic disorder. The fear is so intense that at times you may take severe measures just to avoid leaving home, as that your house becomes the safest possible zone for you.

What Happens If You Have Fear of Leaving the House?

Agoraphobia can present as a combination of various feelings, fears and symptoms. While being housebound for a very long duration is something to look for, other common fears that one may experience include fear of:

  • Spending time alone
  • Crowded areas
  • Standing in line
  • Open spaces
  • Being in areas where getting away might be difficult
  • Being in elevators
  • Losing control in public places
  • Death

It is not uncommon for agoraphobics to complain about the following feelings:

  • Detachment from other people
  • Loss of control
  • Agitation
  • Helplessness
  • As if the body is unreal
  • As if the environment is unreal
  • Dependency on others

Other General Symptoms

Physical symptoms experienced by victims of this type of phobia may be similar to those experienced in conditions not related to anxiety disorders and panic attacks at all. These symptoms are:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach upset
  • Flushing
  • Chills
  • Choking

Panic attacks may overall change a person’s behavior as well. Their socializing skills may be affected with an obvious change in how they function and behave at home, work and school. They tend to:

  • Avoid situations that may trigger attacks
  • Become sad
  • Get depressed
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Have suicidal thoughts

Yet another study found that people with agoraphobia have high levels of inflammation markers like C-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor alpha.

Apart from raised markers, low-grade inflammation appeared to increase over time in such people too, making them prone to atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

Why Do You Experience Fear of Leaving the House?

While the etiology of the phobia is still not clear like other panic disorders, it is believed that there could be multiple factors involved in development of fear responses. There are:

  • Brain regions involved in controlling such responses
  • Environmental factors, like moving from one country to another, language proficiency, peer pressure, etc.
  • Genetic factors, as anxiety and related disorders tend to run in families.
  • Panic attacks may also play a developmental role

Agoraphobia may also be a consequence of one or more panic attacks experienced by a person which lead to a fear of experiencing such attacks in future, which makes home the safest place to stay.

How to Overcome the Fear of Leaving the House

Overcoming agoraphobia may be achieved with strong will power, help of friends and family and most importantly professional help. Here are ways to assist in improving one’s condition:

1. Psychological Counseling

The sooner the management of agoraphobia under the supervision of a healthcare professional begins, the sooner the symptoms could be assuaged. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, one of most important therapy, zeroes in on teaching you skills that will help you gradually return to the activities you have shunned due to fear in the past. The aim of the treat is to reduce or eliminate symptoms, help the victim in regaining freedom and assist in resuming daily outdoor activities like before.

Since you are afraid of leaving the house, you therapist may first meet you in you home or other places you consider to be safe. Or you can accept sessions via email, phone, computer programs or other media.

2. Relaxation Techniques

Trying various types of relaxation techniques may come in handy when dealing with agoraphobia. This is probably the best way to keep anxiety and stress at bay and most importantly avoid a panic attack altogether.

You can try yoga, meditation and free-style imagery. You should practice this calming skills before you experience agoraphobia attacks, so when you are afraid anxious, these methods are handy and can be of great help.

3. Systematic Desensitization

It involves managing and overcoming anxiety by imagining yourself in dreaded and fearful situations and then slowly and gradually competing with anxiety. Once you’re able to handle such situations like this, you’ll easily face them in reality too. The technique itself aims at becoming desensitized to triggers that eventually lead to a panic attack and the feeling of afraid of outside.

4. Medication

If you have fear of leaving the house or any other phobia, you can try antidepressant and antianxiety medicines to get some relief.

  • Also known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Pexeva and Paxil), tricyclic antidepressant are effective in treating phobias associated with agoraphobia.
  • Antianxiety medicines, also known as benzodiazepines, are sedatives. In certain circumstances, doctor may prescribe clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax and Niravam) to treat your anxious feeling. But only use them in emergency and use them as short-term treatment because they can be addictive.

5. Other Methods

  • Control your stress: Stress, anxiety and panic attacks go hand in hand. You pick one and the rest will automatically follow. Make sure you keep a tab on your stress and anxiety levels. Go easy.
  • Quit illegal drugs and alcohol to lower your panic symptoms and anxiety levels.
  • Take good care of yourself, like having enough quality sleep, exercising regularly, maintaining balanced diet, etc.
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