By Eleni Papageorgiou,
Agoraphobia -just as so many other phobias- denotes the fear of large spaces, like the agora (market). As a psychiatric term, agoraphobia was introduced in 1871 by the German neurologist Westphal.
Karl Friendrich Otto Westphal (1833-1890) was a German psychiatrist and neurologist, whose contributions to medical science are many. In 1871, he observed some of his patients who exhibited symptoms, like extreme anxiety and dread, when they had to enter a public place, e.g. an open market, a bank or a restaurant. So, he invented the term “agoraphobia” and since then, it has been used extensively to describe a condition, where patients feel uncomfortable in crowded, open spaces and may enter into situations beyond their control. In extreme cases, agoraphobia can cause the patient to become housebound.
How is agoraphobia connected to the COVID-19 pandemic?
According to psychotherapists around the globe, people who have been affected by COVID-19 and on the long run cured, suffer from depression at the amazing percentage of 53%. Depression now is a common symptom of agoraphobia with sufferers preferring to be secluded in their home’s boundaries and opting for home loneliness.
Having anxiety or depression may lead to somatization disorder. Most of us are having a constant worry about a potential COVID-19 infection but stretching those worries to the end, will somehow make things worse. Somatic symptom disorder is a mental condition where patients focus on physical symptoms -such as pain or fatigue- so much that they cannot function regularly. To those patients’ mind, the above symptoms are exaggerated and they are sometimes led to disability. They fear, that these symptoms are serious, even when there is no such evidence. The personal trait of negativity is sometimes one of the causes. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have all been experiencing stressful events but if we try to think positively, we will probably prevent more serious complications such as somatic disorder. Relaxation techniques can surely help. Learn how to reduce stress and improve your daily schedule at home, at work, in social situations, etc.
Is it really easy for someone to go out and enjoy himself/herself the way he/she used to do before the pandemic? I, myself, experienced a strange feeling, when I first went out to a café with my closest friend. After such a long time at home, with no friends exchanging visits, everything and everybody seemed suspicious. Who is the man sitting close to us, talking to his friend and coughing sporadically? Is he an asymptomatic patient, is he an ex-covid patient, is he as right as rain, or what? I desperately needed to get out of my home and enjoy a friend’s company, but was it the right choice? What if I get infected now?
Such worries are logical but must be set aside. We all need to maintain contact with the outside world. Speaking with people, leaving the house and exposing ourselves to things that we have been trying to avoid for as long as the quarantine was forced to us, are only some of the steps to be taken. Until now, we were advised to go out only for health problems, to support or attend to a vulnerable person, exercise near our house or visit the market to buy the essentials.
Now, it is high time for everyone to get our lives back step-by-step. The worst thing you could do is to stay at home, avoid going out and socializing. If you cannot surpass your fears, anxieties and phobias, ask for help from a mental health institution, a humanitarian organization or a psychiatrist. Many charitable organizations are willing to support you.
Let us all hope that agoraphobia due to COVID-19 will be diminished and life will get back to normal soon.
Agoraphobia, Britannica, Available here.
Agoraphobia, Wikipedia. Available here.
Somatic symptom disorder, Mayoclinic. Available here.