When most people hear Paula Deen’s name, they associate her with her cooking show on the Food Network or from her lifestyle magazines. What most people are unaware of is that Paula Deen’s culinary prowess derived from a very dark and bleak period in her life when she could not leave her house. After Paula’s parents passed away, she began to experience debilitating anxiety and panic attacks, which made it increasingly difficult for her to venture outside. Paula was actually suffering from an anxiety disorder called agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is a mental health condition where people tend to avoid locations or circumstances that can potentially bring about panic. Individuals experience intense fear about being confined, powerless, or uncomfortable in actual or projected situations. Agoraphobia is fueled by the fear that they will be unable to escape, which causes anxiety to intensify. Most individuals develop agoraphobia after experiencing a panic attack and worry about having another attack in a situation where they will become embarrassed or are unable to flee. This fear causes people to avoid places where a panic attack could potentially occur again.
Individuals with agoraphobia commonly do not feel safe in public places, especially in locations that are busy and attract large crowds. People with agoraphobia fear leaving their homes, being in a crowd, waiting in lines, being in open or enclosed spaces, or using public transportation. People may avoid enclosed areas, such as elevators or movie theaters or may attempt to evade open spaces, such as parking lots or bridges. These situations prompt anxiety that one will be unable to get away or to obtain help if a panic attack should occur.
Anxiety and fright usually occur after one has been exposed to a particular situation. A person’s fears are always exaggerated when compared to the actual chance of danger. Individuals mostly attempt to avoid these situations, but may reluctantly agree to confront them with the help of another person. Social situations cause them extreme duress and anxiety along with considerable impairment in their daily functioning. A person may experience difficulty in their academics, occupations, and in their personal relationships.
Certain individuals experience agoraphobia in conjunction with another mental health condition called panic disorder. Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where people experience unexpected attacks of intense fear. These attacks can last for several minutes and trigger powerful physical symptoms that can cause a person to feel like they are having a heart attack or dying.
Agoraphobia can inflict significant limitations and impairments in a person’s life. If one cannot leave the house, they will have trouble engaging in normal patterns of daily functioning. They may not be able to visit with family and friends, may be unable to attend work or school, or may be incapable of attending doctor’s appointments or obtaining basic necessities. Without treatment, a person may become confined to the four walls of their homes and become completely dependent on others for assistance.
Agoraphobia is treatable and can be effectively addressed with psychotherapy and medication. Therapy can help individuals learn about triggers to their anxiety along with anxiety management techniques to help them to cope with it. These coping skills can assist individuals to return to places and to re-engage in situations and activities that they once enjoyed. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications alone or in conjunction with therapy can also help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and agoraphobia.
Paula Deen can be viewed as a role model for those currently suffering from agoraphobia. She was able to transcend her mental health condition by using the time that she was homebound in order to perfect her culinary trade.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.