Agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder are often mistaken for each other. While they share similarities, there are key differences.
Agoraphobia and social anxiety are two disorders with similar characteristics. Both conditions involve feelings of fear, which can impact your social life.
While both anxiety disorders can cause you to avoid particular situations, they are two separate and different conditions.
Because agoraphobia and social anxiety are similar, understanding them better may help you tell them apart.
Someone with agoraphobia may fear leaving home or traveling. They may even avoid crowded places for fear of having a panic attack or not being able to escape or get help if something goes wrong.
Agoraphobia can affect people in different ways and may vary in severity. Not everyone, for example, will be unable to leave their home.
Many people with agoraphobia also have panic disorder, another type of anxiety disorder. Most people develop agoraphobia after having a panic attack, due to the worry that they’ll have another attack.
NIMH reports that an estimated
Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also called social phobia, is an intense, constant fear of being watched by other people. This overwhelming fear of being in social situations can affect work and other daily activities.
If you have social anxiety, you may avoid direct interaction with other people for fear of being judged or criticized. You may also worry about engaging in social situations weeks in advance or fear everyday tasks such as eating in public.
People with SAD may know their fear is unreasonable but can’t help but feel the way they do. They usually tend to avoid certain situations altogether. Or they may try to get through them but experience intense feelings of anxiety.
People with social anxiety disorder don’t usually develop agoraphobia. But the two anxiety disorders may arise from similar situations.
Panic attacks can occur in people with agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder. A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear that may not have a specific cause.
With agoraphobia, you may have the intense fear that you can’t escape from somewhere like a shopping mall or crowded place, which can lead to a panic attack.
With social anxiety, an anxiety-provoking situation, such as giving a speech or being in a job interview, can potentially lead to a panic attack.
Agoraphobia and social anxiety share symptoms, making them hard to diagnose.
Statistics suggest that
According to a 2014 study, women are more likely to experience both disorders together compared to men.
Agoraphobia and social anxiety are treatable conditions.
Self-help techniques such as breathing slowly and gradual exposure may help you manage your symptoms better.
If your symptoms don’t respond to these techniques, you may want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
During CBT sessions, a therapist will work with you to help you modify your thinking and behaviors. You may also learn how to confront situations you were previously scared of.
Some people with social anxiety or agoraphobia may benefit from medications such as antidepressants or benzodiazepines.
Together you and your doctor can decide on the appropriate treatment option that’s right for you.
Some coping techniques can help you deal with symptoms of both agoraphobia and social anxiety. Consider these helpful tips to help you manage both conditions.
Try relaxation techniques
When you start to experience feelings of panic or anxiety, try to focus on slow, deep breathing. Mindful meditation is another technique that may help you become aware of your present emotions and thoughts without reacting to them.
Realign your focus
Try to focus on something you can see in front of you, like your watch or a lamp on the table. Remind yourself that the thoughts you’re feeling result from panic and will pass.
Challenge your fear
When you notice your fear has crept in, you may find it helpful to challenge it. Try to identify it, allow yourself to sit with it for a minute, then remind yourself that your fear is not rational, and it will soon pass.
Practice systematic desensitization
Systematic desensitization involves replacing your fear or phobia with a relaxation response. This can help reduce the link in your mind between the thing you fear and the panic you feel.
Don’t fight the panic
When symptoms of panic occur, trying to fight them can sometimes make things worse. Instead, you may find it helpful to accept that your symptoms are happening and difficult to deal with but aren’t life threatening.
If agoraphobia or social anxiety stops you from living your day-to-day life, then it may be time to seek help.
A therapist or mental health professional can be a helpful resource. They can help you by listening and providing tips and strategies to better manage your symptoms of anxiety and fear.
You may also find it helpful to join a support group. Here are a few to consider:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Support Groups Central
- Inspire by Mental Health of America
There are many paths to managing agoraphobia and social anxiety symptoms. You can learn more on how to manage both disorders here: