Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Dr. Melissa Shepard MD
Social Anxiety & Agoraphobia: What's The Difference?
Published May 28th, 2021 & updated on May 28th, 2021
Call The Chicks because we’re in need of some Wide Open Spaces! Just kidding. Let’s stay inside today and talk all about the difference between agoraphobia and social anxiety!
Surprisingly yes, there is a difference between social anxiety and agoraphobia. You might think that they’re one and the same, but these two anxiety disorders are different AND related to each other at the same time. Does that make sense? They’re not totally different and not totally the same. Never mind, let’s just jump right into the article to talk about how social anxiety and agoraphobia differ!
How Are They Related?
If you have experience with social anxiety and/or agoraphobia, you’ll understand how they differ from each other and how they’re also similar. If you aren’t familiar with these two anxiety disorders, it may feel a bit confusing trying to find the differences between the two because both can involve being afraid of public places, as well as being around other people.
However, the two anxiety disorders have very different motivating fears. While the reasoning behind the fears of being in public and around others might be different, the actual fears of the public and people can look similar. Think about it like houses! Two houses can look identical on the outside, but the layouts inside can be completely different.
At the beginning of this article, we made a joke about the song Wide Open Spaces by The Chicks. But being afraid of these wide-open spaces isn’t what agoraphobia is all about! So many of us think that it is, but it’s about sooo much more than just fearing the outside. In fact, that’s not even really what people with agoraphobia are afraid of!
Agoraphobia is all about fearing situations or places that would make it difficult to escape or leave when the person is embarrassed or having a panic attack. The fears surround the possibility of embarrassment, embarrassing situations like having a panic attack, or losing control in a public space.
It’s actually true that some people with agoraphobia are housebound. This self-seclusion and avoidance happens for a number of reasons. Most commonly, it is to help them avoid triggers or places with crowds, traffic, public transit, elevators, bridges, malls, planes, theatres…and sometimes being in public by yourself.
This can result in a fear of leaving the house, and also play into the idea that people with agoraphobia are afraid of the whole, wide world. As you can see, that’s not always the case!
Let’s talk about the other star of the show — social anxiety! Like we said, social anxiety and agoraphobia can be super similar. When you have social anxiety, you can also be afraid of public spaces, crowds, meeting new people, small spaces and the inability to exit certain situations.
Where agoraphobia is based on a fear of embarrassment, social anxiety is based on a fear of being negatively judged by others. While some people with agoraphobia might feel better being out and about with someone they trust and are comfortable with, someone with social anxiety might feel worse because they also don’t want their friend to judge them! Ugh, what a double-edged sword!
None of us wants to be seen in a negative light, but for those with social anxiety that fear is amplified by a billion!
How To Cope with Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia
Don’t think that it’s all bad news when it comes to social anxiety and agoraphobia. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel! That light just happens to involve a lot of therapy!
That being said, there are so many different ways to treat social anxiety and agoraphobia! First, seek out the help of a mental health professional. Therapy, medication, or a combination of both might be recommended by the therapist. Thankfully, some therapists can now do appointments over video or phone, so you don’t need to leave your home if you aren’t ready to.
When you see your therapist, you’re going to work on a number of things to help you build the confidence you need to feel comfortable going out into the world! Here are some things that you might work together to treat social anxiety or agoraphobia:
1. Learn To Cope With Anxiety
Grounding yourself is so important when you feel anxious. You and your therapist can practice grounding techniques like deep breathing, creating a safe space, applied relaxation, 5-4-3-2-1 grounding and other coping mechanisms.
2. Build Your Confidence
You need to know just how truly badass you are for even existing with this anxiety! It’s not easy! Working with a mental health professional can help you build the confidence that you need in order to challenge your fears (and know that you can face them)!
3. Exposure Therapy
This kind of therapeutic technique was developed to help people face their fears. Not all at once, though! (That shit takes time!) In exposure therapy a patient practices facing this fear in a controlled and safe environment created by the psychologist. As the patient progresses, so does the exposure to their fears.
4. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This is a specific type of therapy that centers around how your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs influence your emotions and actions. CBT teaches you how to challenge these thoughts and practice coping skills to help manage your anxiety.
There’s no shame in the medication game! (We personally love our meds.) Sometimes they give us the extra boost we need to cut through the overwhelming emotions and fears.
Are you feeling ready and willing to leave the house now? Not yet? Noooo rush! We’re right there with you. If you’re struggling with your social anxiety, agoraphobia, or both, we are SO proud of you for facing your fears every. damn. day (and even for being strong enough to read this article)! WOW! Give yourself a round of applause because YOU DESERVE IT, BABE! Clapclapclapclapclapclapclapclapclapclap!