People are often confused about the differences between social phobia and agoraphobia. Because both of these phobias have to do with fears of being around other people, it can be easy to get them mixed up or to miss the distinctions between them. Sometimes, people even think they are the same thing, or at least that they are related to one another.
While there are many similarities between these two mental health disorders, there are definite differences between social phobia and agoraphobia, including the basic fears underlying them, the triggers of symptoms, and the resulting behaviors. The following summarizes these differences.
Definition and Fears
As defined by the Social Anxiety Association, people who have social phobia tend to be afraid of direct interaction with other people. While these people want to make friends and be involved in activities with others, their fears tend to prevent them from being able to do so. These include fears of:
- Being judged or criticized
- Suffering embarrassment or ridicule
- Having to speak or perform in public
- Meeting and interacting with strangers or authority figures
Social phobia tends to develop in people at a younger age, generally in the teenage years. It affects approximately 7 percent of the population at any time.
Based on the definition above, then, people with social phobia are triggered by situations that require them to interact with others, such as:
- Interviews for jobs
- Dates or social events
- Having to meet other people for any reason
- Speaking in a public place
- Having to do something where others can watch, such as make a phone call, write, or eat
As a result of these fears and triggers, the resulting behavior of those with a social phobia is to avoid situations where they might have to interact with people. They may not necessarily be concerned about being out in public, as long as they can remain anonymous.
However, when they do have to interact with people, they may come across as shy, aloof, introverted, or awkward. The response to this by others may actually reinforce the fears, making them even more anxious during subsequent social events.
Definition and Fears
Agoraphobia is, most simply, defined as an intense fear of being in a crowded or public place. However, in contrast to social phobia, agoraphobia is not about interacting with those people. Instead, it is related to another type of anxiety disorder: panic disorder.
As explained by Mayo Clinic, people with agoraphobia are often people who have previously had panic attacks and developed a fear of having another one in a public place. This may be related to the place in which their previous panic attacks occurred, or may have to do with feeling overwhelmed by crowds of people and fearing that could cause a panic attack. Additionally, it can be related to embarrassment at the idea of having many people witness a panic attack.
Sometimes, panic disorder is not part of agoraphobia, but other fears about the dangers that one might encounter in a public place are instead the source of the fear.
Agoraphobia is more likely to develop in a person’s 20s. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, agoraphobia affects less than 1 percent of the adult population.
Based on the fears of having a panic attack that are the basis of agoraphobia, triggers include:
- Being in a crowded, public place
- Being in a place that makes the person feel trapped, such as on a bus or in an elevator
- Visiting a place where a prior panic attack occurred
- Going to an unfamiliar place alone
The fears and triggers of agoraphobia result in slightly different behaviors from those of social phobia. People with this disorder avoid going to public places that might be crowded. If they do go, they prefer that a trusted companion be with them. They are happy to spend time with other individuals, as long as they are trusted friends. However, without someone to help them, people with agoraphobia may become more homebound, fearful of leaving their houses at all.
As described by Healthline, people with agoraphobia may be seen as reclusive, overly dependent on their trusted friends, or detached.
Looking at the differences between these two phobias, it is easy to see that they are not as related as they might have seemed at first. In fact, the Social Anxiety Institute cautions that people with social anxiety disorder do not generally develop agoraphobia. Instead, the two are different types of anxiety disorders that result from similar but contrasting situations.
Nevertheless, both can be treated, often using similar types of therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be effective in helping people with agoraphobia or social phobias learn to manage their symptoms and live less isolated lives.