social anxiety & agoraphobia

Social Anxiety & Agoraphobia Differences

As you know, I’m a big ball of anxiety (disorders). For a long time, I thought I just had social anxiety. But in my early 20s, I realized it was more. I didn’t just hate being around people – I also hated leaving my home. Enter agoraphobia. My perception of agoraphobia was what you see in movies or shows – a panic attack as soon as you open the door and step one foot outside of your home. That represents the far end of the spectrum of what agoraphobia looks like. But it also looks like feeling intense anxiety whenever you go someplace that’s not a designated ‘safe’ place in your head. It’s compulsively Googling everything you can about a new location so that you know everything about it. It’s avoiding public transportation and standing in line because it makes you queasy. I wanted to talk about the differences between social anxiety & agoraphobia.

Note: I am NOT a mental health professional. I share these things based on my own experiences and to raise awareness as a mental health advocate. Please, please, please if these things sound familiar or relatable, talk to a professional so that they can figure out the best way to move forward!

What Social Anxiety Is Like

Imagine every social interaction feeling like a test where you either pass or fail. You can’t just… talk. You have to say the right thing, and do the right thing, and ‘people’ the right way. It feels like everyone is watching you and judging everything that you say and do. Social anxiety is the intense fear of doing or saying something embarrassing.

What sets it off: Meeting new people, eating in front of others, public speaking… basically anything where you might be the center of attention, even briefly. It’s usually worse when you’re around ‘authority figures’ like teachers, bosses, doctors, or anyone that you feel has power over you.

How it feels: Blushing, sweating, heart pounding, that awful feeling in your stomach. All that plus the dread that you’re about to make a fool of yourself. One of the worst parts for me is the after-interaction analysis. It’s when my brain thinks back on all of the things that I said or did and

What Agoraphobia Is Like

Agoraphobia is about feeling trapped or helpless. At its core, it’s the fear of places or situations where getting away or finding help feels impossible (especially if you have a panic attack). For me, it’s like there’s this lizard part of my brain says: “DANGER DANGER” whenever I’m in a place that’s not home, work, or my usual grocery store.

What sets it off: Crowds, public transportation, lines, being outside alone, even small enclosed spaces like elevators can be panic triggers. Going any place that’s new or unfamiliar.

How it feels: Panic attacks are super common with agoraphobia. People sometimes try to avoid these situations so much that they can barely leave the house. For me, I guess you could say it’s mild. When I’m struggling with agoraphobia I get an intense spike of anxiety and digestive issues right when it’s time to leave my home.

When Social Anxiety & Agoraphobia Get All Tangled Up

For some people, social anxiety and agoraphobia go hand-in-hand. I use this analogy to help showcase the differences.

Think about going to a supermarket you haven’t been to before.
Someone with agoraphobia: Feels anxious at the thought of being in a new environment. Googles the store to try to get a feel for the layout so it feels more ‘familiar’. Isn’t primarily concerned with social interactions. Would still feel anxious even if the store was empty of customers and had an automated self-checkout system with no human interaction.

Someone with social anxiety: Feels like people are judging them for what they put in their cart. Feels anxious about the possibility of having to interact with cashiers or other shoppers. Rehearses asking for help (or is unable to ask for help) or what to say at the checkout line several times beforehand. Would feel little to no anxiety if the store was empty of customers and had an automated self-checkout system with no human interaction.

And here I am like why not both social anxiety & agoraphobia?

Even if the store had no people in it, my anxiety-brain would still be sending triggers of panic, anxiety, and unease. Knowing whether your anxiety is mostly social, mostly agoraphobia, or a mix of both helps you find the right support.

I hope this was helpful in showing the differences between the two.

Share your experiences on social anxiety & agoraphobia in the comments and let my anxious lizard brain know that it’s not alone!

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