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The Difference Between Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia is one of the more common phobias discussed today. Less recognized but likely just as prevalent is agoraphobia. While the two have some similarities, they are certainly different phobias with different symptoms.
Going based of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, agoraphobia is defined as an "abnormal fear of being helpless in an embarrassing or inescapable situation that is characterized especially by the avoidance of open or public places". Claustrophobia is defined as the "abnormal dread of being in closed or narrow spaces". These are both primarily spatial issues, but often get confused because of the specification that people with agoraphobia are fearful of inescapable situations, much like those with claustrophobia.
Most people have a firm grasp of the concept of claustrophobia, but to be thorough, it will be reviewed here. Claustrophobia is a fear of small spaces. When one experiences claustrophobia, one often has a heightened heart rate, shake, sweat, or have difficulty breathing. The symptoms of a panic attack are common when a claustrophobic person is put in an enclosed area such as an elevator or crowded room. Severity of symptoms vary from person to person. As with most phobias, it is possible that claustrophobia is brought on my a traumatic event, even if they person is not consciously aware of it. The most typical treatment of claustrophobia is behavioral, getting accustomed to closed spaces and losing fear of them, deep breathing techniques and self-talk.
The symptoms for agoraphobia are very much the same as those for claustrophobia, which may explain where the confusion lies, but they are brought on by different triggers. Agoraphobia is not a fear of small, enclosed spaces. In fact, people with agoraphobia are often fearful of very large places. This is not to say that people with agoraphobia do not become stressed or experience symptoms in enclosed spaces, but what frightens them is not the size of the room, but the amount of people in the room and the ability to leave it. Another distinction is that agoraphobia is often coupled with panic disorder. Once someone has panic attacks, they often becomes fearful that they will have another panic attack in front of people, which can be embarrassing and evoke a panic attack in itself. This anticipatory anxiety often brings on more panic attacks than the original panic triggers. When one is in a large area or crowd of people where they cannot easily escape and are fearful of panicking in front of others, they experience agoraphobia. The unfortunate stigma or those with agoraphobia is the preconception that they are afraid to leave their house and therefore never leave their front door. While this can happen in the most extreme of cases, this is not at all the norm. Agoraphobia can be treated behaviorally as with other phobias, and can also be treated using pharmaceuticals.
While both claustrophobia and agoraphobia are fairly common in today's society, they can become incredibly stressful. However, they are also some of the easier psychological disorders to treat, with patience and practice.