Despite significant changes in both technology and job roles over the past several decades, there are many parts of the business world that are resistant to change. Most white-collar jobs operate on a 9 a.m to 5 p.m. schedule, with the expectation that workers will be in their chairs, at their desks, for an entire day, whether the workload demands it or not. Blue-collar jobs, on the other hand, trend towards physical labor on a more fluid schedule and are almost exclusively in-person tasks. No matter how you cut it, employers expect workers to show up on time and ready to work.
This is a simple if annoying request for most workers. However, for those with agoraphobia, just leaving the home can be too much to ask. A unique disorder predicated on the fear of places and circumstances that may cause anxiety, agoraphobia can have a significant impact on a person’s way of life — and that includes employment.
When fear keeps you stranded at home, it’s hard to comply with the most basic of employer demands. Identifying jobs for agoraphobics, as well as techniques to manage symptoms, can go a long way toward alleviating the challenges of working with agoraphobia.
What Is the Definition of Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that’s driven by the fear of being anxious, humiliated, embarrassed or pressured based on circumstance. Many people with agoraphobia find being in crowds, taking public transportation, going to new places or facing interactions with new people very hard to endure. These kinds of activities can lead to panic attacks, which can result in a fear of further anxiety. As such, it’s not uncommon for agoraphobics to spend most or all of their time at home, where the risk of anxiety is low.
Agoraphobia is a rare condition, affecting less than 1% of the US adult population. For this reason, it’s very misunderstood and isn’t necessarily treated with the sympathy it deserves. Unlike some other forms of anxiety, agoraphobia can be crippling, leaving those affected afraid of even necessary tasks, such as shopping for food or leaving home to go to work.
Like many anxiety disorders, agoraphobia exists on a spectrum. Not everyone with agoraphobia is so anxious that leaving home is a near impossibility. However, even mild cases can complicate meeting job expectations. Things like commuting to work, giving presentations, receiving criticism from a superior or traveling for conferences can trigger severe anxiety and compromise performance.
Clinical Diagnosis vs Similar Anxieties
Many forms of anxiety can mimic the symptoms of agoraphobia. It’s common for those with anxiety to panic about normal aspects of daily life. However, a fear of something like taking public transportation or unwanted social interactions doesn’t mean a guaranteed diagnosis.
Agoraphobia isn’t defined by an occasional fear; instead, anxiety symptoms are pervasive and omnipresent. For someone with a fear of crowded spaces, public transportation isn’t occasionally uncomfortable — it’s consistently stressful to the point of panic.
Per the DSM-V, a clinical diagnosis of agoraphobia requires all of the following:
- Disproportionate and easily evident fear when confronted with two or more distinct situations, such as crowded areas or public transportation
- Immediate anxiety responses, such as panic attacks, when confronted with these situations
- Acknowledgment that fear is disproportionate but with no control mechanisms
- Display of avoidance behaviors, such as staying home or avoiding normal routines out of anticipatory anxiety
- At least six months of demonstrated symptoms
- No underlying diagnosis that could otherwise explain symptoms
The presence of anxiety alone isn’t adequate for a diagnosis. Instead, anxiety must be severe enough to stand in the way of normal lifestyle activities.
Managing and Working With Agoraphobia
In some ways, working and agoraphobia sound incongruous, but this doesn’t have to be the case. An anxiety disorder like agoraphobia doesn’t preclude working in general, although it may stand in the way of effectively performing some job duties. The key to succeeding in any work environment is finding a job that accommodates an individual’s skills, interests and abilities, and the same is true for agoraphobics.
Jobs for Agoraphobics
Ideal jobs for people with agoraphobia are remote in nature without significant meeting or travel demands. This allows for a safe environment, the ability to work from home and the opportunity for flexible scheduling to best accommodate periods of high anxiety. These kinds of roles include:
- Freelance writer or content marketer
- Virtual tutoring
- Remote IT support
- Pet sitting
- At-home babysitting or day care
- At-home call center support
Previously, very few jobs allowed for fully remote work. However, COVID-19 may have a permanent influence on the nature of working from home. Now that many companies have seen that most of their workforce can indeed telecommute on a consistent basis, corporations may be inclined to hire more remote workers.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, reasonable accommodation must be provided to those with qualifying disabilities. ADA coverage of a disability for agoraphobia requires a clinical diagnosis by a licensed medical provider.
Speaking to an employer can make a world of difference in ensuring a safe and comfortable work environment. For example, if commuting to work isn’t sustainable and job tasks are conducive to telework, employers may be able to arrange a remote working solution. Other accommodations might include a private office to minimize contact with other people or calling in to meetings rather than attending in person.
Career success for those with anxiety disorders like agoraphobia requires proper management. Simply ignoring symptoms and hoping they go away or refusing to speak to a counselor or try medication, if it’s warranted, can worsen the situation, not improve it.
How agoraphobia can be managed varies from case to case but can include:
- Understanding triggers, including what brings on a panic attack and what may worsen it
- Learning coping methods to reduce anxiety when in tense situations
- Attending regular therapy appointments and using psychotherapeutic techniques
- Taking SSRIs, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications when prescribed
In addition, it can be helpful to communicate with supervisors. Sadly, not all companies are understanding of mental health challenges. However, being open and honest about symptoms and circumstances can make work easier to manage for individuals employed by an understanding company.
While many cases of agoraphobia can be be managed effectively with therapy, medication and coping techniques, severe cases may require more comprehensive care. At FHE Health, our mental health treatment program can assist those with a wide range of disorders, providing a supportive care environment. Contact us today at (833) 596-3502 to learn more about our agoraphobia programming.