Panic Disorder Related Conditions The Differences Between Phobia and Panic Disorder By Katharina Star, PhD Katharina Star, PhD Facebook LinkedIn Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 28, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Akeem Marsh, MD Medically reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD LinkedIn Twitter Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print BSIP / UIG / Getty Images Many people confuse panic disorder and phobias, believing that these two conditions are the same. It is undeniable that panic disorder and phobias share similar symptoms, including intense fear, feelings of anxiety, and panic attacks. Both conditions can involve difficult symptoms that can tremendously impact one’s relationships, career, and other responsibilities and goals. Additionally, according to information found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), both conditions are classified as “anxiety disorders.” But panic disorder and phobias are considered separate conditions, each with a distinct set of diagnostic criteria. What Is a Phobia? A phobia is defined as a relentless fear of a certain object or situation. The fear associated with a phobia goes beyond just feelings of dislike or discomfort. A person with a phobia is severely afraid of the object or situation, far beyond any threat of danger it presents. For example, many people have an aversion to spiders, but a person who has a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), will go to great lengths to steer clear of spiders and may even behave in ways that others perceive as unreasonable if they encounter one. Phobia sufferers may recognize that their fear is excessive and irrational, but often feel unable to control their apprehension. Avoidance behaviors are common, as the phobic is determined to stay away from her specific fear. If forced to face the feared object or situation, the person will experience marked distress and anxiety. Common symptoms of phobias include accelerated heart rate, shaking, feelings of terror, and a tremendous need to get away from the object or situation. How to Reduce Your Panic-Related Avoidance Behaviors Categories of Phobias As outlined in the DSM, phobias fall into one of three main categories: Specific phobiasSocial phobias (social anxiety disorder)Agoraphobia Specific Phobias Specific phobias involve a fear of a particular object or situation. Common specific phobias include a fear of particular situations (e.g., heights, flying, elevators), medical circumstances (e.g., blood, needles, dentists), nature/environmental influences (e.g., water, tornadoes, earthquakes), or animals (e.g., snakes, dogs, bees). Social Phobias Social phobias entail an excessive fear of being embarrassed or negatively evaluated in a social situation. A person with a social phobia will avoid doing activities in public, such as speaking, in which they would at risk of being judged by others. Agoraphobia Agoraphobia may similarly involve a fear of being embarrassed, however, the person is afraid of having a panic attack in a place or situation in which it would be embarrassing and/or difficult to flee from. The symptoms of agoraphobia typically lead to further limitations in one's life such as avoiding driving, crowds, or large open spaces. Panic Disorder and Specific Phobias Panic attacks and panic-like symptoms, such as trembling, shortness of breath, and excessive sweating, are typical symptoms of both panic disorder and phobias. However, these symptoms are triggered differently for each condition. People who have a phobia will experience panic and anxiety when thinking about or being exposed to their fear. Panic disorder sufferers, on the other hand, are not generally triggered by a specific fear. People with panic disorder experience panic attacks suddenly and unexpectedly. People with panic disorder often must cope with a fear of when their next panic attack will strike. It is also possible to have a co-occurring diagnosis of both a specific phobia and panic disorder. Panic Disorder Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate Excessive sweating, trembling or shaking Shortness of breath or smothering sensations Sudden and unexpected recurring panic attacks Fear of when next attack will strike Phobias Dizziness, trembling, and increased heart rate Breathlessness A sense of unreality Extreme, irrational fear of situation, living creature, place, or object Panic when thinking about or being exposed to irrational fear Co-Occurring Panic Disorder and Depression Treatment Options Both panic disorder and phobias are complex conditions that can only be diagnosed by a qualified mental health provider. If you suspect that you are suffering from either or both of these conditions, make an appointment to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. She will be able to assist you in receiving an accurate diagnosis, treatment, and referrals when necessary. The treatment options available for phobias are similar to those for panic disorder. Most people diagnosed with a phobia will choose a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and self-help techniques to help in managing their symptoms. Psychotherapy can assist in a variety of ways including developing coping strategies, although medications are more likely to be a component of lowering the intensity of fear and anxiety, and self-help techniques can be beneficial in managing everyday stress, medication options may help lower the intensity of fear and anxiety, and self-help techniques can be beneficial in managing everyday stress. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.).” Washington, DC. By Katharina Star, PhD Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Panic Disorder Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.