Anxiety, Panic and Phobias: Similarities and Differences

Medical Reviewer

Confused about the difference between anxiety, panic and phobia? That's possibly due to the fact there are similarities and differences between the issues. In this Sharepost I'm breaking down the components to show what's common to all three and what's different.

Common to all are the causes. It appears that any of these conditions can run in families and this points to inherited risk factors. Most experts believe the relationship between genes and environment is important. Our life experiences and circumstances can make us more vulnerable to the onset of any of these conditions. Our own behavior can also increase the risk of onset. For example certain drugs, alcohol or even caffeine can trigger the conditions.

But there are differences. Panic is a sudden and often unexpected rush of anxiety. The focus for the person affected is their body and health. A phobia is a fear of a situation or object and anxiety is the sense of feeling worried, tired, irritable, and being unable to focus. Note a key difference between this and panic is that the focus of attention is not usually related to health or illness - unless there is a very specific reason.

Anxiety and panic are strongly related to depression, whereas phobia usually isn't.

When it comes to treating anxiety, panic or phobia, there are several options that can be useful for all. Medications can help to take the edge off and sometimes antidepressants are prescribed. Some people find that beta-blockers help to reduce the physical side (tremors, shakiness, heart thumping) of anxiety related conditions.

Self-help is an option for all these issues, but if they are accompanied by depression it may be better to seek professional advice, unless you feel your depression is quite mild.   There is no shortage of self-help books relating to anxiety, panic and phobias and many DVDs and CDs based on cognitive therapy can readily be found.

Talk-therapies are another option that can suit all conditions. These may be individual or group oriented sessions. Voluntary self-help groups are often more informal but they can be very supportive in terms of the understanding people will have of your situation and useful coping strategies they may be using. Some may be facilitated by a health professional but this isn't always the case.