Panic disorder.

Do you understand the difference between panic attacks and panic disorder?  You should, because knowing can be an important part of building your recovery foundation.  Lets learn about the difference between panic attacks and panic disorder so we can learn to focus our recovery efforts more efficiently and effectively.


The highlights:

  • Panic attacks are physical.  Panic disorder is cognitive and behavioral.
  • A panic attack is a discrete physical event with a beginning and end.
  • Having panic attacks does not mean one has panic disorder.
  • Panic disorder is characterized by focus on panic between attacks, and by changes in lifestyle designed to avoid or prevent the next panic attack.
  • Many people have regular panic attacks without ever developing panic disorder.
  • Panic disorder develops based on learned cognitive connections between perceived danger and the behaviors we engage to either escape that danger or avoid it altogether.  We teach ourselves that avoiding panic is keeping us safe, but this is not true.
  • Panic disorder is cognitive, so focusing on eliminating the physical sensations of panic tends to be a dead end.  You must work on the cognitive and behavioral side because this is shown to be most effective.
  • Working on facing your fear without engaging in escape, safety or avoidance behaviors is the best approach. This is how the cognitive connections that fuel panic disorder are broken and un-learned.

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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Graduate student and therapist-in-training. Author and educator on the topic of anxiety disorders and anxiety recovery. Former anxious and depressed person.

One Comment

  • Holly says:

    This is really interesting. I think I’ve come full circle. Panic attacks – panic disorder – back to good old panic attacks! I don’t focus on them, they’re just part of my life that happens and I don’t change my plans around then like I used to do. I never really thought about it like this!
    Really enjoying your site Drew. Really helpful stuff on here. Thank you!