Anxiety is a common experience for everyone. However, anxiety is often complex and manifests in different forms; thus, we have an entire category of mental health issues under anxiety disorders. Two of the most common anxiety disorders are phobias and panic disorders. Since both of these disorders are subsets of anxiety, they share a lot of common features but impact the lives of people in completely different ways.

Both phobias and panic disorder can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, increased heartbeats, intense fear, or sweating, making it difficult for people to differentiate between them. This article aims to explore the differences between these two conditions.

Differentiating Between Phobia and Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder
Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by sudden and unexpected panic attacks. Phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of a specific object or situation. For ex- A fear of closed spaces (Claustrophobia)
In Panic Disorder, panic attacks might occur with no specific trigger or cause. They usually happen without any warning. In Phobia, anxiety is triggered only when an individual is exposed to a specific feared object or situation
  • Sudden, repeated and unexpected panic attacks 
  • Constant fear about experiencing another panic attack
  • Avoidance of situations where a panic attack has occurred in the past
  • A fear of being out of control during a panic attack
  • Intense or overwhelming fear of an object or a situation
  • Feeling like escaping when exposed to a feared object or situation
  • Going out of the way to avoid triggering situations
Panic Disorder may develop all of a sudden, with no apparent cause. Past negative experiences or traumas may play a significant role  Phobias may develop gradually due to repeated negative experiences in particular situations.  It might also develop as a learned response in childhood.
Impact on Everyday Life
Panic Disorder can be severely limiting in everyday life. Individuals may choose to avoid multiple situations for fear of experiencing a panic attack. This might disrupt work and social life. Thus, panic disorder is likely to have a broad negative impact on everyday life. Phobias can be limiting as well. In extreme cases, individuals might go to any lengths to avoid the feared object. They might avoid jobs or social situations where they might have to face the feared object. Thus, phobias can be limiting, but only in specific situations. 
Duration of Anxiety
A panic attack usually lasts for 5-20 minutes but might go on for an hour in some cases. The symptoms of anxiety will gradually fade when the person is no longer exposed to the feared situation

Treatment for Phobias and Panic Disorder

Since both of these conditions are subsets of anxiety disorders, some common treatment approaches are used in their treatment. They are:

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

CBT involves challenging negative thoughts associated with feared objects or situations and replacing them with positive and realistic thoughts that help you deal with the situation easily.

  • Exposure Therapy

This approach involves gradually exposing people to feared objects or situations while also encouraging them to use relaxation techniques to calm down. Over time, they learn to handle the feared situation calmly.

  • Medications 

Anti-anxiety medication can help with both phobias and panic disorders, but it is used only in severe cases. Usually, a combination of medicine and therapy is found to be effective in treatment.


While both panic disorder and phobia are subsets of anxiety, their impact on the daily lives of individuals differs vastly. Understanding the differences between these two conditions of crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. 


  1. Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from
  2. Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms – National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2024, from
  3. Phobias: Causes, Types, Treatment, Symptoms & More. (2012, August 15). Healthline.
  4. Phobias: What do you fear? (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from

Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin