Panic Disorder is characterised by the recurrent and sudden onset of intense dread or terror. These feelings lead to a panic attack (anxiety attack) where the person experiences physical sensations such as heart palpitations, chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness and feelings of desperation and helplessness. In the midst of a panic attack, individuals typically feel as though they are going to die or lose control. Panic attacks are terrifying. As a result, individuals with Panic Disorder begin to fear the fear of having another panic attack. This sets off a cycle of avoidance and the creation of safe zones, places and/or circumstances where the individual feels as though they are less likely to have an attack. Unfortunately, the number and frequency of panic attacks often increases with no clear cause, making it difficult for the individual to make sense of what is triggering the attacks. As a result the individuals safe zones become smaller, and quality of life is negatively impacted.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterised by the intense fear of entering public and crowded places, travelling away from home, using public transportation and being separated from people and/or places associated with safety. These avoidance behaviours are undertaken in an attempt to avoid a panic attack. Agoraphobia is a form of Panic Disorder although panic attacks can occur with or without it. In reality, these avoidance behaviours actually serve to reinforce the original fear.