About this guide

This guide is a companion to the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Practice Guidelines for the treatment of Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia (2003) for professionals, which has been developed by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. This guide is intended to help you find the right care and treatment for your condition. It may also be of value to your family as they seek to understand your panic disorder and help you. You may like to hold onto this guide and take it with you to your health care professional.

The information in this guide is based on international research on panic disorder. Other treatments for panic disorder are available but they have not been carefully studied. The treatments recommended here have been shown to be effective in treating this problem.

What are the differences between anxiety and anxiety disorders?

Panic disorder and agoraphobia are common anxiety disorders. Everyone experiences anxiety at different times. It is normal and sensible to become anxious in some situations. For instance, if a stranger grabs you as you walk alone down a deserted street at night it would be usual to show symptoms of anxiety (also called the 'fight or flight' response). Your body has an in-built system that is activated in times of potential danger to make you more able to fight or flee. This type of anxiety is both useful and normal and is not a cause for concern. In fact, anxiety helps in many day-to-day activities such as job interviews, important meetings and sitting exams. To get a bit anxious is normal and often helpful.

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when the level of anxiety is out of proportion to the situation. A person with an anxiety disorder becomes anxious when there is no real danger. An example of this is when a person with panic disorder believes they are having a heart attack when their heart pounds after running up stairs.

Many people have panic attacks every now and then. The key to panic disorder is the lasting fear of having future panic attacks. It is the interpretation of the experience, which will be important in both the development and continuation of panic disorder. It is not the event that causes the panic, it's what you think the symptoms mean that causes the panic.