Anxiety, as in Panic attacks, as in Phobias…..Is that really so?

Sam, a 14-year-old boy, started crying suddenly while on his school trip to a zoo. The teachers, who immediately rushed to console him, observed that he was shaking and begging to be taken away from the site. Many assumed him as getting anxious, watching so many big animals at one place, while other thought it must have been a panic attack. Sam, further, continued to have such reactions on his trips to forest, zoo, safaris and the likes. What was Sam actually struggling with?

It is vital for us to understand that terms like Anxiety, panic, phobias are not the same. They may seem overlapping each other due to their very nature, however, they are NOT synonymous, following the unique diagnostic criteria of their own.


Anxiety [1] is a broader term, characterized by diffused, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension, often accompanied by autonomic symptoms such as a headache, perspiration, palpitations, tightness in the chest, mild stomach discomfort, and restlessness, indicated by an inability to sit or stand still for long. The particular constellation of symptoms present during anxiety tends to vary among persons.

Anxiety is not to be confused with fear, which is an emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat (whereas anxiety is an anticipation of future threat). According to NMHS (2015-16), the current prevalence of anxiety disorders is 3.6% [2] in India.

Featured in movies like Nerve (2011) and Amelie.


PANIC Disorder [3] is comprised by the frequency of panic attacks and the diagnostic criteria that follows it. Panic attack refers to a sudden period of intense fear or apprehension that may last from minutes to hours. Panic attacks particularly occur in specific phobia, social phobia, and PTSD, apart from other mental disorders. Attacks in patients with social and specific phobias are usually expected or cued to a recognized or specific stimulus.

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PHOBIA [4] is characterized by an excessive fear of a specific object, circumstance, or situation. By specific phobia, we mean a strong, persisting fear of an object or situation. Its diagnosis requires the development of intense anxiety, even to the point of panic, when exposed to the feared object. Phobias are one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, where approximately 5 to 10 percent of the population is estimated to have these troubling and sometimes disabling disorders. The lifetime prevalence of specific phobia is about 10 percent (Sadock & Sadock).

This disorder can be seen in movie Phobia (2016).


So, coming back to Sam, when his parents took him to a Psychologist, they discovered that Sam had been displaying such a behavior from past 7-8 months and even feared going out to play in gardens, leading to significant distress. In further sessions, Sam opened up, pointing his fear to snakes, which was evoking a constellation of such responses. Sam was thus, diagnosed with “Phobia” for snakes under the DSM criteria[5]  and was subjected to counseling.


  • Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5
  • Kaplan & Sadock, Synopsis of Psychiatry, 11th edition.











2 thoughts on “Anxiety, as in Panic attacks, as in Phobias…..Is that really so?

  1. The shrink speaks group have started a wonderful job for those people who are trying to get rid of their pain, anxiety and dullness in their life;this group is trying to show them a path of positivity and healthy life.All the best, keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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