Are panic disorder and panic attacks the same thing or are they two separate conditions? In other words, does someone who suffers from panic attacks automatically get labelled as having panic disorder? The short answer to that question is no. Someone who suffers from panic attacks doesn’t necessarily have panic disorder. First of all, throughout the world, every year, many people experience panic attacks first-hand. In a lot of cases, these attacks are isolated incidents and are usually triggered when the sufferer is experiencing extreme stress within their lives or when the person is faced with some heavy negative emotion. For example, following the death of a loved one etc. Usually, once their stress levels have returned to normal or the heavy emotion has faded with the passage of time, their anxiety level drops and so does the risk of having a repeat panic episode. These are the panic attack sufferers that would not be labelled as having panic disorder. Now, there’s another type of panic sufferer. This is the category that I used to fit into. You see, when I had my first panic experience, even though I was working and playing hard, I was enjoying life and doing rather well for myself. Whilst driving to my hometown one Friday evening in 1985, to see my family and friends, I was struck with a panic attack. It came out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. I managed to get my car off the motorway that I was on at the time and I pulled into a rest stop. I remember how tightly I hung onto the steering wheel so as not to lose control of the car. I was scared, I mean really scared. I’d never, in all my life to that point experienced anything so frightening and brutal. Following that incident, my life was never the same again for over twenty years. I felt anxious all the time and during the following few weeks I started to suffer panic attacks quite frequently whilst travelling. I rapidly developed a travel phobia and would get so very anxious just thinking about taking a journey. You see, because I couldn’t see what was causing these attacks, I couldn’t determine when the next one would strike me. But I did know that, at that time, I’d only ever experienced panic whilst being aboard one kind of motor vehicle or another. Now, because I lived in fear of my next panic attack, I fitted quite neatly into the panic disorder category. And that’s the real difference. Someone who experiences panic attacks very frequently or lives in fear of his or her next panic episode has panic disorder. In contrast, someone who suffers panic attacks infrequently and certainly doesn’t live in fear of them, doesn’t.