An anxiety attack can be a devastating event - one that makes you feel like everything in your life is crumbling around you. There are two types of anxiety attacks:
- Anxiety Exacerbations Periods of extreme anxiety that cause your symptoms to get worse.
- Panic Attacks Clinical moments of extreme panic with physical and mental symptoms.
"Anxiety attack" isn't a clinical term. Rather, it's a layman term for describing one of the above issues. Because of the different definitions, figuring out how long anxiety attacks last depends on understanding what type of anxiety attack you had and the factors that go into them.
Did You Experience an Anxiety Attack?
Often the main reason that people wonder how long anxiety attacks last is because they think they've experienced one, but they're not entirely sure.
An anxiety attack that is just an exacerbation of the anxiety disorder you already experience every day generally has no set timeframe, because they're often the result of an event or thought triggering further anxiety. Often there are three things that stop these exacerbations:
- Sleep, which can essentially stop the thoughts from spiraling out of control.
- Distractions, which also prevent the thoughts from taking over your mind.
- Coping strategies, which individuals learn to control their anxiety.
Some exacerbations simply die out over time, once the person has had a chance to experience the anxiety for a while. Others find that they continue for long enough that professional help is needed. The latter is especially true for those with PTSD, because in some cases the attack can cause severe fear and depression that needs immediate assistance. Never be afraid to contact someone - even if it's just a loved one - if you need that help. Living with profound anxiety is never easy, and taking advantage of any support system you have in place is encouraged.
More often than not, anxiety attacks refer to panic attacks. Panic attacks are moments of profound anxiety that manifest themselves largely in physical symptoms and a feeling of doom, as though the person is about to die or something terrible is about to happen to them.
Interestingly, panic attacks do seem to follow a specific pattern. Panic attacks tend to peak about 10 minutes in, and then go through a slow but steady decline that can last anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours. The resulting fatigue from a panic attack, however, can last the rest of the day depending on the severity of the attack.
Interestingly, the weaker the panic attacks, the longer they seem to last. There is something called a "limited symptom panic attack," which is a panic attack that has fewer than 4 symptoms, and these attacks can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. These attacks though rarely peak, and they tend to be weaker and easier for most people to handle, so the extended length is a tradeoff for the lack of severity.
How Long Do Anxiety Disorders Last?
The above list, however, refers to how long a specific attack lasts. The disorders themselves can last the rest of your life or only a few days. Your ability to overcome the anxiety depends a great deal on the help you seek out and your willingness to commit to treatments.
Anxiety attacks tend to be self-sustaining. Suffering from an anxiety attack often causes fear of experiencing an anxiety attack again, and that fear can make your anxiety symptoms worse and trigger another attack. That's why seeking help is so important.