Panic attacks are intensely stressful anxiety attacks that are so severe with physical symptoms that some people are hospitalized, believing they have a heart attack. Panic attacks are also individualized issues that don't always follow an exact system. But panic attacks tend to go through very specific stages that may be similar for many people. So how long do panic attacks last?
How Severe is Your Panic?
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Timeline is Similar - Symptoms May Be Different
Panic attacks tend to go through similar timelines, but it should be noted that the symptoms themselves are often different, and affected by how the person reacts to their anxiety. Make sure you've taken my free 7 minute anxiety test if you haven't yet to get a better understanding of how this works.
Generally panic attacks go through the following structure:
- Pre-Attack This may be described as feeling "panicky" or as though something is going wrong. You may feel like your heart is speeding up or you may feel like something is going wrong in your body but you don't know what. These can be small and go away in minutes, or they can build on themselves in which case they tend to last about 10 minutes or a bit longer.
- The "Attack" The term "panic attack" describes everything that goes into an attack - from the pre-attack to the post-attack - but the actual moment of pure terror where your anxiety attack peaks tends to be less than a minute, and some people find that it peaks instantly before declining. The peak may be nearly as severe as the "panicky" feeling leading up to an attack, however. Generally it occurs after about 10 minutes.
- The Slow Decline Once you've experienced the panic attack, there is often a slow decline. For some this may be as little as a few minutes. Others find that this can take hours and leave them incredibly drained. On average, it takes about 30 minutes or so for someone to recover from a panic attack, although they may feel tired and drained for hours.
The basic answer is 10 minutes, because most people are talking about the time it takes to build up and the time it takes to peak. But in reality there is much more to panic attacks than just the buildup to the peak.
After a panic attack, the person can still be experiencing a severe rapid heartbeat, confusion, and issues concentrating for hours. Some experience depression as a result of their panic attack, and others focus on their physical symptoms so much that they feel like another attack is coming for days.
Should that be included in the definition of "panic attack?" That's still unclear. Also, 10 minutes is an extremely long time when you're suffering from that much anxiety, and it can often feel as though it's been occurring for hours.
How to Stop Panic Attacks From Occurring or Shorten Them
If you suffer from panic attacks, stopping them should be your priority. There are several methods you can use to stop panic, and some of them may even shorten the duration of your panic attack or reduce its severity. Some examples include:
- Controlled Breathing Most of the worst symptoms of anxiety attacks comes from hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is when you breathe in too much oxygen and breathe out too much carbon dioxide, and unfortunately this has a paradoxical effect which causes you to feel as though you're not getting enough oxygen, causing you to breathe in even more as a result. This is one of the reasons that symptoms tend to get worse during the panic attack. So control your breathing by taking at least 15 seconds with each breath, breathing in slowly and breathing out even more slowly.
- Mental Distractions and Talking The more you are "inside your head" during an attack, the worse and longer it will be. Get out of your head by telling those around you that you are having anxiety symptoms, or finding a way to distract your mind. Calling someone on the phone (even if you have people around you) can actually be a great distraction, because holding a phone conversation takes a lot of mental energy. See if there are people you trust you can call when you need to.
- Walking Walking is another tool that can actually reduce the severity of your panic attacks. Walking improves blood flow in a way that can help you regain your carbon dioxide levels, and walking appears to have a distracting effect on the brain that may be advantageous for helping you recover from the attacks.
These are some quick tools that you can use to make sure your panic attacks are less severe. But the key is to also ensure that you're targeting your anxiety and looking for ways to cure it forever.
I've helped many people with both long and short panic attacks stop their anxiety forever. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test, and use that test to help you learn effective ways to fight anxiety.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.