Panic attacks can make you feel as though your world is collapsing. While you’re in the middle of one, all you can think about is how long it will last and how to stop it. Focusing on it so intently can cause you to become even more panicked. It seems like the worse thing that’s ever happened to you, and you think it’ll last forever. You may even go to the emergency room out of fear for your life.
While panic attacks can feel catastrophic, they don’t last long. Once you learn what to expect, you can find ways to work through and recover from episodes of panic, recovering more quickly and get back to living your life.
HOW LONG DO PANIC ATTACKS LAST
A panic attack is when you have a sudden and intense period of panic or anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere. Some people mistakenly use the term interchangeably with the term anxiety attack. The key difference is that panic attacks don’t have an apparent trigger and are often involved with other mental health disorders such as depression, social phobias and panic disorder.
Physical symptoms of a panic attack include things like intense fear, heart palpitations, nausea, shortness of breath, a fast heart rate. These symptoms often lead panic attack victims to believe they are suffering a heart attack. These physical symptoms are in fact the body’s fight or flight response. This response helped our ancestors make life or death decisions by heightening the senses.
While we don’t face the same situations in our modern day, our brains still trigger this response when faced with objectively innocuous situations. When you interpret the situation as stressful, your brain deems it a fight or flight situation.
However, panic attacks are not life-threatening and will end within 30 minutes. Most last around 10 minutes from start to finish. Factors that can increase or decrease the length of a panic attack include your mental state prior to the attack beginning and if you’ve had a panic attack previously. If you were already tired or stressed out, your mind will have more trouble combating feelings of panic. This can cause your panic attack to last longer than it would have if you were in a better state of mind.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A PANIC ATTACK
It takes a lot of energy for your body to maintain your fight or flight response, and being in that state for prolonged periods of time can affect the wellness of your mind and your body.
After a panic attack, you might experience some common symptoms.
Side effects of a panic attack
Your mind is still thinking about the things that caused you to panic in the first place. This can make it difficult for you to focus on the present.
The hormones that your body secreted during your panic attack are still in your bloodstream, and it takes time for those effects to wear off. Your brain has to tell your parasympathetic nervous system, which caused the hormones to be secreted, that it’s okay to relax. After you’ve just gone through a period of panic, it can be hard to feel like you’re in a safe place, so you may feel on edge for a little bit.
Racing thoughts are generally a symptom of panic attacks, but can continue to occur after the worst of your panic has subsided. Your thoughts can race from one subject to another and can feel completely uncontrollable. This can be as a result of the adrenaline racing through your system. When your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, your thoughts should be easier to control.
Because of the significant mental resources a panic attack uses up, you’ll likely feel fatigued following a panic attack. Some people report feeling tired for a couple of hours, while others might be tired all day or for days after the period of panic. The amount of fatigue you might feel depends on the severity of your panic attack and your overall health.
Is there a cause?
Unlike anxiety attacks, there aren’t immediately identifiable causes of panic attacks. We do know that panic attacks and panic disorders tend to run in families, but it’s not clear how much is acquired via genetics and how much is due to nurture and environmental factors.
Many people who suffer from depression also experience panic attacks, but there is no evidence that one causes the other. Panic attacks can also arise from physical causes such as low blood sugar, hyperthyroidism and heart valve issues.
Those who have recently gone through stressful life events like divorce or death are also subject to panic attacks.
HOW TO ELIMINATE PANIC ATTACKS
If you are trying to figure out, “How long do panic attacks last?” chances are you want to do everything you can to make them shorter. The best thing you can do is to learn relaxation practices which been proven to help reduce all manners of stress responses, including panic attacks.
Detach yourself from your thoughts
Observing your thoughts instead of reacting to them can help reduce overwhelming feelings of anxiety and panic. It’s easy to get caught up in anxious thoughts and let them get the best of you, causing the dread to trigger a panic attack. If you can detach yourself from your thoughts, your thoughts will have less power over you and you can exit your state of panic sooner.
Use grounding techniques
Grounding techniques help you reconnect to your present situation. Panic and anxiety can cause you to worry about the future or get caught up in the past. Using physical sensations as a point of reference, recruit your senses to help you get out of your head back into the here and now.
Reflect instead of reacting
Learning to question your thoughts can be difficult, but it can help reduce feelings of panic and anxiety. Taking the time to reflect on your fear can help identify its core sources, which in turn can help you to address those feelings. Knowing where your panic is coming from can also help take the power away from it.
Practice positive self-talk
Research has shown that positive self-talk can significantly increase your ability to calm down in the real world, allowing you to perform to the best of your abilities. During times of panic, telling yourself that you are safe can help your brain understand that everything is okay, which can convince your brain to calm your body down and minimize the duration of a panic attack.
Learn how to recognize a panic attack
Recognizing some of the early signs of a panic attack can help you realize that you need to engage in some calming methods.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Feeling like your heart is racing
- Hot or cold flashes
- Being overwhelmed by a sense of terror
- Tingling sensations in your extremities
- Chest pain
- Having difficulty breathing
Distraction can help stave off a panic attack. Often times, people having a panic attack will make their symptoms worse by obsessing over the attack. Taking the time to read a book, talk to a friend, exercise or engage in a hobby you enjoy can give your mind something else to focus on in a time of crisis.
Try deep breathing
Breathing exercises are excellent at sending a signal to your brain and letting it know that it’s time to calm down. Because the autonomic nervous system controls your stress response, deep breathing will help your nervous system believe that you are safe and it can end the fight or flight response. If you need help in learning and performing deep breathing, try out some of Spire’s guided meditations.
HOW LONG DO PANIC ATTACKS LAST? NOT FOREVER
Panic attacks don’t last long, but you can be stuck with the after effects for quite some time afterward. As we’ve outlined above, there are effective treatments you can try on your own. If these don’t work, we encourage you to go seek professional help. Doctors and other healthcare professionals will be able to guide your further and prescribe stronger therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medications.
So how long do panic attacks last? Not very long. Find hope in the fact that although they are scary to endure, panic attacks are temporary and very treatable.