How Long Does a Panic Attack Last?

Chronic panic attacks are an anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience bouts of acute stress which can often be mistaken for a heart attack or asthma attack. The symptoms here include an increased heart rate, a crushing sensation in the chest, feelings of fear or dread, pacing, headaches, breathlessness and trembling. This then can worsen other conditions, disrupt sleep and be socially unacceptable unless the individual can overcome the attack. The question many people then ask is: ‘how long does a panic attack last’?

Individual panic attacks vary in length, though generally they won’t last longer than a few hours at most and tend to be shorter. The variable that affects the length of a panic attack is the individual themselves and their coping methods; and as the attacks are psychosomatic they can be either worsened or improved by a correct attitude and recognition of the problem. What tends to exacerbate a panic attack is the fact that individuals often believe themselves to be dying or danger, and as such they become even more panicked and increase the fight or flight response. If they can replace these thoughts however with calmer ones which recognise the condition for what it is then they can drastically shorten its duration.

Controlling thoughts in this way is taught in one school of psychology known as ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ or ‘CBT’. In cognitive behavioural therapy the individual is taught ‘mindfulness’ which means the ability to observe and recognise the contents of their own mind. They will then be taught to replace thoughts such as ‘I’m dying’ or ‘I’m having a heart attack’ or ‘I just want this panic attack to stop’ with calmer more adaptive thoughts such as ‘I just need to relax’ and ‘it will pass in time’. Someone who is capable of this will not only experience far shorter panic attacks, but should eventually be able to counter them completely. The answer to the question ‘how long does a panic attack last’ then depends entirely on the individual, and how capable they are of handling the situation and recognising their condition.

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