Panic attacks are sudden onsets of acute anxiety symptoms along with other physiological effects. Essentially, this feels like the normal ‘fight or flight’ response to fear but to a greatly exaggerated extent. When they’re in full force, it’s normal to feel a sense of terrible dread, to pace uncontrollably, to have a very high heart rate, to shake and tremble and to hyperventilate to the point of feeling dizzy and detached.
But how long do panic attacks last?
Here we will look at what you should expect in terms of the duration of any given attack as well as how you can go about reducing their lifespan so that you can get back to normal as quickly as possible and avoid unwanted consequences.
Panic Attack Lifecycle
Normally, panic attacks begin fairly abruptly but take about 10 to 20 minutes to get into ‘full swing’. In other words, you notice the symptoms of panic attacks early but they won’t become debilitating for a few minutes. This usefully means that if you should have a panic attack while driving or while in public, you will normally be able to pull over/sit down somewhere and wait for the symptoms to pass.
Once the symptoms are in full swing, they normally won’t last that long. Often 20 minutes is how long it takes for panic attacks to reach their ‘peak’ and you might find that the symptoms start to subside immediately after that point.
In other cases however, panic attack symptoms can continue for up to a couple of hours. When this happens they will often be described as coming in ‘waves’ getting better and then worse for a period.
Every case of panic attack is slightly different and will vary depending on the individual having the attack, the coping methods they use and the trigger that set off the panic attack. When you have a panic attack it’s essentially an acute stress response that has ‘gone out of control’. Just as no two cases of regular stress are the precise same, neither are any two cases of panic attack.
How to Ensure Your Panic Attack Ends Quickly
When asking ‘how long do panic attacks last?’, it’s pertinent to fact in coping methods. Those who experience panic attacks regularly should seek therapy which will help them to learn to cope with the symptoms as they arise. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular teaches a set of tools including self-talk, cognitive restructuring and breathing techniques which can help to ease the symptoms quickly and often avoid an attack altogether.
In other cases, medication can be used in the form of benzodiazepines. These work by increasing the amount of available ‘GABA’ in the brain, GABA being the main ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter which subdues the firing of neurons. This is essentially like turning the volume down on the brain and acts immediately, thereby preventing the symptoms from worsening and developing into a full attack.
To help your panic attacks to pass quickly, it’s important to keep calm and to try not to worry about the panic attack itself. Often panic attacks become self-perpetuating as sufferers often worry they might be having a heart attack or as they become stressed about the idea of feinting in public. This only exacerbates the problem as it adds stress on top of stress. Instead, focus on breathing calmly and deeply which will engage the parasympathetic nervous system and try to calm your thoughts. Move yourself away from crowds and sit somewhere safe with a friend and focus on breathing calmly.
As you get better at recognizing and dealing with the symptoms of a panic attack, you should find that you are able to bring them to an end much more quickly. If you see a cognitive behavioral therapist then it will often only take a few visits before you get to the point where you experience ‘limited symptom attacks’. These are panic attacks that only exhibit a few of the symptoms such as rapid heart rate and panic. How long do panic attacks last that only show few symptoms? Normally only 5-10 minutes as they never reach the ‘peak’.
In short, with practice and mental discipline, you should find that your panic attacks become shorter and shorter. Eventually, they should disappear altogether.