Panic attacks occur when you’re faced with something that shouldn’t cause fear, but it does. The feeling of fear builds and builds, or it may come instantly, until you’re in the midst of a genuine panic attack.
During the panic attack, you get all kinds of symptoms, both physical and emotional. Here are a few of them:
- You have trouble catching your breath
- Your heart pounds like it’s going to force its way out of your chest
- You feel pain in the middle of your chest
- Sweat pops out on your forehead and under your arms
- A feeling of impending doom settles on you
- You feel like you’re going to die
All of these symptoms sometimes convince you that you’re having a heart attack. This can lead to calling an ambulance or getting someone to drive you to the Emergency Room.
Because the symptoms of a panic attack feel so serious, it may seem like hours before they go away. But go away they will.
The question remains: How long do panic attacks last?
When Will This Feeling Go Away?
This is a hard question to answer specifically, because everyone experiences panic attacks differently. In the middle of a panic attack, it feels like the fear won’t ever go away.
On average, it takes about ten minutes from the time your panic attack begins until the fear reaches its peak. Then another ten to twenty minutes is typically what it takes for the fear to go away.
So you could say the answer to how long do panic attacks last is from twenty to thirty minutes.
But that’s on average. And averages are figured across large numbers of people. Average also means there may be some on the very low end of the time scale and others on the very high end of that same scale.
The actual answer to the question that’s the heart of this article is going to be somewhat ambiguous. Everyone reacts to a panic attack differently, before, during, and after the attack itself.
Some Different Ways of Reacting to Panic Attacks
During the “build-up” phase of a panic attack, people can respond differently, depending on whether there is a trigger that sets off the panic attack. There isn’t always something that triggers your panic attack. They can come “out of the blue” with no warning.
If your panic attack does come on suddenly, you’ll probably have less time in this build-up phase. You could go directly into the escalating feeling of fear and impending doom. Your total time in the panic attack may be less in this case.
On the other hand, if there is a trigger that prompts your feeling of fear, this phase may last longer, most likely resulting in a longer panic attack overall.
Your feeling of fear may gradually build, you may seek some way to get away from the trigger, until eventually you realize you can’t escape whatever it is, and the panic is underway full force.
Whether there is a trigger to your panic attack or not, the time of the most intense fear will typically be about the same. From the time the fear begins until it reaches its most agonizing will be about ten minutes. This is the time you will feel your heart beating rapidly, you will sweat and have trouble catching your breath, and you will feel like something terrible is about to happen. You don’t know what, but you know it will be devastating.
Then the gradual decrease in severity of your symptoms begins. This phase may last twenty to thirty minutes.
Once again, this phase is unique to each individual. If there is a trigger for your panic attack, you may be able to get away from that trigger and make this phase shorter. Usually, if the trigger is gone, or if you can get away from it, the fear you feel during the panic attack will stop. If there is no trigger, this phase may last longer.
Some people who have experience panic attacks for some time may be able to shorten this part of the panic attack by doing some of the things they’ve learned over time. They may control their breathing, go through some relaxation exercise, or direct their thinking in a more positive direction.
The last phase of your panic attack can be called the recovery phase. This phase, also, is unique to every person. Symptoms of your panic attack can hang on for a long time, hours in fact. You can gain control of how long this phase lasts, to an extent.
If you constantly re-hash what you went through, what you felt, this recovery phase can drag on and on. If your thinking is catastrophic, if you wonder what you did to cause this to yourself, or if you focus on how you could bring on a heart attack with another panic attack, you’re going to prolong this phase.
On the other hand, if you learn to control your breathing and control your thoughts, you can decrease the time this phase will go on. If you learn a good relaxation exercise, you can shorten it, also.
There are those people who say they have panic attacks that last for hours. Most likely, what is happening with them is a series of panic attacks that come close together. If you’re in a situation where the trigger for your panic attack is continually present, and you can’t get away from it, this is a definite possibility.
Because of the level of fear and the physical symptoms that come with panic attacks, most people fear having another one. No one likes the discomfort, both physical and emotional, that comes with a panic attack. And people will fear the symptoms mean there’s something terribly wrong with them physically. These two things will stimulate the fear and dread of having another panic attack.
This fear and dread can make you monitor yourself very closely for signs of having another panic attack. This makes it easy to misinterpret any physical change in your body as an indication you’re about to have another panic attack. Many times, this is all it takes to push you into the very panic attack you’re trying so hard to avoid.
In this way, you can set up a chain reaction of sorts that lead to a panic attack.
Ways to Stop a Panic Attack
There are two general ways to stop, or at least shorten, a panic attack. The first is relatively easy in most cases where it can be used, the second takes time to learn to use it.
If you have a trigger for your panic attack, get away from it.
If the trigger is something you can avoid, by all means, do so. A place, person, or situation can all be triggers. This is a relatively easy thing to do and will usually stop the panic attack fairly quickly.
There are some “catches” to this method, however. First, you may not have a trigger for your panic attacks. In that case, you have nothing to avoid. Second, depending on the trigger, you may not be able to avoid it, at least not all of the time.
To use an extreme example, if your trigger is traveling in any kind of vehicle, it would very difficult to avoid traveling.
The third “catch” to this method of stopping panic attacks is that it doesn’t cure them. It’s a good short-term solution, but isn’t a good way to deal with panic attacks over the long term. When you come face-to-face with the trigger again, you’ll likely have another panic attack.
Remove your fear of panic attacks.
This is neither a fast nor easy way of dealing with panic attacks. But it is the better of these two approaches. This method requires the person to learn how to remain calm and grounded through relaxation exercises. Combining relaxation with controlled thinking can help him or her realize getting through a panic attack is possible. Over a period of time, he or she will learn they can get to the other side of a panic attack with no damage.
By far the most effective, in the long run, way to deal with panic attacks is to get professional treatment for them. There are several treatment approaches that can be successful in helping a person deal with panic attacks by going to the root of the problem. This is not an easy way to handle panic attacks. You may have to face things you’ve kept buried for a long time. But it will be worth it in the end.
Panic attacks are not a pleasant experience for anyone. They can come out of nowhere and last for what seems like a very long time. There are things you can do to stop or shorten your panic attacks. The question of how long they will last isn’t as important as knowing you can do something about them.