Anxiety attacks vary widely in duration, from a few minutes to several hours. The length of an attack can depend on several factors, including the severity of the anxiety and individual coping skills. This guide will explain what influences the length of anxiety attacks and discuss ways to manage and potentially reduce their duration.

What are anxiety attacks?

Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are health conditions caused by intense episodes of overwhelming fear and discomfort that suddenly occur without any apparent reason.

These attacks can be particularly distressing because they often happen without warning and are usually not proportional to any threat or danger.

Anxiety attacks are the result of complex interactions between biological, psychological, and environmental factors:

Biological factors

Genetics may predispose individuals to anxiety, while imbalances in brain chemistry involving neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine can also play a role. These chemical messengers are crucial in regulating mood and responses to stress.

Psychological influences

Individual psychological makeup, including one’s history with trauma or anxiety, affects susceptibility to anxiety attacks. Personality traits such as temperament and resilience also affect how one handles stress.

Environmental triggers

External factors like stressful work environments, personal relationship challenges, or major life transitions can trigger anxiety attacks. Specific situations or phobias, like the fear of flying, can increase the frequency of these episodes.

How long do anxiety attacks last? 

The duration of an anxiety attack can vary significantly from person to person, but there are general patterns that can help establish expectations about their length.

Factors influencing how long anxiety attacks last

Several factors can affect how long an anxiety attack lasts, including:

  • Individual stress levels: Higher stress levels can prolong the duration of an attack or intensify its symptoms, making it feel like it’s lasting longer.
  • Coping strategies: Effective coping mechanisms, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or grounding techniques, can help shorten the duration of an attack by helping the individual manage symptoms more efficiently.
  • Previous experiences: Those who have had multiple anxiety attacks may either develop resilience over time, potentially shortening future attacks or experience increased anticipation anxiety, which can extend the duration of an attack.
  • Environmental triggers: Attacks triggered by specific environmental factors may continue as long as the individual is exposed to the trigger.

Recovery time from panic and anxiety attacks

After the peak of an anxiety attack, individuals might still feel residual effects, such as fatigue or mild anxiety, which can last for hours or even days. This recovery period is sometimes referred to as the postdrome phase of an anxiety attack.

Symptoms of anxiety attacks

Panic disorder is more common in women, with a prevalence of about twice that of men. The age at which anxiety and panic attacks typically start ranges widely from 25 to 53 years, affecting both genders equally in terms of intensity.

However, it most often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. Common symptoms for both men and women include:

Physical symptoms

Common physical symptoms may involve:

  • Palpitations or rapid heart rate: One of the most noticeable symptoms is when the heart pounds or races, often felt in the chest or throat.
  • Chest pain or discomfort: This can mimic the pain associated with a heart attack, causing concern and increasing fear.
  • Shortness of breath: Individuals may feel unable to breathe or are suffocating.
  • Trembling or shaking: This involuntary response can occur in the hands, limbs, or throughout the body.
  • Sweating: Excessive sweating often accompanies an anxiety attack unrelated to physical exertion or temperature.
  • Nausea or abdominal distress: Anxiety can upset the stomach, leading to nausea, vomiting, or a sensation of butterflies in the stomach.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: These sensations may lead to feelings of instability or faintness.
  • Chills or hot flashes: Sudden and extreme changes in body temperature can occur without any environmental cause.

Psychological symptoms

The emotional and cognitive symptoms include:

  • Intense fear or terror: The fear experienced during an anxiety attack can be specific (fear of dying, losing control, or having a heart attack) or nonspecific, an overwhelming sense of dread.
  • Feelings of detachment: Individuals may feel detached from reality or themselves, a condition known as depersonalization.
  • Feeling of losing control: There can be a strong fear of going crazy or losing control over oneself.

Sensory symptoms

Individuals may experience sensory disruptions:

  • Numbness or tingling sensations: These can occur in various parts of the body, typically the hands or feet.
  • Hypersensitivity to environment: Sounds may seem louder, lights brighter, or physical sensations more acute.

How is anxiety different from panic attacks?

Anxiety and panic attacks can be used interchangeably, but they differ primarily in their intensity, duration, and triggers.

Intensity

  • Anxiety is generally milder compared to a panic attack. It manifests as a persistent feeling of worry or tension that may escalate over time but usually does not peak suddenly.
  • Panic attacks are a form of anxiety characterized by sudden, intense surges of overwhelming fear and physical discomfort that can feel debilitating.

Duration

  • Anxiety can be long-lasting, affecting individuals for extended periods or throughout everyday situations.
  • Panic attacks are usually brief, typically lasting between a few minutes to about half an hour. They start suddenly and peak rapidly, often without any prolonged build-up.

Triggers

  • Generalized anxiety disorder often develops in response to stressors that are external (such as job stress) or internal (such as excessive worry about future events). It can be a consistent feeling that doesn’t necessarily have a specific trigger.
  • Panic attacks may occur unexpectedly without an obvious cause, or they can be triggered by specific phobias or exposure to certain situations. Unlike anxiety, they are not a continuous state but rather acute episodes.

How can you stop an anxiety attack?

Stopping an anxiety attack, particularly in the short term, involves quick, practical actions that can help manage the acute symptoms of a panic attack. This includes:

  • Controlled breathing: Take slow, deep breaths. Hold for a count of four through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. This helps stabilize rapid breathing and reduce panic symptoms.
  • Grounding techniques: Focus on tangible objects around you and describe their details, such as color, texture, and shape. This will help distract your mind and anchor you in the present.
  • Physical activity: Engage in light exercise such as walking or stretching. Physical movement can release tension and improve your mood quickly.
  • Relaxation exercises: Practice progressive muscle relaxation by tensing each muscle group for a few seconds, then relaxing it. This can help alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Speak with someone: Talk to a friend or family member. Sharing how you feel can lessen the intensity of the attack and provide immediate support. 

Long-term treatment for anxiety or panic attacks

Managing and treating anxiety attacks over the long term involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both the psychological and physiological aspects of anxiety. Here are some long-term treatment options:

Therapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy is highly effective for treating anxiety disorders. CBT helps identify and challenge the negative thinking patterns and behaviors that trigger anxiety attacks and replaces them with healthier, more realistic ones.
  • Psychotherapy: Sessions with a psychotherapist can provide insight into the underlying causes of your anxiety, helping to manage symptoms through talk therapy and behavior modification.
  • Exposure Therapy: This involves gradual, controlled exposure to the sources of your anxiety to reduce the fear response over time.

Medication

  • Antidepressants: SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRIs (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) are commonly prescribed for long-term management of anxiety. These medications can help stabilize mood and reduce the frequency of anxiety attacks.
  • Anxiolytics: For more immediate relief, anxiolytics such as benzodiazepines may be prescribed; however, they are generally recommended for short-term use due to the risk of dependency.

Lifestyle modifications

  • Regular physical activity: Maintaining a routine of regular exercise can significantly help manage anxiety. Activities like yoga, swimming, and running not only improve physical health but also reduce stress.
  • Dietary adjustments: Eating a balanced diet and avoiding caffeine and alcohol can help stabilize energy levels and mood.
  • Adequate sleep: Ensuring enough sleep is crucial, as fatigue can worsen anxiety symptoms.

Mindfulness and stress management techniques

  • Meditation and mindfulness: Regular practice can increase your ability to cope with stress and reduce the likelihood of anxiety attacks.
  • Stress management courses: These courses teach various methods to handle stress, from time management to relaxation techniques.

Support networks

  • Support groups: Joining groups where others share similar experiences can provide emotional support and coping strategies.
  • Family and friends: Educating close ones about your condition can help them understand and support you better.

Seek professional help

  • Regular Check-ups: Routine visits to a mental health professional can help monitor your condition and adjust treatments as necessary.
  • Holistic Treatments: Alternative therapies such as acupuncture or massage may be used with more conventional treatments to enhance well-being.

Final thoughts

Understanding how to manage attacks and panic can help you regain control during these intense moments. While these waves of panic are typically brief, effective management is key to reducing their impact.

If you’re struggling with anxiety attacks, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Contact us for guidance and management on managing your anxiety. We’re here to help you navigate through these challenges.

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