Here's How Long A Panic Attack Can Really Last

What can be particularly alarming about a panic attack is its unpredictability. Oftentimes, it may feel like there's no rhyme or reason as to why it strikes, where it comes from, or how long it will last for.

Annually, every 1 in 10 adults across the country are affected by a panic attack (via WebMD). Most often emerging between adolescence and young adulthood, a panic attack is characterized by an intense feeling of fear that comes on abruptly. This feeling can be accompanied by a number of physical symptoms, such as sweating, an accelerated heartbeat, shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, trembling, belly cramps, chest pain, as well as chills or hot flashes, among other symptoms.

One may also experience additional emotional symptoms including a fear of death, feelings of loss of control, as well as feelings of dissociation. Sometimes, panic attacks may be severe enough to land a person in the hospital, as symptoms can easily resemble those of a heart attack or stroke. As terrifying as they may be, however, panic attacks are not considered life-threatening. Rather, it's about moving through the wave of panic to allow it to pass — but how long can that wave last for?

Why a panic attack may feel like it's lingering

Generally speaking, panic attacks are often fairly short-lived. For some people, it may pass within as little as five minutes (via WebMD). For others, it may last about a half-hour, reports Healthline. Most often, symptoms are at their worst around the ten-minute mark of a panic attack. After this time, symptoms usually begin to diminish.

However, there have been some reports of people experiencing hours-long panic attacks or even days-long panic attacks. In this event, a patient is usually experiencing a heightened state of anxiety rather than a panic attack. In some cases, however, this extended period of distress may be the result of multiple panic attacks occurring at one time. As previously mentioned, the key factor separating a panic attack from a state of high anxiety is whether or not symptoms peak within ten minutes. It's also possible that you may be experiencing residual symptoms in the aftermath of a panic attack, which may make it feel as if it's lasting for a longer amount of time. These residual symptoms can include anxiousness, muscle tension, tiredness, chest discomfort, or hyperventilation.

Thankfully, we don't have to be at the mercy of a panic attack — there are coping skills one can implement to help move through the panic more effectively.

Tips for navigating a panic attack

Science has shown that certain thought patterns can exacerbate the severity of a panic attack. Researchers from a 1993 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders examined 36 patients diagnosed with panic disorder who collectively experienced 285 panic attacks over the course of 14 days. Study findings showed that 91% of panic attacks involving more than four symptoms were accompanied by catastrophic thoughts in patients — or a fixation on a perceived impending catastrophe (via PLOS One). Such thoughts were found to worsen patient panic attack symptoms.

Regaining control of our thoughts can help reduce the intensity of a panic attack. First, you'll want to label the feeling, acknowledging it as a panic attack. Next, try some grounding exercises to bring your attention back to the present moment. Try counting the number of slow, deep breaths you take, using muscle relaxation techniques, or picking a color and finding all objects in the room of that color. Exercise or repeating a soothing mantra can also be helpful.

While panic attacks themselves are not considered a matter of life or death, there are instances in which a person should seek emergency medical care. This is particularly true if someone experiencing a panic attack is also experiencing chest pain or trouble breathing. Just to be safe, you should also go to the ER if your panic attack is lasting for hours. In both instances, a doctor can work to identify or rule out any underlying health conditions.