How Long Does An Anxiety Attack Usually Last?

Anxiety is a term used often to express fear or discomfort of certain situations or events. This could be a feeling of stress over finding a new job, needing to move out of state, or any recent change to your life.

Anxiety is common, and most people will feel some level of it throughout their lives.

If the anxiety is intense, causing you to think you're in danger, it may be an anxiety attack, which is a form of anxiety disorder. About 31.1% of American adults experience some type of anxiety disorder in their lives.¹

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about anxiety attacks. We will also talk about how long most anxiety attacks last.

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What is an anxiety attack, and how does it differ from a panic attack?

Before going over how long an anxiety attack lasts, we need to explain the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks. While these two mental health terms are often used interchangeably, there are a few important differences.

Anxiety is considered a natural stress response. This could be stress that you recognize, or it could be occurring for reasons you haven't figured out yet.

Panic attacks are more severe and often overwhelming. A panic attack can come on without any warning and at any time.³ They can be very scary and can include a variety of physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, shaking, and dizziness. Some people describe feeling like they are having a heart attack, while others question whether they are losing their minds.³

If your level of anxiety starts interfering with your life, it may indicate an anxiety disorder. This may be the case if your attacks feel strong enough to cause you to cancel or change your plans.

Again, some anxiety is common, but it becomes problematic when it causes you to avoid people, places, or events you used to enjoy. This is considered severe, and among people who have an anxiety disorder, 22.8% have it severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.¹

In these cases, it's important to talk to your doctor. They may want to know how long your anxiety attacks last, what your triggers are, and how often you feel this way. Here are some different types of anxiety disorders:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - The trigger is memories and flashbacks of a past trauma that can come back and feel real at any moment.

Illness or health anxiety disorder – This used to be called hypochondria. It's a strong fear or feeling of being sick or getting sick.

Learn more about health anxiety.

Separation anxiety – This is stress or fear of being away from someone, like a caregiver. This disorder is more common in children but can occur in adults.

Social anxiety – This type of anxiety is quite common. It is fear or discomfort around other people, social situations, or crowds of people.

Learn more about social anxiety.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – This type of anxiety can be irrational, and often, the person knows that the obsessions (repetitive thoughts) or compulsions (repetitive behaviors) are irrational, but they still can't control it. It can cause repetitive behaviors like checking the locks on the door ten times before going to bed out of fear of a break-in.

Phobias – When a person has a phobia, they are intensely fearful of something. This could be heights, spiders, lakes, birds, or clowns. This extreme fear can limit a person's daily functioning and ability to do things. In some cases, it is debilitating.

Panic disorder – Often confused with anxiety, this disorder involves having panic attacks that can occur out of nowhere. People will often live with the fear that an attack is going to happen again. About 4.7% of adults in the U.S. experience panic disorder at some point during their lives.²

What are the signs of an anxiety attack?

Anxiety disorders have several components, and they can be difficult to diagnose.³ Making matters more complicated are the diverse signs and symptoms that a person might experience. No two people are alike, and neither is their anxiety.

Here are some physical signs that point to one of the different types of anxiety disorders:

Here are some common emotional signs:

  • Fear or dread

  • Constant worry

  • Envisioning signs of trouble or negative things

  • Fearing the future

  • Irritability

Many of these symptoms can be a sign of other health problems. Asthma, heart disease, and diabetes are some conditions that cause the same symptoms.⁴ ⁵ For example, many people with diabetes report feeling a sense of doom or panic when their blood sugar levels get too low.

Sometimes the differences will depend on how long the anxiety attack lasts. If the symptom goes away after the person corrects their blood sugar, it is likely due to low glucose. If not, and the fear continues, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

How long do anxiety attacks usually last?

Most anxiety attacks last between a few minutes and half an hour.⁴ They will usually reach their peak in about ten minutes.⁴ Of course, during an attack, time feels slower, and ten minutes may feel like an hour.

On the other hand, if the feeling persists much longer, such as hours or days, it may not be an anxiety or panic attack. Instead, it could be a high level of anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).⁵

There is also the possibility that a person might have several panic or anxiety attacks back-to-back. This could feel like waves of panic and could last a lot longer.

Can an anxiety attack last for days?

How long is too long for an anxiety attack to last? It's possible to feel a high level of anxiety for a long period. It can even last for several days.

Another possibility is that many anxiety attacks occur back-to-back, making it feel like one long episode. This can be especially hard on the body because anxiety symptoms happen due to the fight or flight response.⁵ This response is a series of physical responses the body goes through to help get you out of a bad situation or warn you of a potential threat.

For example, the body triggers a release of hormones such as adrenaline. This is useful if a lion is chasing you because the fight or flight response can help you respond to the threat quickly and get out of trouble.

The problem is that smaller, non-life-threatening events can trigger this response, too. For example, being stuck in traffic and knowing you'll be late for work. If the stress response isn't shutting down, or it's coming on in waves, you will need to see a doctor.

How do you calm an anxiety attack?

Even though we can't tell you exactly why or what caused your attack, we can share steps to help stop it or at least decrease the intensity.

Look at your surroundings

Remember that the fight or flight response is your body's way of preparing you for survival. Look around. Are you in danger? If the answer is yes, make sure you get yourself to safety. If the answer is no, keep looking at your surroundings. If you're at work, look at your chair and desk. See that they are here, in the moment, and so are you. This can help bring you back to where you were before the panic started.

Breathe deeply

During the fight or flight response, your breathing automatically starts to become shallow. Recognize those breaths and force them to go deeper. The deeper and slower you breathe, the calmer you will feel. If all you do is focus on regaining control of your breathing, it will go a long way to helping you feel better.

Repeat a mantra

A mantra is a short set of words that mean something to you. Some people might consider it a prayer, while others might call it a meditation. All that matters is that you repeat something to yourself, out loud or in your mind. For example, "I am safe, I am calm."

Movements

Some people find that the fastest way to push out anxious energy is to move. Exercises like yoga, running, push-ups or squats can be exhausting, which means your body will shift energy away from the anxiety you’re feeling to the movements and exercise instead.

What are some techniques to prevent and manage anxiety attacks?

How long an anxiety attack lasts might depend on what steps you take to prevent them in the first place. This is because anxiety and panic disorder may become worse if they are not treated.⁶ When you take care of yourself, you help lower some of the stressors causing anxiety.

Here are some common ways to prevent and manage anxiety:

Stress relief – Meditation, deep breathing, tai chi, massage, and mindfulness are just a few ways to lower stress. They can help you stay calmer longer.⁴ ⁶

Exercise – Working out regularly is not just a great stress reducer, but it helps keep your health on track. It also helps you breathe in deeper, which is very relaxing overall.⁴

Just say no – Smoking, coffee, alcohol, and certain drugs can be triggers for many people. Eliminating them might be worth a shot.

Sleep – This might sound easier than it is, but getting more or better quality sleep helps your body manage stress and repair from its damage.

Stay connected – Make sure that you have a social life. You don't need to go out every night, but you should have some people you want to share your time with. If social media is an anxiety trigger, as is the case for many people, try turning it off and joining a club or meet-up instead.

When should you see a doctor?

Anxiety attacks don't just feel awful but they can also do you harm. If you are experiencing persistent or excessive anxiety that is interfering with your life, see a doctor. A doctor can help rule out other causes of your anxiety and can also prescribe medication to help with it.⁴

In addition to seeing a doctor rule out other causes, seeing a therapist can help you manage your symptoms or keep them from getting worse.

The good news is that anxiety attacks respond very well to treatment and often in a short amount of time. Also, there are many different therapies to choose from, including several different kinds of clinical trials, so you are not stuck with just one option.

The lowdown

How long an anxiety attack can last will depend on several factors. Most of the time, though, an anxiety attack will peak at ten minutes, and symptoms will start to fade.

Anxiety attacks can have the power to uproot your life, but they're also highly treatable.⁶ In some cases, medication might be the best fit for some, while a more mindful approach can help others. Some people may be great candidates for clinical trials researching anxiety attacks.

Understanding what causes the anxiety will help you overcome it, which gets you back to a calmer state.

  1. Any Anxiety Disorder | NIH: National Institute of Mental Health

  2. Panic Disorder | NIH: National Institute of Mental Health

  3. Panic Disorder (2021)

  4. Panic Disorder | Cleveland Clinic

  5. Anxiety Disorders and Anxiety Attacks | Help Guide

  6. Anxiety Disorders | NIH: National Institute of Mental Health

Have you considered clinical trials for Anxiety?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Anxiety, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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