How Long Do Anxiety Attacks Last And How Can I Control Them?

By Patricia Oelze|Updated April 28, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lauren Guilbeault, LMHC

Everyone has experienced anxiety at least once in their lives. Even as children, we have had anxiety like when we start school or when our parents leave us at daycare for the first time. But just having a bit of stress and worry about something does not mean that you have an anxiety disorder. And if you have ever had an anxiety attack, you know that they are completely different than anything like just being stressed out or worried about something. Anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, are something that you will not forget and even though you may have a hard time describing it while it is happening, you can tell when it is happening, but you cannot stop it.

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack is a severe episode of extreme fear that something bad is going to happen, accompanied by several symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Feeling shaky or trembling
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Racing thoughts
  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Panicky feeling
  • Weak legs
  • Feelings of confusion
  • Thinking that you are going to die
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Muscle cramps and stiffness
  • Feeling like you are in a dream
  • Pale and clammy
  • Crying or irritation
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Pounding headache
  • Fast heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • The need to escape something but not knowing what
  • Feelings of doom and sense of danger
  • Thinking you are going crazy
  • Choking sensation
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Thoughts that you have lost control

Different For Everyone

The symptoms can go on like that depending on how you perceive them when they happen to you. It is a very personal experience, so it feels different for everyone, and when asked to describe it afterward, it can be difficult to put those feelings into words for others to understand. The main thing about anxiety attacks is that you feel out of control and scared. How long they last are also unique. It is different for everyone. That being said, the average length of an anxiety attack is typically about 30 minutes, but many have had them for well over an hour.

What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

What causes an anxiety attack is your sympathetic nervous system. When your body thinks you are in danger, certain responses happen involuntarily. For example, your senses are heightened, your metabolism is increased, your heart rate and blood pressure both increase, pupils dilate, and your peripheral vision narrows, the muscles throughout your body tighten up, and you begin to sweat. This all happens because of the increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what calms you down, and it shuts down and lets the sympathetic nervous system take over during an anxiety attack. This is what physically causes an anxiety attack, but there are also triggers such as:

  • Previous traumatic experience flashbacks
  • Trying to overcome a fear such as spiders or heights
  • Losing your independence
  • Losing your mental or physical functions
  • Being overwhelmed
  • Big life changes like moving or starting a new job
  • Taking care of a loved one who is sick
  • Relationship troubles
  • Parenting issues
  • Financial pressures
  • Medical concerns

Duration Of Anxiety Attacks

How long your anxiety attack lasts can also depend on how you handle the attack. If you are so distraught that you just curl up and isolate yourself from everyone and everything, it can make things worse. Staying inside your head and focusing on how scared you are will make things worse. Or if you run around and try to “run away” from your anxiety, it will just continue. This is your body’s natural fight or flight response, and although it can help in some cases, in this case, it typically just makes things worse. The best thing to do is to focus on something else until it passes on its own.

Tips And Tricks To Alleviate Anxiety Attacks

There are many different things you can do to get your anxiety under control during an anxiety attack. However, different things work better for different people. Since we are all unique in how we perceive our anxiety, it makes sense that we all have different ways to relax. Someone who has never had an anxiety attack may just tell you to calm down or relax because it is all in your head. Of course, they have no idea what they are talking about. While they may be trying to help, this is no help at all. Here are some of the most common ways to get out of that anxiety mode.

  • Exerciseof any kind can help you relieve anxiety by stimulating the hormones in the body to wake up the parasympathetic nervous system. It also increases endorphins, which are the hormones that make you feel good.
  • Distraction isexactly what it sounds like. Anything that you can do to distract your mind from whatever is causing the anxiety will help. You can read, listen to music, sing, whatever you want to do that will help distract you.
  • Meditationis a mindfulness exercise that teaches your mind to relax. It helps you to stop thinking about your anxiety and gets your brain involved in something else for a while.
  • Breathing exercisesare great for anxiety attacks. Begin with deep breathing. Just inhaling and exhaling slowly. Then practice a 5-5-5 method, which is inhaling for five seconds, holding it for five seconds, and then exhaling for five seconds. Concentrating on your breathing helps relax your mind.
  • Essential oilsare extracted from plants and have been used for thousands of years to treat all kinds of things, including anxiety. Certain oils can activate the areas of your brain that release serotonin, which is another feel-good chemical. Some of these oils include lavender, vetiver, frankincense, chamomile, bergamot, and cedarwood. You can just inhale it, rub it into your skin, or use a diffuser.
  • Focus your mindon something. Find a certain object to focus on, such as a clock, picture, piece of furniture, or whatever you can see from wherever you are. It does not have to be the same thing every time. If you happen to be in the living room when you feel an anxiety attack coming, focus on the patterns in the couch or the movement of the clock. If you are in the bedroom, you can focus on the colors of your blanket or pillows.
  • Talk to someone,such as a friend or family member. However, many people do not like to burden their loved ones with their problems or are too embarrassed to tell them what is going on. You may try to hide it from everyone so talking to them about it may not be feasible for you. In this case, it would be beneficial to find a therapist or counselor to talk to.

Talking To A Therapist

Whether you have had therapy before or not, talking to a counselor or therapist can be extremely helpful. The problem that many people have is that their therapist is not available when they need them. In that case, it may be better for you to try online therapy. With an online therapist or counselor, you can talk to them by phone, text, email, instant messaging, or even video chat. You do not need an appointment, and you do not even need to leave the house. Because trying to go somewhere when you are having an anxiety attack is almost impossible.

Relationships And Anxiety Attacks

An anxiety attack can put some serious stress on a relationship, which in turn just causes more anxiety. It is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. The best way to do that is to communicate with your partner. Let them know what is going on and how they can help you. Do you want them to sit with you and hold you or talk to you while you are having an attack? Or would you rather they just go away until it is over? Some people are so embarrassed by their anxiety attacks that they will stress themselves out more trying to hide them, which makes it much worse.

If your partner does not have any empathy for you or makes fun of you, it may be time to consider couples counseling. You can even do online couples counseling just like regular online therapy, but you would be doing it together. Anxiety attacks can increase any kind of issues you and your partner may already be having, making it worse for both of you. And even if your loved one is trying to help by telling you to relax, they need to understand that it is not that easy. With online counseling, you can both learn to communicate with each other about what is going on and what you can both do to help. Talk to your loved one today about working with an online therapist for both your benefits.

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