How Long Do Panic Attacks Last And What Are the Best Ways To Manage Them?

Updated April 9, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Someone who has never had a panic attack may find it hard to comprehend exactly how frightening and intense they can feel. Your heart is pounding out of your chest; you can’t seem to get enough air; the room is spinning around you. You may feel like you’re dying, about to pass out, or completely losing your mind. One of the most common thoughts is, “how long is this going to last?” This article will define panic attacks, their symptoms, how long they last, and the best ways to manage them.

What is a panic attack?

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Learn how to take control and manage panic attacks effectively

A panic attack is a sudden, extreme sense of fear and anxiety that comes on without warning. There may be an obvious trigger, or it may happen out of nowhere. The symptoms that make up a panic attack can range from distressing to outright terrifying, especially when they occur. Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Palpitations or PVCS (the feeling of skipped beats)
  • The feeling of impending doom
  • A sense that you’re going to die or lose your mind
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Numbness or “pins-and-needles” feeling in hands or feet

Panic attacks are scary to experience, no matter who you are. You may feel like you’re having a heart attack or stroke. Even once the panic attack has stopped, you may feel shaken and worried about another one happening.

The symptoms of a panic attack can be intense and frightening. In the vast majority of cases, however, these symptoms are completely harmless. Panic attacks themselves can’t hurt you. Knowing what is happening in your body to cause these distressing symptoms may give you some comfort.

What happens to the body during a panic attack?

The exact mechanism that triggers panic attacks is unknown, but it’s suspected to involve a misfiring of the body’s “fight, flight, or freeze” response. This reaction has evolved over thousands of years to help the human body respond to an emanate threat. The “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction can help you escape danger or fight off an attacker in an emergency.

When this response is triggered, the sympathetic nervous system goes into action, flooding the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This causes your heart rate and respiration to speed up in preparation to fight or run. Also, your focus and senses heighten, your digestion slows down, and your perspiration rate goes up.

Once the threat is eliminated, the parasympathetic nervous system is supposed to kick in and return the body to a stable state. However, for some people, this doesn’t happen.

Much of what happens during a panic attack occurs in the brain. The amygdala, the part of the brain that detects fear, may send a false signal of distress, activating the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. One study using functional MRIs found that an area of the midbrain called the periaqueductal gray may malfunction and trigger an exaggerated defensive response in some people. We’re still learning how a panic attack affects the brain, but all signs point to an abnormal fear response that triggers the cascade of physical symptoms.

How long do panic attacks last?

How long can an anxiety attack last? On average, a panic attack lasts anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes and gradually decrease. It can feel longer in the moment, especially the more an individual struggles against the symptoms.

Rarely, panic attacks can last for a half-hour or longer or come and go over an extended period.

The best ways to treat a panic attack

If you have frequent panic attacks, you’re aware of the negative effect they can have on your life. Learning ways of managing panic attacks can help you regain control and minimize their frequency.

To prevent a panic attack

Know your triggers

Often, panic attacks are triggered by certain stimuli, such as driving after a car accident. If you have reoccurring panic attacks tied to certain situations or places, you may have a strong urge to avoid those triggers. Instead, it’s important to recognize them and develop alternative coping strategies.

Learn relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can help keep your stress manageable and assist your parasympathetic nervous system to function more appropriately. Progressive muscle relaxation involves scanning the body for tension spots and slowly isolating and relaxing these muscle groups.

Employ grounding methods

Grounding allows you to orient yourself to your present surroundings to pull you out of the hold of overwhelming emotions or anxiety. A basic grounding technique is to notice details of your surroundings using your five senses.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Avoid excessive caffeine and other stimulants

Some people are more sensitive to these substances than others. If you consume caffeine or other stimulants regularly and notice a correlation between your intake and anxiety, it’s time to cut down.

Check in with yourself throughout the day

Practice focusing on the present moment throughout the day. Are you feeling any anxiety? Is your breathing shallow? Are your muscles tense? In this way, you can recognize any anxiety or tension building in your body and lower it before it gets too out of control.

To manage a panic attack happening now

Remind yourself you have a panic attack

If you’ve experienced these symptoms before, you’ll recognize that “revving up” moment when a panic attack is coming on. Try to reassure yourself that what you’re experiencing is a panic attack. It’s not going to hurt you.

Find a focal point in the room

A type of grounding technique that can work when you have a panic attack is to find a neutral focal point in the room and focus on it. Describe all of its characteristics of it. This form of distraction can help you detach from your symptoms of panic and lessen the duration of the attack.

“Run” toward the attack

You may desperately want to get away from the anxiety and fear and wish that it would stop. Instead, get angry. Say, “bring it on, panic! Do your worst!” It may sound crazy, impossible, maybe even a little silly, but it can be a very effective technique for regaining control. You may find that the fear lessens because your brain realizes there is no actual threat.

“Float” mindfully with your anxiety

Along the same lines as the previous tip, instead of fighting against the panic attack or trying desperately to make it go away, mindfully focus on the moment instead. Observe your symptoms without reacting to them. Stay in the moment and float along with the symptoms. This can take practice to master, and a therapist can help you use this technique.

How can I be sure I’m okay?

Experiencing a panic attack can be terrifying and disorienting and lead to the development of ongoing anxiety. At the moment, panic attack symptoms can feel so real and so intense it seems impossible that they’re benign. That’s why so many people end up in the ER annually due to panic attacks.

It’s always a good idea to call your doctor if you’re experiencing a panic attack, even if it resolves quickly. You can describe your symptoms, and they can determine whether a check-up is necessary. If you’ve been thoroughly checked out by your doctor and diagnosed with panic attacks, in most cases, you can rest assured that’s what you’re dealing with. The symptoms you’re experiencing are real and frightening, but they’re not dangerous.

However, if you experience chest pain, loss of consciousness, sudden weakness (especially on one side), difficulty speaking, or severe mental confusion, it’s best to go to the ER. They can perform tests to rule out rare but serious conditions, such as a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot.

Additional treatment for panic attacks

Learn how to take control and manage panic attacks effectively

Frequent panic attacks can be debilitating and impede your ability to live, work, and socialize. If you’re finding it difficult to manage panic attacks on your own, therapy is usually the first line of treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used type of therapy for panic attacks. Numerous studies have shown CBT to be effective in treating panic disorder and other anxiety disorders.

A therapist can help you gain better control over your panic attacks, help you recognize and deconstruct any triggers, assist you in developing effective coping strategies, and assist you in changing negative thought patterns. Results are usually seen within 12 weeks of regular CBT sessions.


Different types of anxiety attacks can be difficult to manage on your own. Once a panic disorder has taken root, it takes time and commitment to recover. If you need assistance, know that you can always reach out and get assistance. While panic attacks can make you feel isolated and misunderstood, a therapist can offer invaluable assistance and guidance to help you through the process of getting better.

Relationship issues, emotional abuse, and the aftermath of a breakup can all trigger anxiety and stress, which may lead to panic attacks. If you’re interested in seeking therapy, click here for more information on how we can help.

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