How Long Do Panic Attacks Last? According to a Psychiatrist
If you’ve experienced a panic attack—or watched a family member or friend go through one—you know that the physical and mental discomfort they bring on can feel endless. But how long, actually, do panic attacks last? Once your symptoms start, when can you expect relief, and is there anything you can do to shorten or prevent a panic attack? We turned to our board-certified psychiatrists for answers.
How long do panic attacks last?
Panic attacks typically last between 5 and 30 minutes, although sometimes symptoms may linger for up to an hour, or, on rare occasions, longer. There are some things you can do to help stay calm during a panic attack and even reduce your chances of having one. But first, it helps to understand what exactly a panic attack is and what causes them.
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear and panic, usually accompanied by physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, or chest pain. They may or may not have an obvious trigger or cause.
Panic attacks can feel life-threatening, although they are not. Many people mistake panic attacks for heart attacks. They can happen to anyone, although experiencing more than one panic attack could be a sign of panic disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, or other underlying mental health conditions.
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
Many symptoms of panic attacks overlap with symptoms of anxiety attacks. Common symptoms include:
- Intense feelings of panic and impending doom
- Fear of dying or loss of control
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Elevated heart rate
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling of detachment
What causes panic attacks?
Researchers are studying exactly what causes panic attacks and underlying anxiety disorders, including panic disorder.
Factors that may play a role include:
- Genetics: Having a relative with an anxiety disorder makes you more likely to have one.
- Major stress: Even people without panic disorder may experience an isolated panic attack during or after a period of major stress.
- Biology: People prone to panic attacks may have an imbalance of certain chemical messengers in their brains.
How can you calm down during a panic attack?
Although they may not actually last for hours, even five minutes of a panic attack can feel endless. Fortunately, there are some techniques you can practice to help calm down during a panic attack.
Try a deep breathing exercise
Many people experience changes to their breathing during panic attacks. If this happens to you, relaxation techniques and exercises to control your breathing may override some of these changes and help your body calm down.
Here are a few to try:
- Focus on breathing as slowly as you can, in through your nose and out through your mouth. When exhaling, pretend you are breathing through an imaginary straw.
- It may help to breathe in on a count of five and breathe out on a count of five.
- It may also help to close your eyes.
- Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly and concentrate on feeling your hands expand on your inhales and deflate on your exhales.
Ask for help
If possible, find a loved one who can stay with you during the panic attack and remind you that you are not in immediate danger.
A simple grounding exercise may help focus your attention on the present moment and give you some distance from your anxiety:
- One simple example includes rooting yourself in your environment using all five senses: noticing one thing you can see, one thing you can feel, one thing you can smell, one thing you can hear, and one thing you can taste.
Make a plan for future panic attacks
After your panic attack has resolved, there are a range of lifestyle changes you can consider to reduce your chances of having future panic attacks:
- Get regular exercise, which over time can protect against anxiety, including panic attacks. Start with just 10-30 minutes a few days a week.
- Revamp your diet to include fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber can help keep your blood sugar in check, which may help manage anxiety.
- Minimize alcohol and caffeine intake, which can trigger anxiety in some people.
- Get professional help from a psychiatrist or therapist. The right treatment option for you can depend on the severity and frequency of your panic attacks. You may benefit from talk therapy like CBT, certain medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or both.
When should you see a psychiatrist?
If you think you may be having a panic attack—especially if you are experiencing chest pains—seek immediate medical attention. Your primary care doctor or an emergency physician will be able to rule out any emergent physical causes or underlying medical conditions that may be causing the attack.
Once any physical causes of your attack have been ruled out, a psychiatrist can assess whether an underlying mental health condition may be at play.
Both panic attacks and panic disorder are treatable, but they require the diagnosis and care of a professional. Although it may be tempting to dismiss a panic attack after it has ended, it’s important to do follow-up care to prevent or manage a recurrence.
Get professional support with Talkiatry
The first step to treating panic attacks or any anxiety disorder is getting a clinical diagnosis from a qualified mental healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. Treatment can make a huge difference in your symptoms and quality of life.
Most people with anxiety disorders will benefit from a combination of medication, like antidepressants, and talk therapy, including techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). At Talkiatry, our psychiatrists work with therapists to ensure you have all the tools you need to manage your symptoms and get back to living your life.
With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.
Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.
Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.
Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.