How Long Does An Anxiety Attack Last?

by Dr Jacqueline Mackenzie

An anxiety attack and a panic attack are very different. Panic attacks typically are sudden and very strong, but they last only about 20 minutes or less. They come on with force, then peak and, finally dissipate a few minutes later. A panic attack usually has four or more symptoms. An anxiety attack is less intense, but the symptoms are more likely to continue based on how well the victim has learned how to calm his or her self. The truth is that an anxiety attack can last for an extended period of time: days, weeks or even months.

Why is Time a Problem?

An anxiety attack can be very unnerving. In some cases, they come on quickly and other times slowly. Even if one is of short duration, the time may seem much longer. The person having the attack is sometimes in a state of confusion, fear, and nearly always a sense of hopelessness is present. The longer the attack continues the more likely a person will feel shocked, nervous, and scared.

Normally, at the onset of an anxiety attack, either a sudden outburst or a slow creeping sensation, there is an overall feeling of a loss of control. When time passes without any noticeable improvement, the victim may become depressed. The feeling of depression is an additional stress that can add to the effects of the original anxiety attack.

Even experts have a difficult time pinpointing how long anxiety attacks will last.1 Sometimes an attack will occur before there is any conscious stimulus and continue with no apparent trigger occurring to keep the attack going. Not being able to predict when the event will be over is likely to be an additional stressor to an already strained self-confidence. That is why, applying one or more self-help suggestions (the results of cognitive behavioral therapy) for finding a calming activity, as soon as possible, may feel like a precious gift.2 The more times that self-help applications are effective, the less stressful anxiety attacks will seem.

No One Else is Keeping Score

The time or frequency of your anxiety attacks is not a measure of your self worth. Every person experiences these personal challenges differently. Some people may have fast, severe, and short anxiety attacks; other people may have an attack that creeps up on them, strikes as a softly invasive feeling of dread, and lasts for weeks. There is no right or wrong regarding what is occurring. This is an individual experience. How you handle the experience is what is important. Studies have shown that after a heart attack the longer an anxiety attack lasts the significantly more likely the patient will suffer a stroke or another heart attack.3

Winning at Loosing

The ultimate goal is to reduce the number and duration of anxiety attacks and the length of time that they last. You may find that by planning some time listening to soothing music prevents an attack. The same might be true for planning to get to bed earlier so that taking an extended hot bath in the morning instead of a quick shower makes preparing for a workday less stressful. Listening to a reassuring CD on the way to your job or a family care giving responsibility might ease the tension normally present. These preplanning approaches may be the way to reduce or shorten anxiety attacks and give you back a stronger sense of control so that time passes more quickly during each new attack until they stop all together.

References:

  1. Warren, Ed, 2003. Anxiety and panic disorder. Update, Vol. 67 Issue 10, p553-561.
  2. Roshanaei-Moghaddam, Babak; Pauly, Michael C.; Atkins, David C.; Baldwin, Scott A.; Stein, Murray B.; Roy-Byrne, Peter, 2011. Relative effects of CBT and pharmacotherapy in depression versus anxiety: is medication somewhat better for depression, and CBT somewhat better for anxiety? Depression & Anxiety (1091-4269). Jul2011, Vol. 28 Issue 7, p560-567. 8p.
  3. Gottesman, Dana. YOUR HEART. Woman’s Day. 2/1/2008, Vol. 71 Issue 4, p45-45.

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