Triggers of a Panic Attack & How Long Does it Last?

What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are sudden moments of intense anxiety and fear that manifest themselves greatly in physical symptoms and gloomy and negative feelings. During a panic attack, one feels like something extremely inauspicious or unfavourable is about to occur in their life. It has also been seen that the panic attack sufferers lose their control completely when the symptoms reach their peak and even feel like they are about to die. Panic attack symptoms may include nausea, abdominal cramping, chills, dizziness, headaches, breathlessness, hyperventilation, sweating, shivering, chest pain, trouble in swallowing, tingling in the hands and feet, etc.

What Are The Triggers For A Panic Attack?

What Are The Triggers For A Panic Attack?

The triggers for a panic attack still remain unclear. However, factors like environmental stress, genetics and adaptive changes in brain functioning resulting from other psychiatric or medical conditions are believed to play a key role in causing panic attacks.

How Long Does A Panic Attack Last & What Are The Stages Of A Panic Attack?

Panic attacks seem to have similar timelines and follow a definite pattern. The panic episode tends to peak for the initial 10 minutes and then decline gradually. This slow but steady decline can last for any 10 minutes and sometimes may even extend for many hours. The weaker the panic attack, the longer it seems to last.

Although the panic attacks follow a specific pattern, the symptoms that show up are, however, different and are affected by the way in which the individual reacts to the anxiety. A “limited symptom panic attack” is described as a panic attack in which lesser than 4 symptoms develop and each episode can generally lasts for a few minutes to several hours. These panic attacks hardly peak, are more bearable and easier for most people to handle. However, they last for extended periods. The resultant fatigue of a panic attack can stay throughout the day depending on the severity of the panic attack episode. Generally panic attacks follow the below mentioned structure and timeline:

Pre-Attack: During this phase, the sufferer may start getting panicky and feeling that something is going terribly wrong. Their heartbeats start racing suddenly. This period can be small and last for minutes before fading off or the panic attack can build up and aggravate to last for as long as10 minutes and even more.

The “Attack”: The actual moment of fright when the panic attack reaches its peak and the individual gets extremely panicky. It generally occurs after 10 minutes into the episode and lasts for less than a minute. The peak is always followed by an instant decline in the severity of the panic attack.

The Slow Decline: Once the peak of the panic attack is reached, a slow decline of the attack is often experienced. For some people, this period of decline can last for a few minutes, while for others it can last for hours leaving them extremely drained and tired. On an average, it takes around 30 minutes for an individual to recover from a panic attack, although the tiredness and fatigue caused by the panic attack may last for hours.

Ways To Deal With Panic Attacks

For people suffering from panic attacks, stopping the occurrence of these anxious episodes must be their utmost priority. These are several methods which can be used to limit the panic attack and even reduce the duration and severity of these attacks. Some of these methods are:

Mental Distractions & Talking To Curb A Panic Attack: The more the person is “inside their own head”, i.e. the more they over-think and stay silent about the issue, while suffering a panic attack, the longer and worse the panic attack gets. It is very important for these people to talk to their near ones and tell them about their anxiety symptoms. These panic attack sufferers must find ways to distract their mind and keep it away from engaging into negative and unproductive thinking. Calling someone over the phone and engaging in a long conversation can be a very good distraction for the mind as it requires mental energy.

Controlled Breathing To Curb A Panic Attack: Hyperventilation is a very common source of many of the worst symptoms of panic attack. Hyperventilation occurs when one inhales or breathes in too much of oxygen and exhale or breathes out too much of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately this renders a paradoxical effect where a person starts feeling suffocated and eventually starts inhaling even more. This is a vital reason because of which symptoms tend to worsen during the panic attack. Thus it is very important for people under panic attacks to control their breathing by taking at least 15 seconds with each breath, inhaling slowly and exhaling in an even slower manner.

Walking To Curb A Panic Attack: Walking is an important tool for curtailing the severity of a panic attack. Walking helps to improve the blood flow, adjust the carbon dioxide levels in the body and distract the brain thereby helping in the recovery process from panic attack.


Broadly speaking, it generally takes a total of about 10 minutes for the panic attack to build up and reach its peak. But honestly, there is a lot more to panic attacks than just the building up and reaching the peak period. Post a panic attack, the individual can still suffer from extreme confusion, rapid heartbeat and disturbed concentration for hours. Some people tend to experience depression as an outcome of their panic attack; while there are others who focus so intensely on their physical symptoms that they end up feeling like another attack is coming their way for days. By using these above mentioned tools, one can ensure that their panic attacks are less severe. It is very important for the panic attack suffers to ensure that they are constantly targeting their anxiety and looking for ways to cure it forever.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 10, 2018

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