Your breathing is shallow and quick. You’re beginning to perspire. You feel shaky, and your heart is racing. Adrenaline courses through you, and suddenly, you feel intense fear. It feels like you might faint. Worse, you think you might be dying.
For those who live with panic attacks, this is how it feels. Panic attacks are marked by a sudden and irrational onset of intense fear. The attack causes both emotional and physical symptoms. Unfortunately, often the pain and distress aren’t always over when the attack is.
Coping with panic attacks as they happen can be very challenging. Coping with the hangover they leave you with can be even more difficult. This is in part due to the high levels of a hormone called adrenaline that’s released during a panic attack. Adrenaline causes physical symptoms that can lead to incredible discomfort, even once the attack subsides.
Knowing what to expect from the after effects of a panic attack can help you survive this part of the experience. Get tips here on how you can manage and recover from your next panic or anxiety attack.
What is a Panic Attack Hangover?
A panic attack hangover refers to the physical and emotional leftovers you have to deal with after an intense panic attack. When the adrenaline levels in the body rapidly spike during a panic attack, it results in sharpened reflexes, increased energy and alertness, and preparedness for the body to run for safety or fight for life.
As the anxiety subsides and adrenaline levels drop back to the normal range, you may be left feeling drained and exhausted. Other possible panic attack hangover symptoms include:
- Muscle soreness
- Excessive fatigue
- Body pain & aching
- Trembling & shaking
- Abdominal discomfort
- Angina (pain in the chest region)
Panic attack hangover symptoms can last up to a week or more in some people and can detract from the quality of life on various levels.
“It can be helpful to document details of your most recent panic attack (either in a journal or a voice note), so you can review this information with a therapist to look for any themes or patterns that might be contributing to your panic attacks. Know that there is professional help out there for you, and you deserve support!”
Symptoms of a Panic Attack Hangover
Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands in times of great stress or anxiety. It’s referred to as the “fight or flight” hormone. We’ve learned that when adrenaline is released, it increases blood circulation, heart rate, and respiratory rate. It can cause side effects for up to an hour after the fact.
Think of it like this: when you have a panic attack, your nervous system activates, initiating your fight or flight response. Your body is getting ready for intense physicality. Your blood vessels expand in diameter. Your heart begins pumping faster to deliver more oxygen and nutrients via the blood. Your brain goes on high alert and your breathing quickens, allowing you to take in more oxygen.
Despite there being no real danger causing your panic attack, physical changes like those above happen rapidly to protect you from perceived threats. You may also experience anxiety symptoms like:
- Cold or hot flashes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Pain in your chest area
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling like you’re losing your mind
- Tingling or numbness in your feet, legs, hands, or arms
Panic attacks occur out of nowhere. The symptoms can onset very quickly and typically last from 20 to 30 minutes per episode. They’ll generally peak within about 10 minutes before they begin to subside. The symptoms of a panic attack can wreak havoc on your system. Thus, after the attack begins the hangover phase.
“Feeling completely drained of energy is common after experiencing a panic attack, as our bodies are doing the best they can to regulate ourselves after coming down from the adrenaline-fueled “fight or flight” response of a panic attack. It’s important to do your best to take good care of yourself after a panic attack. You deserve comfort, kindness, and support.”
Tips for Dealing with a Panic Attack Hangover
Recovering from a panic attack can take some time, but rest assured, you will recover. Below are some easy and effective methods for alleviating the residual hangover symptoms the next time you experience a panic attack.
Move away from the situation at-hand
After you’ve recovered from the panic attack itself, it can be a good idea to change your physical location. For example, if you’re standing and pacing the floor, try sitting down and planting your feet. If you’re lying in bed, it might help to sit or stand up and move around. If nothing else, changing your body position can help distract your mind.
Find new surroundings
If you experience a panic attack at a social gathering, leave the gathering and spend some time alone. If you experience a panic attack at home alone, you might try going for a walk in the neighborhood. New scenery and surroundings can help you get away from whatever might have caused the panic attack and ultimately may even help you recover more quickly from the aftermath.
Do a light workout
Although it may sound counterintuitive to exercise after a panic attack, exercise can be quite restorative. Exercising causes the release of endorphins, enhances your mood, lowers stress hormone levels, boosts immunity, and helps to center your thoughts — all of which help defeat panic attack hangover symptoms.
Get some rest
Any type of anxiety attack, including recurring nocturnal panic attacks can zap your energy and leave you feeling exhausted. A 30-minute nap can do wonders for restoring adrenaline levels to normal, resting the musculature, and easing troublesome thoughts.
Eat nutritious foods
Healthy foods provide the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that our bodies require to function, heal, and thrive. If you’re lacking critical nutrients, your body may be unable to heal, and your brain might not function as well. A huge meal may not do the trick, but a light, healthy snack can be calming.
Speak with someone you trust
Talking about your panic attack might help you understand what triggered it and how it affected you. If you have someone close enough, talk to them about your panic attack and what it could mean. Exploring your feelings and fears with a loved one can be very helpful.
Panic attacks are dreadful burdens. They can be challenging to understand and cope with. If you’re having difficulties dealing with your panic attacks or the after-effects they cause you, it might be time to consider seeking professional help from a therapist or other mental health professional who understands what you’re going through.
Therapists are skilled in techniques that are known to be effective for preventing attacks and alleviating the after effects of a panic attack hangover.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) has been found very effective at treating panic disorders. Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method of talk therapy that helps you learn different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting so you can better-manage your panic attack symptoms and have the tools you need to recover from them.
Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy — that can be used on its own or in combination with CBT — that’s helpful in treating severe anxiety disorders and panic attacks. During online exposure therapy, you’ll learn how to confront fears you have that can be contributing to your panic attacks.
“Talking to a therapist about your experiences with anxiety and panic attacks can be a supportive step to learn more about yourself, what triggers your panic attacks, and what coping skills work best for you so that you can start to feel better and manage these symptoms.
Dealing with the after effects of a panic attack can feel as awful as the actual attack itself. Use the tips and information here to recover from your next panic attack. You don’t have to suffer any more than you already have. The “hangover” of a panic attack can be a little bit easier when you know how to relieve some of the symptoms you experience.
1. Bancos, Irina. Adrenaline Hormones. Endocrine Society. https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/hormones-and-endocrine-function/adrenal-hormones. Published 2022. Accessed January 28, 2022.
2. What is Adrenaline?. Hormone Health Network. https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/adrenaline. Published 2018. Accessed December 28, 2021.