Delayed Stress Reaction: Panic After the Storm

June 15, 2010 Aimee White

Have you ever been in a stressful situation and made it out alright, but then had a panic attack afterward when everything calmed down? I had a family vacation I was stressing about once. I was worried before we left, but I didn't have any anxiety on the trip itself, until the drive home when the worst was over. I suddenly and unexpectedly got hit with a panic attack I couldn't manage. What's up with that?

Why Some People Experience Anxiety and Panic Attacks After the Stress is Over

In my last post, I wrote about how horribly overwhelmed I felt. I knew I had so much to accomplish that weekend and it felt impossible. I made it through as I always do, however, this week, when there is nothing pressing on me, I suddenly feel anxious.

I also had a reader, Annie, comment on the same scenario. She learned about delayed anxiety and panic attacks from Edmund J. Bourne, author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook:

"Within your brain, panic attacks are more likely to occur when this entire system (brain/fight or flight) is overly sensitized, perhaps from having been previously activated too frequently, too intensely, or both. Thus the neurological basis for panic is not exactly a "chemical imbalance," as your doctor may have told you, but an overly sensitized 'fear system.'"

It goes on to say that essentially our brains are so keyed up -- in hyper vigilant mode -- long after the perceived danger is gone and that is why there is often an exaggerated response to the stress and strain of our lives, and why we often don't feel "safe" and "OK" when everything really is OK and problems are within a manageable range.

It made me feel better toHelp Button read that because when I've had periods where I've struggled with panic and anxiety, I've always been perplexed about "why now?" - since it's usually AFTER some really stressful or hard event. I've never understood why I was able to handle the "crisis" situation without losing my cool, but then a few days later, I'd start falling apart. This explained a lot for me. So now, when I go through a stressful event or situation, my goal is to not only be patient and work with myself as I go through it, but to really support myself and continue to practice my calming exercises, etc. AFTER the fact and help "bring myself down". - Annie

I have read that for some of us, turning on the fight or flight response is easy to do, but its much harder to turn it off. It's a good reminder that we need to continue to work on our anxiety, even after we are out of that triggering situation.

APA Reference
White, A. (2010, June 15). Delayed Stress Reaction: Panic After the Storm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Aimee White

June, 15 2010 at 1:08 pm

I had noticed this. I thought I was going crazy, feeling most stressed when I should have been relaxed! Thanks for the great info you always post.

June, 15 2010 at 1:25 pm

What my son has just hard to believe. He suffers a lots after each stressful event.

February, 20 2018 at 8:43 am

Been there, done it for YEARS. After figuring out that what I had was panic/anxiety attacks, (doctors never believed my symptoms) I read everything I could about them, and realized it's all a matter of understanding YOUR body & your issues. Whatever it takes, do it. For me, the knowledge that "I'm doing it to myself" usually gets me through the tough times. I KNOW I'm stressing myself out, I'm anal, perfectionist, I over worry, I like things under control, and when they aren't', my body rebels. I never really feel it until after the big event, and then I pay. I start to wonder what is wrong with me, sickness? cold? flu? and then kind of smile knowingly that I had some strongly stressful times, and it hits me later. Today is one of those days - I'm lightheaded, short of breath (so to speak) I feel real crummy, want to curl up and stay home. I just don't feel well, but the last week has been difficult with husband in the hospital, handling the home front on my own, etc, etc. You're not crazy, just realize it, figure out how YOU have to get through it, and you will be fine.

Stacey Moody
March, 1 2018 at 9:54 pm

WOW I was wandering what was going on I suffer from Social anxiety and agoraphobia already but in June 2017 my bjsband passed away in the bed right next to me i was so in shock i could not talk to the detective now here it is 8 months later and jm haveing way more attacks thanks for the info

July, 7 2018 at 11:02 pm

In a certain respect I’m so glad this is a thing. It’s never happened to me before- usually I have an immediate identifiable trigger. They’re always the same until recently. At first everyone said that’s what it was but it was so different and terrifying than anything else over the past decade since I had them I was convinced there was something wrong- like a mini stroke.
On the flip side, I have recently been scheduled to have an EEG bc seizures are common in the early days of Lupus, which Ive just been diagnosed with. Partials Seizure descriptions are damned near identical to what I’ve been struggling to describe for about a year now and a random hyper intensity in my frontal lobe could be from that or whatever.
I’m relieved they’re finally taking me seriously but now I’m the one that’s not so sure they’re not panic attacks as one of the lastest episode followed a sudden palpable spike in my anxiety while I was reading a chest x ray describing a newly acquired lung nodule.
Nothing happened at the time, I just felt my heart sink but a couple hours later suddenly a buncha weird stuff happened. I dunno if it’s cause anxiety is triggering the response but I feel perfectly fine until like 40 secs after it starts then less than two mins later it’s over and I’m in a sort of fog for a bit.
I dunno maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part bc no one wants epilepsy. Here’s to hoping tho.

Mr G
May, 30 2019 at 10:46 pm

I've no idea what I am suffering but there is something going on with me. I recently just moved back to Scotland after 5 years living in Spain. I left initially as I wanted to try living overseas and learn a language and go native. I was continuing to work overseas elsewhere at same time on a rotational basis month/month which meant I was leaving my long term partner at home in Spain like I did in Scotland previously. Anyway her spending got out of hand and she became addicted to Cocaine. Also she was drinking with some right lowlife and following them like a sheep rather than take advise from me and look after ourselves not other people who were not worthy of ang good. I managed to keep it al together although stressful in Spain where it all seems to have been left behind. In Scotland I am grateful she is transformed and spending much less and behaving. However now that I can relax a wee bit I find myself with high anxiety and looking back too much with regrets and find I get quite angry about it. I don't normally look back only forward but this has taken its toll on me for sure with all the arguments, the trust issues, spending, drugs and a few more issues along way. Not sure I can see it through even though things are good in Scotland and might need help but note sure if its what I need. Maybe I just need to get a grip or something. For the first time in my 50 years I find myself in need of something or someone where normally I am the therapist, savior and the dude that sorts things out. Not sure where to g or what to do. Its lie a delayed reaction for sure. any friendly advice.

February, 13 2022 at 8:39 pm

It could be a form of paranioa, anxiety, or ptsd. But, I'm no psychologist. In the moment, when you have a task demanding your attention, this job, or person becomes more important than your own emotional and mental state. But once everything is "okay" you find that what happened did bother you and it affected you deeply, and is still affecting you month, possibly years later. I would suggest seeking a professional psychologist and counseling with them to see if there is a proper diagnosis and treatment plan so you can ease your mind. I'm just a young adult who's had sought counseling to understand my mental health and it has helped me.

January, 29 2021 at 9:25 am

This was very helpful! Two days ago my son left his school without telling anyone and attempted to walk 8 miles home in -35 degree weather! I spotted him on the road just as he was getting into a strangers vehicle. I recovered him and took him home and took the rest of the day off. To say I was stressed would be an understatement but I got through it, probably running on pure adrenaline. Now today I’m feeling anxious. Physical symptoms like chest tightness which immediately triggers my anxious tendencies that I will die suddenly and leave my children orphans. I had to look up if anxiety attacks can happen after the stress event and found this. I’m certain this is what I am experiencing. I should be able to talk myself back to calmness and sense now. I’m fine. Nothing is wrong with me. My body is healthy. My son is safe. I am in no immediate danger.

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