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Staying Calm in Terror's Face

October 08, 1987|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Panic Attacks by R. Reid Wilson Ph.D. (Harper & Row: $16.95).

Last night, I dreamed I was next at the piano in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Overcome by the symptoms of a classic panic attack--as described in this book--I awoke to a wildly beating heart, in a cold sweat, overcome by terror and the sense that I absolutely couldn't go on.

It's true that everyone panics on occasion, and to stave off panicky situations, both mundane and momentous, R. Reid Wilson, a psychologist who specializes in treating phobias, has some helpful suggestions.

After ruling out four "specific problems that can complicate the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder" (premenstrual syndrome, hypoglycemia, depression and alcoholism), he discusses panic occurring in social situations and as a part of psychological illnesses, before launching into a revealing analysis of agoraphobia.

Literally, "fear of the market place," agoraphobia, which affects women in 85% of the cases, makes it difficult or impossible to leave the house, drive, shop, attend public gatherings or sometimes even cross an open space. Wilson's anti-panic antidotes include relaxation techniques based on deep breathing, auto-suggestion exercises and the possible use of physician-prescribed drugs. Most important in triumphing over panic is an improved self-image and the knowledge that: "I've survived this before and I'll survive this time, too."

But in my case, certainly not before I resume piano lessons.

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