Taking Control of
Anxiety Attacks

A leading international expert in panic and anxiety disorders, psychologist R. Reid Wilson, Ph.D., offers a new, straightforward, and remarkably effective self-help program for overcoming panic and coping with anxious fears. With insight and compassion, Dr. Wilson shows you:

  • how a panic attack happens, what causes it, and how it affects your life
  • a detailed, five-step strategy for controlling the moment of panic
  • how to quickly master specific problem-solving skills, breathing exercises, and focused thinking during anxiety-provoking times
  • eleven ways to control the chronic muscle tensions that increase anxiety
  • how to conquer fear and face problems with confidence
  • techniques to master the two most common distresses: fear of flying and social anxiety
  • the most comprehensive evaluation of all medications currently recommended for anxiety disorders
  • the eight attitudes that promote recovery from anxiety disorders
  • how to establish reachable goals and gradually increase your involvement and enjoyment in life

[from the back cover]

Wilson, Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks

About the Author

Psychologist R. Reid Wilson, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized specialist in the treatment of panic and anxiety disorders. Dr. Wilson is on the board of directors of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America and is coauthor of Stop Obsessing!: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions. He is in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is a clinical associate professor in the department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

[from the back cover]

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments   xi
Foreword by Aaron Beck, M.D. xiii



Introduction: The Panic Attack



Physical Causes of Paniclike Symptoms

Rapid or Irregular Heart Rate -- Difficult Breathing -- Dizziness and Vertigo -- Multiple Symptoms -- Side Effects of Medications


Panic Within Psychological Disorders

Panic Disorder -- Agoraphobia -- Generalized Anxiety Disorder -- Social Phobia -- Specific Phobias -- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder -- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder


Agoraphobia and the Panic-Prone Personality

The Power of Beliefs Learned in the Past Coping in the Present


Four Complicating Problems

Premenstrual Syndrome -- Hypoglycemia -- Depression -- Alcoholism


Panic in the Context of Heart and Lung Disorders

Mitral Valve Prolapse -- Recovery from Myocardial Infarction -- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease



The Anatomy of Panic

Winning Through Intimidation -- The Surprise Attack -- Controlling the Mind -- Forecasting the Future -- The Planned Retreat -- Why Me?


Who's in Control?

Distrusting the Unconscious -- The Emergency Response -- Tricking the Brain


Why the Body Reacts

Well-worn Paths -- Images and Interpretations -- Taking Away Choice


The Calming Response

Memories and Images -- Focusing the Mind -- Taking Conscious Control


The Breath of Life

Signals of Change -- Two Types of Breathing -- The Hyperventilation Syndrome -- The Foundation Skills


Releasing Tensions

Cue-Controlled Deep Muscle Relations -- Generalized Relaxation and Imagery -- Meditation -- Which Method Is Best for You?


How to Inoculate Yourself Against Panic: The Eight Attitudes of Recovery



Your Mind's Observer

Negative Observers.
The Independent Observer


Finding Your Observer

The First Important Steps -- Your Observer and the Calming Response -- Your Observer and Physical Tension


Taking a New Stance: The Supportive Observer

Filtering the Facts -- The Supportive Observer -- "I Can...It's O.K..." -- Disrupting the Pattern


Paradox in Action

The Balance of Power -- How to Invite Panic -- Giving Up the Struggle -- Inviting the Symptoms


Experience: The Greatest Teacher

Guidelines for Facing Panic -- A Final Note



The Use of Medications

Common Medications for Anxiety Disorders -- Guidelines for Medication Use -- Medication Profiles


The Fear of Being Seen: How to Face Social Anxieties

Biology and Experience: The Possible Contributions to Social Fears -- The Complex Nature of Social Anxieties and Phobias -- How to Get Comfortable


Achieving Comfortable Flight

How Did Your Discomfort with Flying Begin? -- Why Does Fear of Flying Take More Effort to Overcome? -- Learning How to Fly Comfortably -- Use Visualizations for Rehearsal





[from the softbound edition]


"[An] excellent guide offering help to those who suffer from panic anxiety."

--Library Journal

[from the front cover]

Read more reviews of this book on the website:
Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks on


Strong self-esteem is important as you begin to control panic. When you start to believe in your own worth, then you can start to believe that these symptoms of panic are standing in the way of an important person -- you. You will feel more energy to push through setbacks and tough times. You will devote more energy to yourself and less to having to please others.

Here are some questions to reflect on:

  • Do I think I am a lovable person?
  • What do I have to do to be loved?
  • What are my good qualities in each of my roles (spouse, friend, parent, employee)?
  • What are my weaknesses in these same roles?
  • How do I describe myself? What kind of language do I use to describe my weaknesses? Do I call myself derogatory names (lazy, childish, stupid, chicken, worthless, etc.)?
  • Am I "devastated" by others' criticisms?
  • Do I tend to point out all my mistakes to myself and others?
  • Do I accept compliments? Do I really believe people when they speak well of me or my accomplishments?
  • Do I need to do everything perfectly? Can I accept my mistakes?
  • If I can't do something perfectly, do I avoid it?
  • Do I have trouble setting limits on how much I give to others?
  • Do I have trouble setting limits on any projects I undertake?
  • Do I hesitate to try new tasks for fear I will fail?
  • Do I consider mistakes to mean the same things as "failure"?
  • Am I constantly watching and monitoring myself? Do I evaluate my every move?
  • Do I consider everything that I do to be of great significance? Or, do I use good judgment to determine the difference between small and large tasks, significant and insignificant projects?
  • How many times have I said yes to myself this week? This year?

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks
pages 64-65

The only way panic gains control over you is through psychological intimidation. The acutal panic attacks last only an infinitesimal amount of time; even if you had one panic episode every day and that episode lasted five minutes, you would be experiencing panic only one third of a percent of your life -- and yet some people can become completely dominated by the repercussions of those moments of panic.

Consider the concept "losing control." What does that mean to you? For most people it means losing security, safety, protection. If we have a sense that we are out of control, we immediately, almost instinctively, begin searching for some small way to regain our equilibrium, whether we have lost control of that burst water pipe, or slippery roads have caused a momentary loss of steering, or our young child has disappeared from sight in a shopping mall.

And after you have lost control once, what do you do? You probably start checking all the pipes in the basement to make sure there aren't any more potential breaks. A few hours later you might go back down those stairs "just to check and see if everything's O.K." After momentarily losing control on the highway you may grip the steering wheel a little tighter, even chastise yourself for being overconfident and driving with one hand. Once you find your missing child in the mall you probably keep a constant vigil over her whereabouts. When the mind fears loss of control, it begins to think more intensely about how to keep control in the future.

Panic attacks -- especially spontaneous attacks -- stimulate the sense of being out of control. All of a sudden, you are not in charge of your body; heart, lungs, throat, head, legs -- all seem to have minds of their own. That is very frightening. Just the thought of it can make you anxious.

And that is how it begins, how panic starts to invade your life. You fear that those uncomfortable physical symptoms might return yet again. And how bad will they get? Worse than before? You don't know. It is not knowing that proves to be a devastating weapon: "Since I didn't manage the last attack, how can I possibly handle this one?"

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks
page 120

Taking control of panic is a positive process. We all have images of how we would like our lives to turn out. We consider tasks we wish to accomplish, pleasures we hope to enjoy, relationships we want to prosper. By gaining control over panic you get to turn your sights toward the positive future.

Panic, however, has other plans for you. It invites you to stop whatever else you are doing and fight against it. Panic would like you to halt your life and think of nothing else except your struggle with it. In a paradoxical way, panic lives off your willingness to fight it or run from it.

Don't fall for this trap. Never fight against this invisible enemy. Turn your eyes toward your positive goals, whether for today, this week, this year, or your life. Then fight forward, toward them. When you become anxious, tense or panicky, you then find ways of taking care of those feelings in order to continue moving forward. Always keep an eye on your positive future.

Let me illustrate this point with an analogy. Let's say that you have had a busy, active week. It's now Friday afternoon. Tomorrow, company will arrive for a weekend visit. You would like to prepare by cleaning the house and doing some laundry but at the same time you feel physically fatigued from the week.

What do you do? One choice is to focus on your fatigue. "I'm not going to let this exhaustion beat me. I'm going to fight that couch, because I want so much just to lie down and sleep." Notice how your attention now turns to the negative: how to stop exhaustion from setting in, how to keep yourself from taking a rest. You waste energy in this struggle.

Another choice is to look toward the positive future: "I would like my home to appear clean tomorrow. I also want to feel rested. Most important, I want to enjoy my guests over the next two days." When you look forward to your desired goals, your attitude shifts. Perhaps in the long run it is best that you take that nap right now so that you will feel more like cleaning in a couple of hours. Or maybe doing a quick pickup and hiding that dirty laundry in a closet will give you more time to relax and enjoy your friends. Fighting exhaustion is no longer the issue. Straightening up a bit, feeling rested, and having a pleasurable weekend are much more important.

When anxiety or panic arrives, keep one eye on your positive goal while you respond. In essence, your attitude is "I am going to continue in this direction. Right now I need to see how I can support myself while I'm feeling uncomfortable. I'll take as long as I need to support myself so that I can continue heading toward my goal."

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks
pages 254-255

[from the softbound edition]

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