Overcome Anxiety with Dr. Claire Weekes

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A summary of Dr. Weekes' Approach To Healing Anxiety

Do you suffer from anxiety? Most everyone does, so you are definitely not alone. Welcome to the club. Studies have found that more than 40 million Americans report feelings of anxiety, which is more than 18 percent of the adult population. And anxiety is prevalent around the world for people of all ages, from the young to senior citizens.

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger. It is an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation.

In moderation, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming, when it interferes with your relationships and activities, it stops being functional. That’s when you’ve crossed the line from normal, productive anxiety into the territory of anxiety disorders.

Long-standing theories are still mixed on whether anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance or from ourselves, in how we react to life’s stresses, from economic worries, work problems, relationship issues, physical problems, or other things. The events that cause the most stress or anxiety are reportedly, in order from most to least: death of a spouse (100), divorce (73), marital separation (65), imprisonment (63), death of a close family member (63), personal injury or illness (55), marriage (50), dismissal from work (47), Marital reconciliation (45), retirement (45), negative change in health of family member (44), pregnancy (40), sexual difficulties (39), gain new family member (39), business readjustment (39), change in financial state (38), death of a close friend (37), change to different line of work (36), change in frequency of arguments (35), major mortgage (32), foreclosure of mortgage or loan (30), change in responsibilities at work (29), child leaving home (29), trouble with in-laws (29), outstanding personal achievement (28), spouse starts or stops work (26), beginning or end of school (26), change in living conditions (25), revision of personal habits (24), trouble with boss (23), change in working hours or conditions (20), change in residence (20), change in schools (20), change in recreation (19), change in church activities (19), change in social activities (18), minor mortgage or loan (17), change in sleeping habits (16), change in number of family reunions (15), change in eating habits (15), vacation (13), Christmas (12), minor violation of law (11). The list did not mention death of a pet, but that can bring on a lot of stress and might be equal to death of a close family member or friend.

New England researchers who study chemical imbalance as the cause of anxiety agree that feelings of anxiety are not your fault. These researchers have pinpointed the cause of anxiety as a shortage of GABA and serotonin compounds in your body. They are your body's natural anxiety and stress relievers.

But how can you overcome anxiety? It is one of the most frequently asked questions in the TMSWiki.org forum.

Dr. Claire Weekes, an Australian medical health practitioner who lived between 1903 and 1990, had some revolutionary ideas about treating anxiety that are still noted today for being ahead of their time. She was a strong believer in that the mind and body are inextricably linked. She taught how to regain control over an anxious state of mind by coping with feelings of fear. You can see her short videos on YouTube in which she briefly explains her ways of relieving anxiety.

Her books on overcoming anxiety, Hope and Help for Your Nerves, Peace from Nervous Suffering, and Simple, Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia have saved helped many people overcome their anxiety. In recent years, many new books about overcoming anxiety have been published, but Dr. Weekes' books, particularly Hope and Help for Your Nerves, are often recommended in our community.

Dr. Claire Weekes distrusted the methods of psychoanalysis being used during her lifetime, and looked for simpler explanations for anxiety that did not involve sifting through childhood to latch onto (or in some cases, imagine or create) any event that could be blamed for the disorder and then focusing all one’s attention on changing beliefs and feelings surrounding that event, when the event might not even have to do with the disorder.

The main principles of Dr. Claire Weekes’ anxiety theory are as follows:

Anxiety as Natural vs. Flaw/Disability -- Weekes described people who suffered from anxiety disorders, including herself, as “highly sensitized.” This meant that they possessed a natural sensitivity to the world, rather than necessarily having a traumatic past or a flawed personality.

Habit Change - Weekes noted that highly-sensitized people regularly engage in “fear-avoidance,” which she believed was an unnecessary habit. She also believed in the existence of destructive thought patterns. Addressing bad habits and destructive thought patterns were fundamental to her practice. These types of treatment were seen as refreshingly straightforward and simple, as opposed to popular psychiatry’s preference for in-depth analysis of a person’s childhood.

The 3 “Pitfalls” of Anxiety – Weekes noted that anxiety was cyclical in nature, consisting of 3 “pitfalls” that perpetuate it. These included “sensitization, “bewilderment,” and “fear.” Sensitization, as already noted, was the general state of the anxiety sufferer, in which the sympathetic nervous system is highly active and responsive, resulting in persistent nervousness. The second pitfall, bewilderment, was a state of confusion and distress due to the general nervousness caused by sensitization. The third pitfall, fear, was believed by Weekes to result from the discomfort caused by the two preceding pitfalls, and eventually to be a reaction to the fear itself, forming a closed loop.

Acceptance vs. Rejection of Panic – Allowing the feelings of panic to occur within the body rather than constantly struggling to fight them was fundamental to Weekes’ anti-anxiety strategy.

“What is known as nervous illness [which Weekes preferred to call anxiety] is no more than extreme emotional and mental fatigue usually begun and maintained by fear,” says Dr. Weekes. But, she adds, “There is no monster waiting to devour us; no precipice over which we will fall. Anywhere, at any time during the [anxiety] if we lose our own fears, we can stop out of it. Perhaps not immediately, but in a surprisingly short time. “You may feel that fate is ready to push you back at every opportunity during your recovery, but you can be cheered by the thought that, whatever fate may do, three good friends will never fail you – occupation, courage, and religion.

“[Anxiety] is very much a [condition] of your attitude toward how you feel. But how you feel depends on how you think, on what you think. Because [anxiety] depends on what you think, you can recover. Thoughts that are keeping you [anxious] can be changed. In other words, your approach to your [anxiety] can be changed.”

Weekes suggests the following four strategies for overcoming anxiety:

1. Face Your Panic

This means that the help has to come from within yourself. With outside help and guidance of course but, ultimately, it is you who will heal yourself. Facing means that you face up to the fact that you suffer from anxiety. You do not run away from this fact, but face it squarely. You don't seek distraction in dashing here and there trying to find a cure outside yourself. Outside help in the form of therapy based on a sound foundation is fine but any real therapy should be on the understanding that it is you who can help yourself. The therapy is only a means to that end.

Accepting panic, or more specifically the symptoms of panic (such as depersonalization or the feeling that the world around you is “unreal,” a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, and flushing) as they occurred is key to overcoming anxiety. Panic occurs due to the fact that highly-sensitized people were being trained to feel bad about their anxiety and afraid to feel it lest they be labeled as “troubled,” or endanger themselves in some way. Dr. Weekes realized that the only real danger came from letting yourself get worked up about your feelings of anxiety, making you even more anxious than you already were.

Dr. Weeks says sometimes anxiety can cause a person to not be able to breathe as deeply as is recommended with deep, diaphragmatic breathing. She assures us that we will always get enough breath, although sometimes perhaps not as freely or deeply as we would like. She says we have a “breathing center” in our brain which automatically regulates our breathing by responding to changing levels of carbon dioxide in our blood. We can safely rely on our respiratory center to cope with the difficulty in its own way, so not to worry. It will not fail us.

Begin facing your anxiety by analyzing it and describing it aloud to yourself. If it’s a nervous churning feeling in your stomach, do not tensely flinch from it. Go with it. Relax and analyze it for a few minutes. Dr. Weeks says, “Stop regarding it as some monster trying to possess you. Understand that it is only the working of over sensitized adrenalin-releasing nerves and that by constantly shrinking from it you have stimulated an excessive overflow of adrenalin that has further excited your nerves to product continual stomach churning. By your anxiety you are producing the very feelings you dislike so much.”

Be prepared to accept and live with the stomach churning for the time being. Accept that it will be with you for a while yet -- even as you recover. You cannot increase your symptoms by facing them or even trying to intensify them. In fact, you may find that when you try consciously to make them worse, they improve.

“As you lose your fear and regain confidence, you will lose interest in your [anxiety] sensations. You begin to forget yourself for moments and then for hours at a time. Outside interests claim you. You rejoin the world of other people. You are yourself again.”

Dr. Weekes says, “Recovery lies in going to the places you fear.” Now this is enough to put most people off, and is one of the reasons why so many begin the idea of acceptance and then give up. Dr. Weekes does not suggest you dash off to the supermarket and invite panic attacks! This is all about a gradual build-up to doing what you think is impossible for you. First go to the corner shop. Then take a short ride on a bus. Then go a bit further accompanied by a helper, if necessary, and eventually go to the supermarket.

Difficult? Of course it is. Is any real method easy? This take courage (which you have) and, above all, perseverance. Now this is not a philosophy of “putting up with” or “getting used to.” This is learning how to cope with panic or anxiety wherever or whenever it occurs so that, eventually, it ceases to matter and has no effect on your life.

The idea is that you don't say to yourself when out “I may not have a panic attack here; at least I hope not.” Instead say, “It doesn't matter if I do have an attack here, I am learning how to cope and I will use this episode to advantage, I will practice acceptance, I will not add second fear.”

Dr. Weeks says “Calm acceptance, despite delayed recovery, is your goal. However, at first you may find calm acceptance very difficult. Do not be disappointed. In the beginning it is enough to direct your thoughts toward acceptance. Calm acceptance will follow in time.”

The last and probably the most important part of the understanding of anxiety and especially panic is the “second fear” we add when a panic attack or some other episode occurs. Second Fear is all the negative thoughts that arise when we feel an attack coming. There are many of these.

Why is it that when you are outside the supermarket, the church. the meeting, that you feel better? Now you are saying to yourself, “Now I can relax. No one will look at me now and I feel safe.” Your nerves calm down and although still in state of anxiety it is at least, bearable. But you are the same person you were when you were inside. Can you see how you frighten yourself by negative thinking, by adding second fear to the first flash of panic?

In the part on acceptance, Dr. Weekes suggested that when panic strikes, to stop. Stand your ground and let the first flash pass over you, and then carry on. Let the panic come and do its worst, but don't prolong it by adding second fear. Adrenaline has a limited life span. That first flash is about all it will do at that time, but by adding second fear, you intensify the effect it has on your body so that the symptoms seem to last a lot longer.

Your natural reaction is to run away, and that inevitably brings feelings of guilt and failure. You have to start all over again or give up all together and that is not an option. This is not fighting the “thing.” This is allowing it to do what it likes at the same time as you accept totally the feelings without retreating from them in fear.

At first acceptance and not adding second fear may not seem to have any effect but as you practice more and more you find that although you panic it no longer matters. You have taken the fear out of it and without fear, Dr. Weekes says panic is a dead duck. Write acceptance on your heart. It is the only truly long lasting remedy for anxiety, because you always carry your Dr. Weekes’ “tool kit” with you. You know what to do at any future time anxiety strikes.

2. Accept Your Anxiety

“Calm acceptance is your goal,” says Dr. Weekes. This may be the most difficult part and the most misunderstood of her four steps to overcoming anxiety. At first you may find calm acceptance [of anxiety’ very difficult. Do not be disappointed. In the beginning, it is enough to direct your thoughts toward acceptance. Calm acceptance will follow in time.

“It may be that although you wish to be unafraid [in anxiety], you may still add plenty of ‘second fear.’ Do not be discouraged even by this. It is enough at this stage to wish to be unafraid. If you make up your mind to accept the strange feelings although still afraid of them, you will gradually lose your fear, because decision to accept releases a certain tension and so reduces the intensity of your symptoms. This brings a little hope, and you begin to gain confidence in recovery. Loss of fear eventually follows. It is essential that you be occupied while awaiting cure. Every short respite from fear helps to calm your nerves so that they become less and less responsive to stimulation and your sensations less and less intense, until they are only a memory.”

Dr. Weekes says that many people confuse accepting their anxiety with “putting up with,” which it is not. You could “put up with” anxiety for the rest of your life and still have the problem. Acceptance calms you; allows the flow of adrenaline to slow and eventually cease, but it takes time for the mind to accustom itself to this new regime. Some expect instant results, but in nervous illness there is no such thing.

“If panic or any other frightening symptom occurs what happens? We tense up. Our body goes rigid. In fact, a lot of people describe it as if they are frozen to the spot. Then ‘second fear’ takes over. The ‘Oh my goodness, I will collapse or be taken away somewhere’ More adrenaline is produced and the fearful symptoms are reinforced. Eventually we gather enough strength to run back home or to the car. We can always find the energy to do that but not enough to stand our ground.

“Acceptance says, ‘Okay, come on then, do your worse, but I am not going to respond to your nonsense. This is just an electrical impulse running through my body (it is, you know) and can do me no harm.”

“Describing true acceptance is difficult. It is about relaxing into the feelings and not struggling to get rid of them. It is letting go rather than clinging tightly to the fear. The complete giving up of doing anything; just letting go. When someone is swimming and runs into trouble a good swimmer will relax and float for a while to recover. A bad swimmer will fight and struggle which will have the opposite effect of helping.

“Unfortunately, nature has so arranged it that to struggle seems the natural thing to do. We have to defy our natural instinct to fight, and do just the opposite. ‘I have accepted, but I still feel awful.’ Of course you will, but you have sown the seed of recovery by truly accepting. Time and more time is needed to finish the job. We get so impatient with time. This is another of those symptoms of nervous illness that are so difficult to live with. Impatience. Of course, if you have an underlying problem that is causing your nervous illness then that needs addressing, but acceptance still can be practiced.

Float Through Your Anxiety

“Floating” is simply needing to concentrate on “being.” It is accomplished by ceasing self-analysis and the struggle against panicked feelings. Dr. Weekes described in her books the sensation that many anxious people have of being about to “fall apart,” which results in the tension brought on by the attempt to “hold themselves together.” This tension was the nervous illness, and relaxing it was, according to Weekes’ theory, the cure.

Floating through anxiety avoids two common misunderstandings about overcoming anxiety. The first one is the idea that you have to struggle against anxiety, fight it, and overcome it. The second, related to the first, is that you have to arm yourself with all kinds of techniques and objects in order to confront anxiety. Actually, you will make more progress when you let yourself float through the anxiety, not trying to overcome anything, not struggling to use techniques, but simply allowing the sensations to pass over time. Floating through anxiety is help that assists you to rediscover your own natural abilities to cope with whatever comes, rather than arming you against potential adversity.

How can you float through your anxiety? Dr. Weeks says a block of wood can float, and so can a person. You might have to learn how to not get in your own way, how to simply let floating happen. But most people, unlike blocks of wood, often find it hard to let go and trust in their body’s natural ability to float. Their mistrust and apprehension will lead them to “do things” to try to stay afloat. This causes them to tense up and they sink.

To teach a person to float in water, they must be given a few instructions: lay back, imagine laying your head on the water, lay your arms and legs out, lie still. But the most important part of the technique of floating is… do nothing, let go, and let time pass. Any swimmer will tell you that if you lay on your back and allow the water to support you, you relax as you float. If you start to struggle, you sink. It takes a certain skill to do this, but once acquired it is with you always.

It is the same with floating in anxiety. It means giving up the struggle and going through every anxiety emotion in as relaxed a way as possible. This takes some practice, but is worth it. Let us look at a trip to the supermarket for an anxious or agoraphobic person. They get there and what happens. They think, “Oh dear, I wonder if I will panic in there.” They stand in the supermarket parking lot in dread, thinking “No, I will go home. But if I do I will feel I have let myself down again.”

So, with clenched teeth they start toward the entrance. Every step is fraught with anxiety. Palpitations start as the adrenaline starts to flow. They feel dizzy. They clutch the car keys in their hand as a reminder that they have an escape route. They get to the door and force themselves to go in, and once inside the real trouble starts. They panic. Wave after wave sweeps over them and then they are faced with the choice of running or standing their ground.

Now this is a story of mismanagement! First of all, the person laid the foundations for panic as soon as they stepped out of their car. They start to doubt themselves, wondering “Can I do it"? The anxiety builds because of the way they think. Can you see the pattern? The person is frightening themselves. The physical symptoms are the inevitable result of the fight-flight mechanism that comes into play when our minds sense danger. and the person regards the supermarket as a dangerous place.

Having laid the foundation for panic, is it any wonder that it comes? This harmless flow of an electrical impulse (that is what it is) frightens the person into more fear and they then add second fear, thinking “Oh my goodness! What will happen?”

To follow the right approach the person should have taken about entering the supermarket, let's go back outside and start from the car. The person should tell himself, “I did this many times when I was well, and I can do it now. Nothing has changed except my thinking. I will not tense up but I will float in through the door and float around the supermarket. If I feel panicky, I will know how to cope because I have been taught acceptance and that will stand me in good stead. I will not add “second fear,” but go with the feelings. I know they will pass and that adrenaline has a limited amount of the hormone it can throw at me at any one time. It always passes if I float along with it.” Practice! practice! practice! Welcome panic so that you can practice acceptance and floating.

In “floating through anxiety,” Weekes meant to convey the opposite of fighting. The way to regain a sense of clam is to go along with the sensations of anxiety and panic, rather than oppose them. She described floating as “masterly inactivity,” and said this meant to stop holding tensely onto yourself, trying to control your fear, trying to “do something about it” while subjecting yourself to constant self-analysis.

Weekes knew that is not easy, when she wrote: “The average person, tense with battling, has an innate aversion to ‘letting go.’ They vaguely think that were they here to do this, they would lose control over the last vestige of their will power and their house of cards would tumble.”

Dr. Weeks says imagine you are on a fluffy white cloud. Float in and out. Float past tension and fear. Float past unwelcome thoughts. Float, don’t fight. Go through the peak of experience with complete acceptance. Let more time pass.

She suggested what she called “Right reaction Readiness.” The idea is to practice at home before you go out what you will do if you do panic. What to say to yourself and prepare your mind for the journey. None of this is easy. It is simple, but not easy. It takes courage (which you have in abundance, but it is untapped) and it takes perseverance. Letting time pass is essential, and Dr. Weekes came to that next.

4. Let Time Pass

Dr. Weekes suggests to remain active and not allow anxiety symptoms to run your life. With repetition of normal tasks despite anxiety, the brain learns to stop panicking and the symptoms will lift away slowly, in what seems to be like “layers,” until finally they will vanish entirely. This belief is one that modern science supports, and the modern treatment of fear exposure works according to a similar principle. If progress seems to be going slowly, do not give up, because you might be about to reach the “final layer” and no longer experience unnecessary anxiety.

Patience is not something that is a strong feature in anxiety. If most of us take a relaxation pill we expect immediate results and any kind of therapy that involves talking is expected, after the first chat, to yield amazing recoveries. Sad to say it does not work that way and any lasting recovery will take time. Sometimes lots of it. We have to learn patience. There are many “quick fix” solutions on the market from pills to weekend seminars that offer to change your life in one session (at a hefty cost!). Some people spend a fortune on talks and seminars that get them nowhere.

This is not to say that a group who discuss nervous illness in the right way and who are led by an understanding person who has been there can't help. Of course it can. But one has to be discerning. A lot of charlatans cash in on peoples suffering. We have to accept that any therapy, however good, will take time to take effect. Our minds have got in a rut and need retraining. The longer we have suffered with anxiety, the deeper the rut. Dr. Weekes says that climbing out is sometimes painful and requires perseverance, but the results can be tremendous right up to complete recovery. However, this takes time. We have to let time pass. Take it a day at a time and don’t keep checking yourself to see if it's working. The same applies to TMS healing, not to monitor progress every day if not every hour. The results in overcoming anxiety will be obvious, but checking brings on more anxiety because the thought that we are making no progress can set us back.

Dr. Weekes says it is important not to just sit and wait for time to pass while trying to overcome anxiety: “I have seen people on the verge of recovery deteriorate severely when suddenly deprived of occupation (doing something). They should not attempt to recover from nervous illness sitting about the house watching the days pass, trying to fill each hour as it comes. They must have an organized program so that they can look ahead and know how each day will be filled. It is absolutely essential for a nervously ill person that thoughts be claimed by outside interests, so that time passes more quickly, the strain is eased, and depression thus relieved.

“So many small, happy experiences (gardening, playing a musical instrument, painting, playing with a pet), are waiting to help lift your spirit. The future is not as black as you may think. You do not need some great happiness to bring back joy in living. He little things will do that.”

Dr. Weekes says that working out of doors is particularly good for overcoming anxiety and depression. The brightness, the expanse of sky, the absence of restraining walls of a house or apartment, the movement of breeze in trees, hearing birds sing, all help to keep spirits raised and troubles in proper proportion. Brightness and diversion help to hold the interest and support the flagging spirit.

“The religious have faith in God to help them,” says Dr. Weekes. “But those who are not religious find little comfort in being told to put their trust in God and pray for help. They would, of course, recover if they did, but even those with such faith sometimes have to be shown the actual steps to recovery. Sometimes, religious people think they are being tried by God or tempted by the devil, and they fight all the harder to justify themselves before the one and master the other, only exhausting themselves in the effort.

“The person who bears their suffering with patience… letting more time pass… and resignation (acceptance) and faith that God will cure them has found the way to recovery. However, many get lost on the way and forget how to apply their faith.” Some people with anxiety who are religious complain of being unable to contact their religion or faith. This is an added worry, especially when they find no solace in prayer. When they understand that they feel this way simply because their emotions are exhausted, they are greatly relieved.

“To tell people to put their faith in God and let Him cure them works only for those who have such faith and know how to apply it,” says Dr. Weekes. “These are indeed blessed. The others must be shown the way.” The way, she repeats, is through facing, accepting, and floating through anxiety, and letting time pass.

The Anxiety Trick

Another Dr. Weekes’ anxiety relief strategies is what she called recognizing the “Anxiety Trick.” She says it is behind most of the trouble people have with chronic anxiety. If you have struggled to overcome an anxiety disorder only to get disappointing results, or even feel worse over time, you are being fooled by the ‘anxiety trick.”

With an anxiety disorder, people get afraid when they're not in danger. Their struggle to protect themselves from fear leads them down a path of increasing trouble. That's the “Anxiety Trick.” It is a very common occurrence, and people mistakenly blame themselves for it. Here's a more accurate, and helpful, way to understand this common and frustrating problem.

If you have panic disorder or agoraphobia, you keep getting tricked into believing that you're about to die, go crazy, or lose control of yourself. If you have a specific phobia, like an aversion to getting into an elevator, you keep getting tricked into believing you’re likely to have a panic attack. If you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you keep getting tricked into believing that you've set in motion a terrible calamity. You might fear that your neighborhood will burn because you left the stove on, or that your family will get poisoned because you mishandled the insecticide. [A woman sat in her car all day outside the school her child was in, for fear the building was going to burn down.] If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you keep getting tricked into believing that you're about to be driven mad by constant worrying.

In each case, the episode of fear passes without the expected catastrophe. You're none the worse for wear, except that you're more worried about the next episode. The details seem different, but it's the same anxiety trick.

The Anxiety Trick is this: You experience discomfort, and get fooled into treating it like danger. What do we do when we're in danger? We only have three things: Fight, Flight, and Freeze. If it looks weaker than me, I'll fight it. If it looks stronger than me, but slower, I'll run away. And if it looks stronger and faster than me, I'll freeze and hope it doesn't harm me. That's all we have for danger.

When people experience the fear of a panic attack, or a phobic encounter, or an obsessive thought, they instinctively treat it as a danger. They try to protect themselves, with some variation of Fight, Flight, or Freeze. People's natural instincts to protect themselves are what lead them to get tricked. See if you recognize your responses in these examples below.

A person with panic disorder gets tricked into holding her breath and fleeing the store (highway, theater, or other locale), rather than shifting to deep diaphragmatic belly breathing and staying there until the feelings pass.

A person with generalized anxiety disorder gets tricked into trying to stop the unwanted "what if?" thoughts, rather than accepting them and taking care of present business as thoughts come and go.

A person with social phobia gets tricked into avoiding the party, or hiding in the corner if he attends, rather than say hello to a stranger and see what happens.

A person with OCD gets tricked into repeatedly washing his hands, or returning home to check the stove, rather than accepting the intrusive thoughts of contamination and fire and returning his energies to the present activities at hand.

A person with a dog phobia gets tricked into avoiding the feelings by avoiding all dogs, rather than spending time with a dog until the feelings pass. [As a boy, I was afraid of stray dogs and if one approached me I crossed over to the other side of the street and hoped it would stay on its side. Years later when I became a dog owner I came to be a great dog lover because I learned from them that they really are man’s best friend and just want to be loved and love us.]

You might wonder, why don’t people come to see this pattern, of repeated episodes of fear which don't lead to the feared outcome, and gradually lose their fear?

The answer is this. They took these protective steps, and there was no catastrophe. They tend to believe that these steps "saved" them from a catastrophe. This thought makes them worry more about “the next time.” It convinces them that they are terribly vulnerable and must constantly protect themselves.

The actual reason they didn’t experience a catastrophe is that such catastrophes are typically not part of a fear or phobia. These are anxiety disorders, not catastrophe disorders. People get through the experience because the experience isn't actually dangerous. But it’s understandably hard for people to recognize that at the time. They’re more likely to think they just had a “narrow escape.” This leads them to redouble their protective steps.

It’s the protective steps which actually maintain and strengthen the Anxiety Trick. If you think you just narrowly escaped a catastrophe because you had your cellular phone, or a water bottle; or because you went back and checked the stove seven times; or because you plugged in your iPod and distracted yourself with some music, then you’re going to continue to feel vulnerable. And you’re going to get more stuck in the habit of “protecting” yourself by these means.

This is how the problem gets embedded in your life. You think you’re helping yourself, but you’ve actually been tricked into making it worse. That's how sneaky this Trick is.

Dr. Weekes says, “This is why my patients so often say, ‘the harder I try, the worse it gets.’ If the harder you try, the worse it gets, then you should take another look at the methods you've been using. You've probably been tricked into trying to protect yourself against something that isn't dangerous, and this makes your fear worse over time.”

You can overcome the anxiety trick. The thing that makes fears and phobias so persistent is that virtually anything you do to oppose, escape, or distract from the anxious feelings and thoughts will be turned against you, and make the anxiety a more persistent part of your life.

This is where the cognitive behavioral methods of desensitization and exposure come in. They're intended as methods by which you can practice with (not against) the symptoms, and become less sensitive to them. As you lose your fear of the symptoms, through this practice, that's when the symptoms will fade.

All too often, people get the idea that exposure means going to a place or situation where you're likely to get anxious, perhaps a highway or an elevator, and take a ride without getting anxious. That's not the point! The point is to actually go there and feel the anxiety, being sure to stay there and letting the anxiety leave first. This is what Dr. Weeks called floating, as has been described earlier. The way to disarm the Anxiety Trick is to increasingly spend time with anxiety, to expose yourself to the thoughts and sensations, and allow them to subside over time.

What can you do to make the experience of exposure more tolerable? You can use the aware steps as a general guide for how to conduct yourself while doing exposure. If you want a more specific, step by step guide, Dr. Weekes’ Panic Attacks Workbook has tools and techniques that will help you keep moving forward.

Dr. Weekes reminds us to always keep in mind that exposure is practice with fear, and do nothing to oppose, avoid, or distract from the fear during exposure. “I have found that my nervously ill people are among the bravest people I know. Because they have to get themselves better from being practically on the floor.”

Accepting our fears may not be for everyone. To accept our fears and anxiety goes against what we feel we ought to do. Fight and struggle to overcome our feelings and emotions. If told by our medical advisers that we suffer from “nerves,” then we can look at various ways of helping ourselves. Dr. Weekes’ books offer some of the best ways of helping ourselves overcome anxiety.

Depression

Many who suffer from anxiety also suffer from depression. Dr. Weekes says depression is a physical feeling expressing the extreme tiredness of their emotions. It is caused by emotional fatigue.

A person emotionally exhausted by months of worry or anxiety may gradually become apathetic. Apathy may gradually turn to depression, or depression can strike suddenly in one overwhelming wave. Depression can rob a person of wanting to recover from anxiety. Most people, however, rise above depression enough to hope for recovery. Dr. Weekes assures her patients that they can recover, however deep their depression. It is only a temporary illness.

At the first feelings of being depressed, have the courage to relax toward it and let it come. Don’t tense yourself against it in fear, in dread. Take every opportunity that offers to help cheer yourself and recharge your emotional batteries. Do this at a normal pace, at a steady pace.

Setbacks

Dr. Weekes says to expect setbacks in overcoming anxiety. She says “setbacks are one of the most disconcerting episodes in any anxiety condition. Just when we think we are making great progress; wham! a setback occurs. Don't go looking for reasons. Practice what you already know.

“Acceptance got you out before, and will do so again if you allow it to. In a way, even difficult setbacks should be welcomed. They allow you to practice again and again what you have learned. It helps you arrive at the stage where setbacks no longer matter and neither do panic attacks because we have the means to see them off. Uncomfortable? Yes, but that's all. After what we have been through, what is a little discomfort? Determination and perseverance are the key words. We are sick and tired of the way we feel, so let us practice something that promises relief. But practice and more practice is the answer until acceptance becomes so ingrained we automatically do it without thought. This is so simple but not easy. Negative thinking has become our habit. Change the habit by acceptance.

Another way to relieve anxiety, says Dr. Weekes, is to change the daily pattern of your anxious feelings by spoiling yourself a little each day, even if it is only treating yourself to a vase of fresh flowers. “Indulge yourself in this way, so that you will grow used to the feeling of happiness again and it will gradually replace anxiety. Make the effort to help the shadow of the shadow to pass, and don’t forget the flowers.”

Dr. Weekes summarizes her theory of overcoming anxiety by saying, “You recover by facing, accepting, floating, and letting time pass. Are you beginning to know this pattern by heart? I hope so. I want you to know it so thoroughly that your thoughts fly to it when in doubt or difficulty. It will never fail you if you apply it correctly.”

Recovery from Anxiety

Dr. Weekes says recovery from anxiety problems caused by some apparent problem lies, first, in understanding and losing fear of the bodily symptoms that accompany the stress of long anxious brooding. Second, it lies in learning how to compromise by finding, if not a perfect solution, at least a satisfactory way of looking at the problem. It lies in practicing glimpsing this new point of view until it is established as the final point of view. Glimpsing may be difficult at first, but it is a most important part of treatment. Stick to the new point of view and be contented if at first you can only glimpse it each day.

“Do not measure your progress in overcoming anxiety day by day. Looking forward hopefully with confidence is of tremendous help. It draws you past the yesterday, past today, past the tomorrows until you find recovery.”

Do not despair if old fears return; accept all setbacks and float on to recovery. Do not watch a calendar and time your recovery. Let time pass, as little or as much as necessary. Let the pace of your recovery look after itself. Be concerned only worth recognizing and coping with fear.

It is hoped that Dr. Weekes’ techniques for overcoming anxiety, panic attacks, or agoraphobia are helpful to you. We welcome comments on your experience with anxiety.


Free Claire Weekes videos on YouTube


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Twenty one other free YouTube videos about Claire Weekes can be found by clicking here.

MP3s

The Junior Anxiety Depression Exchange, a UK website, has uploaded roughly an hour of recordings of Dr. Weekes. They are broken into 4 MP3s, which you can play below or download to your device.

We thank Eric "Herbie" Watson, who first brought these recordings to the attention of our community.

Claire Weekes' Biography

An image of practitioner and author Claire Weekes
Claire Weekes
Image from www.claireweekes.com.au

Hazel Claire Weekes (1903-1990) was an Australian general practitioner, doctor and author of what are considered to be the best books on dealing with and overcoming anxiety.

Her first book, published in 1962, was called Self Help For Your Nerves (titled Hope and Help for Your Nerves in the United States); this book has sold more than 300,000 copies, and has been translated into eight languages. Her second book, Peace from Nervous Suffering was published in 1972. Her third book, Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia was published in 1976. Her fourth book More Help for Your Nerves was published in 1984. Her fifth and final book, The Latest Help for Your Nerves, was published in 1989, just one year before her death.

Dr. Weekes found that many of her patients suffered from anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and agoraphobia. In her books, she repeated used the phrase “nervous breakdown,” rejecting the description “anxiety state” as sounding too medical. Often she wrote generally of “nervous illness.”

She was concerned by the failure of psychiatric treatments such as psychoanalysis that many had tried, and also about the severe long-term effect anxiety disorders had on their patients’ lives. Instead, she developed methods of treatment based on ideas from cognitive and behavioral psychology. For example, she noted that patients did not suffer from these anxiety problems because they had flawed personalities or traumatic childhoods (which is contrary to what Dr. Sarno suggests). Rather, the problems were caused by the patient having a habit of fear-avoidance, which was made worse or caused by a very responsive “sensitized” nervous system.

In her books, Dr. Weekes describes the three main pitfalls that lead to nervous illness. They are sensitization, bewilderment, and fear. Nervous illness is severe sensitization kept alive by bewilderment and fear. She analyzed fear as two separate fears. The first fear is the fear that comes reflectively, almost automatically. The patient usually immediately recoils from it, and as they do, they add a second fear to the first. Second fear is the fear the patient adds to the first fear. Examples of this are saying or thinking, “Oh, my goodness! Here it is again! I can’t stand it!” It is the second fear that keeps the first fear alive, keeping the sufferer sensitized and nervously ill.

She summarized her books and tapes as facing the feared situation, accepting the feeling of panic, “floating” through it, and letting time pass.

Claire Weekes described her own battle with nervous illness in her final book where she explained how she began suffering when she was 26 years old as she was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis, for which she became introverted and worried. Her suffering lasted two years, and gave her valuable insight into nervous illness. In his book The Anxiety Cure, Dr. Robert L. Dupont wrote that in 1983 he asked Dr. Weekes if she'd ever had panic disorder. She replied, “Yes, I have had what you call panic attacks. In fact, I still have them. Sometimes they wake me at night.” Dr. Dupont responded by saying he was sorry to hear this. He described Claire Weekes' reaction as looking at him in shock, for which she responded, “Save your sympathy for someone else. I don't need it or want it. What you call a panic attack is merely a few normal chemicals that are temporarily out of place in my brain. It is of no significance whatsoever to me!”

Over decades, Dr. Weekes' first three books have brought life-changing relief to hundreds of thousands of anxiety-stricken people around the world. Even though Dr. Weekes has been deceased for twenty three years, at least half of Amazon.com's customer reviews state that one of her books "saved my life.”

Other resources

  • We have tried to make this page as helpful as possible, but it is just a summary. If you find these ideas helpful, you should probably get a book by Dr. Weekes. The most commonly recommended book on our forum by Dr. Weekes is Hope and Help For Your Nerves. Paperback and kindle versions of the book are currently only $8 on Amazon, and several audio versions are available (click here). Multiple audio versions are also available. Other books by her are also available at Amazon's Claire Weekes store.
  • A popular thread that summarizes Dr. Weekes' ideas from our forum.
  • Additional threads related to Dr. Weekes.
  • Remember that Dr. Weekes' approach is just one approach to healing anxiety. If it doesn't work for you, you can probably find one that does on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. There is always hope, and if you find something you like, please let us know about it on our forum.
DISCLAIMER: The TMS Wiki is for informational and support purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. See Full Disclaimer.