Dr. Claire Weekes, an Australian medical health practitioner who lived between 1903 and 1990, had some revolutionary ideas about anxiety that are still noted today for being ahead of their time. The books she wrote on the nature of anxiety, which also included the details of the simple exercises she used to treat both her patients’ anxiety and her own, are still sold today.
This article will provide an overview of the theory and some of the exercises outlined by Dr. Claire Weekes.
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Claire Weekes’ Anxiety Theory
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Dr. Claire Weekes distrusted the methods of psychoanalysis being used during her lifetime. She wanted 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. She also wanted a treatment that did not involve 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.
Claire Weekes wrote 5 books over the course of her lifetime.
- Self Help For Your Nerves a.k.a. Hope and Help for Your Nerves (1962)
- Peace from Nervous Suffering (1972)
- Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia (1976)
- More Help for Your Nerves (1984)
- The Latest Help for Your Nerves (1989)
Her first book sold over 300,000 copies and had been translated into eight languages. Her worldwide TV and radio appearances were eventually compiled into audio and video files, which can still be accessed today.
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, or “nervous illness” (as she preferred to call it, due to her preference for less clinical terms) was cyclical in nature, consisting of 3 “pitfalls” that perpetuate it. These three pitfalls 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 (which will be discussed in more detail in the section below).
The above principles caused Weekes to stand out among her peers. Even today, people suffering from anxiety find comfort in the idea that they are not flawed, but rather uniquely endowed with additional sensitivity (which can be both a blessing and a curse, as Weekes would point out). Her unique point of view as both a sufferer from anxiety and a diagnostician gave her a multi-dimensional perspective on the problems she was attempting to address and earned her the reputation of having a relatable and friendly writing style.
The following section will discuss Claire Weekes’ suggested strategy for overcoming anxiety.
Claire Weekes’ Strategy for Overcoming Anxiety
- “Accept” Your Panic 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 was key for Weekes. She believed that panic occurred because highly sensitized people were being trained to feel bad about their anxiety and afraid to feel it lest they are labeled as “troubled,” or endanger themselves in some way. 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.
- “Float Through” Your Anxiety “Floating” was described by Weekes as “masterly inactivity,” wherein you simply needed to concentrate on “being.” It was accomplished by ceasing self-analysis and the struggle against panicked feelings. She effectively 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.
- “Let Time Pass” Remaining active and not allowing anxiety symptoms to run one’s life was central to Weekes’ philosophy. She believed that through repetition of normal tasks despite anxiety, the brain would learn to stop panicking and the symptoms would lift away slowly, in what seemed to her like “layers,” until finally, they would vanish entirely. This belief is one that modern science supports, and the modern treatment of fear exposure works according to a similar principle. She also encouraged people to remember that if progress seemed to be going slowly, not to give up because they might be about to reach the “final layer” and no longer experience unnecessary anxiety.
Understanding the Claire Weekes' System
To those that have researched anxiety before, the Weekes' principles may sound familiar. That's because they are very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and some of the ideas – such as the idea of trying to distract yourself from your anxious thoughts and still go about your life – are also popular in mainstream anxiety treatments.
Whether or not the theories set forth by Dr. Weekes' are accurate or not is up to others to decide. But there is no denying that the system is intriguing for those that have anxiety and are looking for a way out of it.
If you want to learn more about your anxiety and find out how you can treat it at home, make sure you take my anxiety test before you go. This test will teach you more about your anxiety symptoms and show you some of what you can do to stop your anxiety forever.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Mar 24, 2018.