Hope and Help for your Nerves (Claire Weekes)

Anxiety expert Claire Weekes
The late Australian Doctor Claire Weekes (1903-1990), a pioneer in the field of mental health.

Imagine the difference it would make if you could totally eliminate anxiety from your life. No more fear about the future. No more feeling uneasy without really knowing why. And more freedom to be yourself and do what you want. Anxiety has been around as long as human beings have inhabited the planet. It affects young and old, rich and poor, male and female. Everyone either suffers from anxiety or knows someone who does. And anyone who overcomes anxiety benefits not only themselves but every one of their relationships.

Dr. Weekes is one of those rare people whose life and legacy impacted millions of people. Per her Wikipedia, she has been described as the pioneer of modern anxiety treatment via cognitive therapy. She is the author of Hope and Help for Your Nerves, Peace from Nervous Suffering, Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia, More Help for Your Nerves, and The Latest Help For Your Nerves.

Hope and Help for Your Nerves is Dr. Weekes’ first published book and crowning achievement of her legacy. It has sold over 300,000 copies and has been translated into 14 languages. It was published 58 years ago in 1962; I read it 4 years ago when I was an undergraduate; and the insight it contains is more relevant today than ever.

Below are my summary reading notes consisting of direct quotes from the book and a few parenthetical interjections. If you want a complete copy, you can buy it on the cheap new or used from Amazon: Hope and Help for Your Nerves (Claire Weekes). I highly recommend this book to people suffering from anxiety; people who know a friend or family who suffers from anxiety; or people with an intellectual interest in this curious fact of the human condition.

Summary Reading Notes:

–> The advice given here will definitely cure you, if you follow it.

–> The main difference between a person ill for many years and someone ill for a short time is that the one who suffered for long has had more time to collect disturbing memories, especially the memory of much defeat, so that he despairs easily… It is important to understand this, because your illness is very much an illness of how you think. It is very much an illness of your attitude to fear, panic. You may think it is an illness of how you feel (it most certainly seems like this), but how you feel depends on how you think, on what you think. Because it is an illness of what you think, you can recover. Thoughts that are keeping you ill can be changed. In other words, your approach to your illness can be changed.

–> The strength to recover is within you, once you are shown the way. I assure you of this.

–> I have no illusions about you: I am not writing this book for the rare brave people, but for you, a sick, suffering, ordinary human being with no more courage than the rest of us but—and this is the important thing—with the same unplumbed, unsuspected power in reserve as the rest of us. It is possible that you may be aware of such power but may feel, because of your nervous condition, unable to release it. This book will help you find this power, and show you how to use it.

–> Unlike the voluntary nerves, the involuntary nerves are not under our direct control but—and this is of paramount importance in understanding “nerves”—they respond to our involuntary nerves are not under our direct control but—and this is of paramount importance in understanding “nerves”—they respond to our moods. For example, when we are afraid, our cheeks blanch, our pupils dilate, our heart races, and our hands may sweat. We do not consciously react this way and we have no power to stop these reactions other than to change our mood.

–> We human beings react in the same way when afraid. Fear begins as an impulse in our brain that excites the sympathetic nerves to stimulate various regions (skin) and organs (heart, lungs, eyes) to produce the signs and symptoms of fear—the sweating hands, racing heart, quick breathing, dry mouth, etc.

–> Sympathetic nerves = adrenalin-releasing nerves.

–> And yet a nervous breakdown is no more than an intensifiction of their symptoms [people with bad nerves].

–> Although this book is concerned mainly with the development and treatment of nervous breakdown, almost every symptom complained of by people with “bad nerves” will be found here, and such people will recognize themselves again and again in the patients with breakdown described in the following pages. The symptoms are the same, it is but their severity that varies. The person with breakdown feels these symptoms much more intensely. Where do “bad nerves” end and where does nervous breakdown begin? By nervous breakdown we mean a state in which a person’s “nervous” symptoms are so intense that he copes inadequately with his daily work or does not cope at all. To put it more scientifically and more fully, by nervous breakdown we mean a major interruption in the body’s efficient functioning as a result of emotional and mental fatigue brought on and maintained by stress, mainly by fear.

–> I would say that it is at this moment when the sufferer becomes afraid of the alarming, strange sensations produced by continuous fear and tension and so places himself, or herself, in the circle of fear-adrenalin-fear. This is the breaking point.

–> Two basic types of nervous breakdown. The first is relatively straightforward, and its victim is mainly concerned with physical symptoms, disturbing sensations, the way he feels. This person has minor problems only, such as an inability, because of illness, to cope with his responsibilities.Second begun by some overwhelming problem, sorrow, guilt, or disgrace [more complex anxiety state].

–> People suffering from the commonest, simplest form of nervous illness (simplest form of Anxiety State) complain of some, or all, of the following symptoms: fatigue, churning stomach, indigestion, racing heart, banging heart, palpitations, “missed” heartbeats, a sharp pain under the heart, a sore feeling around the heart, sweating hands, “pins and needles” in the hands and feet (especially the hands), a choking feeling in the throat, an inability to take in a deep breath, a tight feeling across the chest, “ants” crawling under the skin, a tight band of pain around the head, a heavy weight pressing on top of the head, giddiness, strange tricks of vision such as the apparent movement of inanimate objects, weak “spells,” sleeplessness, depression. Nausea, occasional vomiting, diarrhea, and the frequent desire to pass urine may be added to the list.

–> Their one wish is to be, as quickly as possible, the person they used to be before this “horrible thing” happened to them. They are rarely aware that their symptoms are nervous (emotional) in origin and follow a well-recognized pattern shared by numerous sufferers like themselves, the pattern of continuous fear and tension.

–> Three main pitfalls can lead into nervous illness. They are sensitization, bewilderment, and fear. Sensitization is a state in which our nerves react in an exaggerated way to stress; that is, they bring very intense feelings when under stress and they may react this way with alarming swiftness, almost in a flash.

–> So mucn nervous illness is no more than a severe sensitization kept alive by bewilderment and fear.

–> In other words, long, anxious brooding on any difficult life situation may gradually bring sensitization.

–> When a person is constantly sensitized and afraid of the state he is in, we say he is nervously ill. Fear must come into the picture to bring this kind of illness. Sensitization alone is not enough, because without fear a body will quickly repair its sensitized state.

–> As I have already mentioned, very few nervously ill people realize that their symptoms follow a well-known pattern shared by numerous sufferers like themselves, the pattern of continuous fear and tension. They do not understand that theirs are the normal symptoms of stress, the ordinary symptoms of anxiety, made intense by sensitization.

–> The great majority of my nerviously ill patients have been made ill and kept ill because of the way they feel; because of fear of what they think may happen next.

–> At this stage the sufferer consults a doctor, who usually succeeds in reassuring him and banishing his fear. However, he may not be sufficiently reassured and may be unfortunate enough to be put to bed and advised to “Take things carefully” and to “Be sure not to overdo it.” When so advised, the average person, particularly if young and not yet protected by the philosophy of age, lies in bed brooding over his “bad” heart, afraid to move for fear of straining it further. This patient was already in a state of nervous tension worrying about the palpitations. Can you imagine his tension now?

–> If he remains tense and afraid, he is certain to have further attacks, and the more frequently they come the more he hugs the couch.

–> It will be appreciated how disturbing this panic can be when a sufferer is working and trying to appear normal and how he lives in dread of its coming at inappropriate moments. Unfortunately it is most likely to come at such times, as he is then most apprehensive and afraid.

–> Repeated spasms of panic, when accompanied by exhaustion and sensitization, not only increase in intensity but need less and less to start them.

–> The sufferer from nervous illness is neither fool nor coward, but often a remarkably brave person who fights his breakdown to the best of his ability with commendable although often misdirected courage.

–> But the harder he fights, the worse he becomes. Naturally—fighting means more tension, tension more adrenalin and further stimulation of the adrenalin-releasing nerves, and so the continuation of symptoms.

–> He does not realize that there is no devil sitting on his shoulder and that he is simply doing this to himself with fear, fight, and flight from fear.

–> He may be giddy, nauseated, have difficulty in expanding his chest to take in a deep breath…

–> Whether breakdown be mild or severe, the basic cause is fear. Conflict, problems, sorrow, guilt, or disgrace may start a breakdown, but it is not long before fear takes command. Even great sorrow at the loss of a loved one is mixed with fear, the fear of facing the future alone.

–> Strain may cause severe headache (Ada had migraine) and physical exhaustion, but unless accompanied by constant fear it will not cause the incapacity known as nervous illness. When work threatens to become beyond our physical strength and our responsibilities demand that we keep going, fear usually comes into the picture, and any ensuing nervous illness is caused not by the exhaustion, as so many believe, but by the fears it brings.

–> Woman healed by “losing dislike of symptoms.” Surely the difference between such strong dislike and fear is only one of degree?

–> These symptoms [caused by fear] are not peculiar to you, but are well known to many like you.

–> However distressing your symptoms may be, I assure you that every unwelcome sensation can be banished and you can regain peace of mind and body.

–> The constant symptoms are those of sustained tension and fear, hence their chronicity; while the different recurring attacks are the result of varying intensity in sustained fear, hence their periodicity.

–> Principle of treatment: Facing, Accepting, Floating, Letting time pass.

–> By your anxiety [over symptoms] you are producing the very feelings you dislike so much.

–> This “thing,” which seemed so terrible while you stayed tense and flinched from it, may fail to hold your attention for long when you see it for what it is—no more than a strange physical feeling of no great medical significance, and causing no real harm.

–> So, be prepared to accept and live with it for the time being. Accept it as something that will be with you for some time yet–in fact while you recover–but something that will eventually leave you if you are prepared to let time pass and not anxiously watch the churning during its passing.

–> By true acceptance, you break the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle; or, in other words, the churning-adrenalin-churning cycle.

–> Of course the churning, itself a symptom of tension, must inevitably come while so tensely awaited.

–> This man was asked to do no more than change his mood from apprehension to acceptance. The symptoms of this type of illness are always a reflection of your mood.

–> It takes time for a body to establish acceptance as a mood and for this eventually to bring peace, just as it took time for fear to become established as continuous tension and anxiety.

–> Maybe your hands do sweat and tremble, but they are still good hands to use. Therefore, accept the sweating, trembling, soreness, and tingling for the time being.

–> …once you accept it, you will be getting better all the time.

–> Since contraction of tense muscle causes pain, it naturally becomes worse when you worry and improves as you relax and release tension.

–> Make sure that you appreciate the difference between truly acepting and only thinking you are accepting [more than just putting up with…. which means keeping the way open for quick retreat…expecting retreat…continued illness]

–> Symptoms can be intensified only by further fear and its resulting tension, never by facing and accepting.

–> To float is just as important as to accept, and it works similar magic. I could say let “float” and not “fight” be your slogan, because it amounts to that. Just as a person, floating on smooth water, lets himself be carried this way, that way by the gentle movement of the water, so should the nervously ill let his body “go with” the feelings his nervous reactions bring instead of trying to withdraw from them or force his way through them…. recognizing that it was only a thought and she need not be bluffed by a thought, need not be impressed by a thought.

–> After a few conversations with him [bedridden paralyzed arms], I found he was able to understand that the paralysis lay in his thoughts and not in his muscles. He learned the trick of freeing his muscles by floating past obstructive thoughts.

–> Masterly inactivity, a well-known phrase, is another way to describe floating. It means to give up the struggle to stop holding tensely onto yourself, trying to control your fear, trying “to do something about it” while subjecting yourself to constant self-analysis. It means to cease trying to navigate your way out of illness by meeting each obstacle as if it were a challenge that must be met before recovery is possible. It means to bypass the struggle, to go around—not over—the mountain, to float and let time pass. The average person, tense with battling, has an innate aversion to practicing masterly inactivity and letting go.

–> Acceptance at peak of experience… last 1 percent.

–> Second fear keeping patient nerviously ill [fear of the first fear]. Recognizing second fear and coping with it is the way to desensitization, the way to recovery. [Omg / what if]

–> Think about this and realize you are being bluffed by physical feeling, terrible indeed, but still a physical feeling!

–> Just as tension causes scalp muscles to spasm and pain, so does it cause chest and lung muscles to spasm and the patient to complain that he cannot expand his chest sufficiently to take in a deep breath.

–> Some nervous people complain that they feel a constant pressure in the throat or that they have a “lump stuck in the throat,” which they keep trying to dislodge by swallowing. Some say that their throats seem “swollen inside.” These patients are convinced that there is something seriously wrong with them, even cancer. Once again we are merely concerned with muscular spasm of nervous origin. We call this globus hystericus, which means the hysterical lump.

–> Indeed, when your neighbor gives you a pitying glance and says, “You look awful!” remember that however ill you may appear today, in a few weeks the same neighbor could be saying, “You do look different!” You can recover completely from your nervous illness.

–> Agoraphobia is comparatively common because it develops so naturally from an anxiety state. A frightened, sensitized person tries to stay where she feels safe, or where she thinks she can get help quickly if she needs it…I will not use the term “agoraphobia” again. It labels fear too definitely and makes it sound too discouragingly permanent.

–> You will find peace in the middle of Times Square, because you will take your cure with you wherever you might be.

–> It [this advice] will never fail you if you follow it and follow it until you learn to take yourself by the hand, until you are your own guide, your own strength.

–> Calm acceptance, despite delayed recovery, is your goal… decision to accept releases a certain tension…. reduces symptom intensity…brings a little hope….gain confidence in recovery…loss of fear eventually follows.

–> 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.

–> Each patient recovers at his own pace, and this depends on the rate of returning confidence and peace of mind. The strength in a limb may depend on the confidence with which it is used. When you appreciate that wrong thinking can “paralyze” some people and keep them bedridden, you will understand how hesitant, diffident thinking can encourage weakness. Returning confidence and physical strength go hand in hand.

–> Never let the unexpected return of panic, whenever it may strike–even if it comes years after you think it has gone forever–never let it shock you into running away from it.

–> Understand that some strain, some tension may have slightly sensitized you once more; or that memory, stirred by some sight, even some smell, may have flashed the old feeling again. Any one of us at times feels sensitized by strain—“ on edge,” apprehensive. If this happens to a person who has at one time felt panic intensely, his feeling of apprehension can so quickly flash to panic, because the way to panic in him is so well worn, that one could almost say his panic mechanism is well oiled.

–> Recovery from panic always lies on the other side of panic, never on this side.

–> The contrast between the hope and peace experienced in a good period and the renewed suffering felt in a setback highlights the setback and makes it seem more unendurable than ever.

–> Indeed, the worst setback of all may come just before the complete recovery, just because recovery is so close.

–> As you lose your fear and regain confidence, you will lose interest in your 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.

–> And how vulnerable he is to other people’s suffering! A sight that we would think merely sad, to him seems tragic. Ordinary events become charged with unnerving poignancy….The guilt is rarely as great as the sufferer imagines. He has lost his ability to keep it in proportion, because his emotional reactions at the memory of it are so grossly exaggerated. His life to him may seem all guilt.

–> In other words, his tired mind seems to have lost its resilience and thoughts race on automatically.

–> At this stage in his illness the sufferer loses all confidence. A little child could lead him. The past months have been spent in “unending hesitation between two paths,” so that now decision, even about small things, requires a Herculean effort which he finds impossible to sustain for longer than a few moments.

–> In addition he may complain that his sight is affected, that objects appear blurred and thrown into shadow. To remedy this he may keep blinking and screwing up his eyes… His everyday glasses need constant readjustment and it is difficult to find a satisfactory pair. This is not surprising since his vision, related as it is to nervous tension, may vary with each examination…. Auditory nerves, oversensitized by fatigue, play similar tricks.

–> Depression is born from emotional fatigue.

–> Obssession is one of the most alarming manifestations of nervous illness and more than any other symptom convinces the sufferer that he must be on the way to madness.

–> When a person knows the way back he loses his fear of becoming ill again. In place of apprehension he now has a confidence nothing can destroy. He may know the way in, but he also knows the way out.. While curing himself, this person must face and overcome the human weaknesses in his character that helped cause illness, so that when cured he is a finer person than before.

–> There is no “point of no return” in nervous illness. A day of deep despair can be followed by a day of hope, and just when you think you are at your worst you can turn the corner to recovery.

–> There must be no self-pity. And this means no self-pity. There must be no dramatization of self in this “terrible state”—no thinking of how little the family understands, how little they realize how ghastly this suffering is. Self-pity wastes strength and time and frightens away those who would otherwise help you. If you are honest with yourself you will admit that some of your self-pity is pride: pride that you have withstood so much for so long.

–> Try not to talk to many and so confuse yourself with different opinions. Choose one wise friend and keep to him… I repeat, holding one point of view will act as a crutch for your tired mind.

–> She might have happy moments, but only time could establish happiness by fading the memories of unhappiness.

–> People react to our opinion of them and very often at toward us as they subconsciously think we expect them to.

–> Wounds that are opened daily heal too slowly.

–> When one remembers that eyesight may also be affected so that landscape may appear thrown into shadow even on a bright day, one can appreciate how easily these people may develop a feeling of withdrawal from the rest of the world.

–> When he finally was freed he said it was as if he had been reborn. Everything now shone as never before. Colors were brighter, more vivid; the blue of the sky seemed exquisite, and a feeling of such happiness and benevolence toward all things welled up within him that he could not bear to hurt even an ant. He has never completely lost that feeling. If you are suffering as this young man, the same reward awaits you. The law of compensation works particularly well after recovery from nervous illness.

–> So much of our suffering is due to memory and habit. We remember what we suffered yesterday and fail to appreciate the difference between reality and memory.

–> It is well to remember that none of us depends entirely on another for our happiness, although we may think we do. It is not the person we love who is responsible for our depth of feeling. This feeling is part of ourselves, is our capacity to love, and it stays with us despite misfortune.

–> Understanding banishes fear for many, and with fear lost the battle is won.

–> We feel guilt because of our own actions, but we can feel disgrace because of the actions of others.

–> Looking forward hopefully with confidence is tremendous help. It draws you past the yesterdays, past today, past the tomorrows until you find recovery.

–> A nervously ill person is so easily bluffed by his feelings of the moment because they are so hard to bear and therefore seem so important.

–> Acceptance calms, tension is relaxed, and interest in the outside world gradually returns.

–> When you walk through the streets wondering if you will ever be in the same world as the passers-by, remember that you will be there just as soon as you lose interest in your world of fear. Do not try to force normal feeling; let time bring it back to you. If others seem to act strangely toward you, practice shrugging your shoulders.

–> Obsession experienced during nervous illness is characterized by repeated, compulsive thoughts or actions.

–> You will never lose your obsession while you are trying hard to do so.

–> Acceptance banishes the nightmarish quality of obsession so that you gradually lose fear of it, and with fear gone, interest goes and you either forget or remembrance holds no terror. This is the surest and most permanet way to cure obsessions… It is the anxiety that tenses, sensitizes, not the thoughts… [don’t think you can’t think these thoughts…]

–> Occupation crucial to recover… organize day in advance… but not as escape mechanism.

–> You do not need some great happiness to bring back joy in living. The little things will do that, as soon as you have eyes to see them.

–> Working out of doors is particularly recommended for depression. The brightness, the expanse of the sky, the absence of restraining walls, the movement, all help to keep spirits raised and troubles in proportion.

–> So your ultimate aim is to remember [your latent nervous illness] without too much fear.

–> The main thing is to make some quick efforts as soon as you open your eyes, so that the early-morning depression cannot establish itself… Leave that bed as soon as you wake.

–> Also, as this happepns, the knowledge that you are recovering brings its own joy and relief and helps you to forget past suffering.

–> It is amazing how, once you change your way of looking at a situation, the situation itself may change.

–> He thinks, “Why should I still have this vague feeling of anxiety, as if something terrible is about to happen? I have nothing to worry about now, why should I feel like this?”…emotional habit.

–> A habit must be broken, a shadow’s shadow lost, and the quickest way to do this is to replace it with other memories, other feelings.

–> Anywhere, at any time during the illness, if we lose our fears, we can step out of it; perhaps not immediately, but in a surprisingly short time.

–> The body will recover as the mind finds peace, and the mind is more likely to find peace when occupied than when brooding.

–> We are usually exhausted more in spirit than in body.

–> The patient is bound to overdo it occasionally, often in the beginning. It is not unusual to find him in a quandry trying to estimate how much work he should attempt so as not to overtire himself. My advice is always the same: while it is unwise to undertake tasks that are obviously too strenuous, it is better to work and risk overtiring yourself than to do nothing for fear of it… Let occupation be your crutch.

–> Give your desire so much concentration that you eventually make it a granitelike determination to succeed. If you take time to do this, your journey to recovery will be winged.

–> 1) Do not run away from fear. Analyze it and see it as no more than a physical feeling. Do not be bluffed by a physical feeling. 2) Accept all the strange sensations connected with your illness. Do not fight them. Float past them. Recognize that they are temporary. 3) Let there be no self-pity. 4) Settle your problem as quickly as you can, if not with action, then by glimpsing and accepting a new point of view. 5) Waste no time on “What might have been” and “If only …” 6) Face sorrow and know that time will bring relief. 7) Be occupied. Do not lie in bed brooding. Be occupied calmly, not feverishly trying to forget yourself. 8) Remember that the strength in a muscle may depend on the confidence with which it is used. 9) Accept your obsessions and be prepared to live with them temporarily. Do not fight them by trying to push them away. Let time do that. 10) Remember, your recovery does not necessarily depend “entirely on you,” as so many people are so ready to tell you. You may need help. Accept it willingly, without shame. 11) Do not measure your progress day by day. Don’t count the months, years you have been ill and despair at the thought of them. Once you are on the right road to recovery, recovery is inevitable, however protracted your illness may have been. 12) Remember, withdrawal is your jailer. Recovery lies on the other side of panic. Recovery lies in the places you fear. 13) Do not be discouraged if you cannot make decisions while you are ill. When you are well, decisions will be more easily made. 14) Never accept total defeat. It is never too late to give yourself another chance. 15) Practice, don’t test. 16) Face. Accept. Float. Let time pass. If you do this, you will recover.

–> The healing power is within you just as strongly as within anyone else, however long you may have suffered… body bears no grudge. It is ready to start the processes of recovery as soon as you step out of its way… All this can be changed by your attitude.

–> A seriously ill person is a somewhat similar type of egoist… shield away from awareness of others, appearing callous and egoistical.

–> Depresses spirits depend so much on outside environment to help them. They have no inner source of joy to support them.

–> Most people say, “I hope I never break down again.” Very few have the confidence to say, “I will never break down again.” I want you to be able to say, and know, that you will never break down again [Fear of Recurring Nervous Illness]

–> I want you to be able to look clearly into the future and know that your only enemy is fear. Fear alone makes you vulnerable. Without fear there could be no future illness…. Nervous illness is only an expression of sustained fear; no more than the exaggerated physical expression of fear, and the fatigue and tension it brings.

–> Especially since you now recognize that unafraid you would be invulnerable to breakdown.

–> “You have two whole weeks before Santa Claus comes, so there is plenty of time to enjoy something else meanwhile.”

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