Monthly Book Review October 2016 – Self Help For Your Nerves
For this month's book review, I've chosen one of the classics, Dr Claire Weekes' “Self Help For Your Nerves”. This book originally written in 1962 has become rather famous in the anxiety relief community.
It's age old wisdom, and the fact that Claire Weekes herself went through her own journey with anxiety means that it's a book written not just by an Authority on the topic, but by an authority with real life understanding which makes it so much more relevant and valuable to those who suffer from bad anxiety.
Who Was Claire Weekes?
Dr Claire Weekes (11 April 1903 – 2 June 1990) was an Australian Doctor, who originally was just a GP, but then just out of the sheer number of cases that she saw which related back to people suffering from some kind of nervous disorder (anxiety), she naturally progressed into becoming specialized in this particular area, and wrote her first book (Self Help For Your Nerves) in 1962, which much later became almost iconic in the anxiety sufferers community for it's wisdom, and practical “how to” value for sufferers.
Weekes is now considered by many as the pioneer of modern cognitively based anxiety treatment, and she continues to be referenced for her work in many modern works on anxiety treatment.
As briefly mentioned, Dr Weekes was originally a GP, but through seeing patients in that capacity she discovered that many of her patients suffered from anxiety related conditions such as what we now know as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Phobias, Agoraphobia, Panic, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
She noticed that many of the patients she received at the time who suffered from these types of problems were simply not getting effective remediation from using the popular psychiatric treatments of the time such as psychoanalysis.
Due to the growing need that she saw first hand in her practice for a treatment that was more effective, Claire Weekes developed her own program, which some state to have similarities with CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, but on a personal note I think it's a much more all encompassing program which Weekes had laid out for her patients and the readers of her books.
The basic premise of Weekes' work and how she viewed her patients, is that they were not experiencing these problems due to a flaw in character or negative childhood experiences (as psychoanalysis would often presume at this point in history), but that people with these issues very often simply had the combination of what she called a sensitized nervous system, and some counter productive habits of fear avoidance. The two often working together to create real problems for the sufferer.
What's This Book About?
If I had to boil it down, I would say this book is for people who are experiencing severe anxiety, and want to know how to get to the other side. It's very old wisdom as I said before, being first printed in 1962, with Claire Weekes not only being an experienced and caring general practitioner, but also someone who'd personally been through her own struggles with severe anxiety.
The book refers to this extreme anxiety state as a “nervous breakdown” although I think that label can be a little dramatic, as there are many different levels of anxiety and dysfunction that can result from a condition of severe anxiety.
That being said, despite the labels, I think that the majority of people who've suffered with any sort of chronic or recurring anxiety issues in their life will recognize some of the symptoms and signs from reading this book, and they will therefore be better equipped in handling and viewing the meaning of these symptoms in future.
The book is broken down into the application of Weekes' methods when applied to what she terms a “simpler form of nervous breakdown” or the “more complicated nervous breakdown”.
The main difference in her definition is that the simpler form of nervous breakdown is simply from too much situational life stress and possibly an already sensitized nervous system (I'll get to my theories on why someone would have a sensitized nervous system in a minute), whereas the complex form could be from some other deep seated issues in lifestyle or one's approach to life.
Both categories are similar in their treatment, and Dr Weekes lays out a very comprehensive plan on how to deal with the overall challenge, and the many symptoms which arise due to the condition (such as jelly legs, fatigue, depletion, feeling spaced out, etc, etc).
While Weekes goes into all the smaller symptoms, and how to think about them, view them and deal with them on a practical level, much of what she is teaching could be encapsulated into the following sentence:
By learning to accept and work with the feelings that we so naturally want to run away from, suppress or escape, we can learn to soothe and heal ourselves, and in the process the feelings become less problematic and over time fade into the background.
Anxiety or not, we don't have to be a victim to these unpleasant states, and can still move forward towards what's healthy for us, and take action towards our goals. In some ways, what Claire teaches in Self Help For Your Nerves and her other books is similar to the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (click for more information on that, opens in a new tab).
As a quick caveat, I also now believe that a lot of anxiety is based biologically, and people are often not aware of that as our culture tends to highlight the areas of childhood trauma, bad parenting, negative life experiences and general stress and over exertion as the usual culprits for anxiety and not look at the whole body/mind connection enough. I think this is changing slowly though, and we're becoming more aware that things like gut health, infections, etc an all attribute to lowered mental health and well being.
For an example I found out earlier this year that I have a blood disorder which means I basically pee out too much Vitamin B and Zinc from my blood stream (amongst other things), this can lower my nutrient levels in ways that affect my mood (anxiety and depression can result, and even worse if it's not managed), this is known as Pyroluria, luckily it's something that's quite easily managed with supplementation over time (see this page if you're interested in reading my story about that).
Anyway, I don't want to sidetrack too much from the review of this great book, but I think it's worth adding, as this is the purpose of healthvibed.com, to look at health from a scientific and holistically intelligent stance. Everything is connected, we certainly can't rule out our biology and how it impacts things like anxiety.
Here is the table of contents taken directly from my copy of the book, which is very old and tattered, so I didn't use that in the above image.
The version I have here is 160 pages, and being the original might be slightly smaller than later editions if they have been updated. It's a standard book layout really, so not too much to note on this aspect of the book.
Main Benefits I Got From Reading
I found this book very comforting when I was going through a particularly heightened period of anxiety about a year back as I write this. I was experiencing many of the symptoms she describes, with intense and unrelenting anxiety and chronic insomnia being the worst of it.
Just to read a book that was so well rooted in time, and was still referred to by many for it's sound advice, and that was able to explain to me that what I was dealing with was well known as being heightened fear and an associated stress response was all very comforting and helpful. If I was going crazy, at least I knew how and why.
A year on since going through the worst of that period, with many things having improved only with some lingering smaller symptoms, I look back on the reading of Self Help For Your Nerves and I think the main thing that sticks with me in terms of the advice of Claire Weekes is that one who suffers from bouts of chronic anxiety like myself mostly benefits from learning practical acceptance of both their symptoms, and themselves as they are going through this state.
Other Good Dr Weekes Material
Apart form Self Help For Your Nerves, I also own a couple more of Weekes' books, and have come across some other good associated resources during my time studying her material.
The below is either from Claire Weekes directly, or it's her work that's been reworded and added to by other sufferers. For example David Paul's book is very good, and he's actually how I first came across the Weekes material.
Here's a small list of additional resources that you might find useful if you have either read or plan to read her seminal work:
- More Help For Your Nerves – Claire Weekes
- Peace From Nervous Suffering – Claire Weekes
- At Last A Life – Paul David
- At Last A Life And Beyond – Paul David
- Claire Weekes Interviews Playlist
Courses and Websites
- Freedom From Fear Course
- David Paul's Blog
If you are someone who's experienced anxiety with any sort of recurrence in your life up until this point, then you might benefit from learning some new attitudes and ways of looking at your fear. I know for myself it's been a long journey, and sometimes I've been going through life doing very well in almost every way, with business, social life, and dating life all doing well and a resulting higher confidence, during those periods I thought I was done with anxiety really.
But without dealing with my fundamental attitudes of trying to control and “be on top of” my anxiety and fear in life, I was always just going to be playing the waiting game, with another period of anxiety coming up again sometime in the future.
It's funny, because I see myself as quite a confident person, and a high achiever, but that doesn't mean I don't feel really anxious often. It seems to me that people don't usually associate the two together. I think that's another preconditioned belief system in our society.
Ultimately I think anxiety can have many many different root causes, and it doesn't always have anything to do with your past, or how confident or competent a person you are, as I said earlier, it can be very much biologically based. Luckily we're learning more and more about that side of things these days, and the general public are becoming more aware of the biological underpinnings of mood.
At the end of the day though, no matter what the cause of your anxiety and how it manifests, I believe having an open attitude towards your experience is very very helpful, and so that's why I still think there's immense value that can be gleamed from reading things like Self Help For Your Nerves, studying Claire Weekes' work, and learning about things like ACT as mentioned earlier.
Discussion On Self Help For Your Nerves
and Other Works Of Claire Weekes
Have you read this book or anything else form Dr Weekes? If so I would love to hear what you think of her material and whether or not it helped you with your anxiety.
Please feel free to mention any related ideas and thoughts on this type of work below, by making a comment! I think with anxiety especially, it's very valuable to feel connected with others and realize that you are not by any means alone (god, just in the USA alone, 18% of the population deals with an anxiety disorder of some type) .
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