Float through anxiety

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

Claire Weekes was an Australian doctor born in 1903 who’s books have helped people from all over the world cope with and recover from anxiety. I personally found great solace in her words and her very direct style was what I needed in times of great anxiety.

Dr.Weekes described anxiety sufferers as highly sensitized people, a group she included herself in. She didn’t believe these sensitivities were flaws or necessarily due to traumatic childhood events. She noticed anxious people’s tendency to engage in fear avoidance and destructive thought processes which she believed were just habits that needed changing. She encouraged her patients to allow and accept difficult feelings rather than endlessly fighting with them.

One of her main teaching’s was to ‘float through fear’, which she described as ‘masterly inactivity’. Floating is the act of being, rather than getting lost in self-analysis and the endless struggle against panicked feelings. Dr.Weekes spoke of the feeling anxious people often have of being on the verge of ‘falling apart’, which then results in the tension of trying to ‘hold themselves together.’

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 in order to confront anxiety, which often just creates more tension.

“The average person, tense with battling, has an innate aversion to letting go. They think that if they do, they would lose control over the last vestige of their will power and their house of cards would tumble.”

I recommend reading her books, starting with Self help for your Nerves which was written in 1962, but  for now here is a brief overview of her approach…

1. Do not run away from fear. Allow it as much as you are able. Feelings and thoughts are not facts, do not be bluffed.
2. Accept all strange sensations connected with your anxiety. Do not fight them, float past them and recognize that they are temporary.
3. Try and catch yourself when falling into self pity, and regain perspective.
4. Settle external problems as quickly as you can, if not with action, then by 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 as calmly as you can, not feverishly trying to forget yourself.
8. You may need help so accept it willingly, without shame.
9. Do not measure your progress day by day. Don’t count the months or years you have felt this way and despair at the thought of them.
10. Recovery lies on the other side of panic, so do not withdraw completely.
11. It is never too late to give yourself another chance.
12. Face. Accept. Float. Let time pass.

Dr.Weekes was once asked if she had experienced panic attacks. She replied “Yes, I have had what you call panic attacks. In fact, I still have them. Sometimes they wake me at night.” The interviewer replied “I’m sorry to hear that.” 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!”.

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