Pros: Handy techniques for anxiety sufferers
Cons: Out of date
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 5/25/2002
“Hope and Help for Your Nerves,” by Claire Weekes, leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent. By and large I believe it to be a helpful book, but it does have its drawbacks. With a title such as “Hope and Help for Your Nerves,” it sounds like a book to help people who suffer from anxiety problems. This is also the impression that the back of the book gives, saying that it provides help so that you can “overcome your battle with the anxiety that causes your distress.” The back of the book labels its target audience as those who suffer from “nervous illness.” However, if you start reading, you find that the book really isn’t aimed at people who have anxiety problems. It’s aimed at people who have had “nervous breakdowns,” or who suffer from “nervous exhaustion.” It’s meant for people who have hit the end of their rope.
Does that make it useless to those who suffer from less debilitating anxieties? Hardly. You can still make use of many of the techniques described herein. It saves much confusion, however, if you understand from the start that you aren’t quite her intended audience and should modify her directions accordingly. So, does your heart beat too fast? Do your hands tremble and sweat? Does your stomach churn? Do you suffer from severe tension headaches or insomnia? Do you find the prospect of leaving the house terrifying? Regardless of whether these symptoms seem without cause or stem from some horrible tragedy, Dr. Claire Weekes thinks she can help you.
Time Period Problems
This book does suffer from one major problem. Although the current printing (at least the one I have in my hands) was produced in 1990, the original copyright reads 1969. This means that much of the material is out of date. And yes, this is sometimes a bad thing. To be honest, I would skip chapters 18 through 22 entirely (those dealing with such things as depression and sleeplessness), or at least take them with an awfully large grain of salt. On the one hand, Ms. Weekes’ attitude of “anyone can work their way out of depression if they only know how” is probably very helpful to those who can work their way out of depression on their own.
On the other hand, we know a lot more about the biochemical causes of depression now than we used to, and we now know that some people just really do need help. Ms. Weekes likes to recommend shock therapy for extreme cases (remember, this was written in 1969). These days, there are anti-depressants which are much easier on the patient.
In cases where the patient isn’t likely to be able to pull herself out of a depression, it can actually be fairly damaging to have a doctor tell her that of course she can do it if only she does the right things. Then when she fails, she’s just going to feel that much worse (and decide that things really are her own fault!). In addition, Ms. Weekes maintains that depression is caused by emotional exhaustion. In people with biochemically-based disorders, depression can occur with very little help at all from the patient’s life or surroundings.
This book might rub some people the wrong way because it tends to assume that most women will be housewives. Also, in the section entitled “What Kind of Person Suffers from Nervous Illness?” I get the impression that some of Ms. Weekes’ theories of the development of personalities susceptible to anxiety are a little out of date as well. Just try to keep in mind the time period, apply advice to both genders, and remember that the basic ideas behind most of the advice are sound.
I had a little more hope for all of these issues when I saw that Ms. Weekes had added a brief afterward in 1989. Unfortunately, rather than take the opportunity to update her advice, she only took the opportunity to drop in a few acerbic comments about anti-depressants and over-reliance upon them. She passed up what was a fantastic opportunity to interweave her ideas with modern medicine, and in so doing lowered my estimation of her judgment.
But Can This Book Help You?
This book largely boils down to one overriding idea: instead of fighting your symptoms (and sensations and fears and emotions), you should accept them. Only by truly accepting them and allowing time to pass can you start to relax, and only by starting to relax can you end the cycle of fear and tension. In a way, that seems like a very small thing to fill a decent-sized paperback with. And yet I think the book was handled well.
For one thing, there’s something about the rhythm of the words and the repetition of ideas that’s almost hypnotic. The book reads like one of those self-hypnosis audio-tapes, and this is probably a great way to actually incorporate the ideas rather than learn them superficially. For another, Ms. Weekes does go into plenty of small suggestions, details, tips, and tricks for all sorts of situations. She includes lots of small stories (many of them colorful, which helps to keep the book from being dry and slightly boring). Also, the repetition of ideas does mean that you can simply read the sections that apply to you and not the rest, which would make this a shorter, easier, less repetitious read. Further sections don’t really seem to expect that you’ve read earlier sections.
The only problem with this is figuring out which sections to read. This book really should be divided up into sections above and beyond the chapters. Usually several chapters seem to go together, but this isn’t necessarily obvious from the table of contents.
The Little Details
The writing is fairly good (although the nit-picky part of me dislikes the excess use of italics). My copy of the book is a smallish paperback with thin pages; the type is small and somewhat crammed together. There is an index included.
One other thing it might be helpful to know – this book concentrates on the symptoms of your anxieties, not the causes. For some people this is what they need, and that’s great. For other people, you’ll need to find some other way to work on the root cause of your problems.
All in all I’d call this an average book. It has some good ideas and some very helpful techniques (both author and techniques are apparently quite famous). Unfortunately much of the book is out-of-date, and the author passed up her chance to correct that. I do think this book is handy if you’re having severe anxiety or panic problems, but I would definitely combine it with a trip to a professional who can advise you of additional modern-day options.