A Counterintuitive Method of Battling Anxiety

by | Oct 22, 2021


Some Quick Anxiety Stats

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, about 18% of adult Americans — about 40 million people — suffer from some form of anxiety. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

Common forms of anxiety include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things)
  • Panic Disorder (spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation)
  • Specific Phobias (strong irrational fear reactions that manifest in working hard to avoid common places, situations, or objects even though the sufferer knows there’s no threat or danger)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (experiences of obsessions — which are intrusive or unwanted thoughts , and compulsions — behaviors that the person feels compelled to perform in order to ease their distress or anxiety or suppress the thoughts)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories after something terrible happens)

Dr. Claire Weekes’s Anxiety Prescription

Claire Weekes was an Australian physician who was a pioneer in identifying and treating anxiety. She suffered from crippling anxiety as a young adult which gave her perspective about how to treat it. Her insight was that trying to teach a person suffering from panic associated with anxiety is almost always a losing proposition.

She found that trying to run away from anxeity or fighting it doesn’t work. Instead, it is better to fully experience and acknowledge anxiety and curate skills that allow the patient to pass through to the other side of their panic . Reminiscent of FDR’s statement that “the only thing to fear is fear itself”, Weekes thought a driver of anxiety is a cycle of worrying about worrying. “Fear starts a vicious feedback loop between the mind and the body. They get stuck in a fear cycle. You are in a state because you are frightened of yourself, frightened of the dreadful feeling of fear, frightened of your own symptoms, mental and physical which seem to have consumed you.”

In 1962 Weekes published a book titled Self-Help for Your Nerves, which became an international bestseller, and laid out her prescription for dealing with anxiety and the panic it causes. Her recommended approach for treating anxiety is found in a six-word mantra: Face, Accept, Float, Let Time Pass. Here are the details:

  1. Face your feelings of anxiety and panic. Acknowledge them and don’t run from them.
  2. Accept what is happening and that you are experiencing anxiety.
  3. Float — let your feeling of anxiety, panic, and fear float by — observe your emotions but stay above them.
  4. Let Time Pass — don’t be impatient or upset that things aren’t better, just sit in your discomfort and let things play out.

Each step of this process seems paradoxical at first; we are accustomed to avoiding things that are painful and distressing. But running from our fears can lead to our world shrinking as we structure our lives and interactions so that we can steer clear of those things that trigger anxiety. Trying to avoid anxiety can result in living in fear of experiencing anxiety or having a panic attack — it’s like having a cloud follow you around or waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The site anxieties.com analogizes it as follows:

It’s much like those Chinese finger cuffs we played with as kids. Do you remember them? They were made from a cylinder of thin woven bamboo, just large enough to fit the first finger of each hand into each end. You would give the finger cuffs to an unsuspecting friend and instruct him to place his fingers inside. That was the easy part. When he attempted to remove his fingers, the cuffs tightened. The more he tugged, the tighter the cuffs were. Those darn cuffs defy all logic because they are created paradoxically. To remove your fingers your need to push the bamboo together again with your free fingers, not pull them apart. It is the same with quicksand. If you struggle, you sink. If you remain very still (going against all your instincts), you have your best chance of remaining on the surface.

Weekes’s method of dealing with anxiety has found its way into modern treatment methods such as “acceptance and commitment therapy” (or “ACT”), “dialectical behavior therapy” (or “DBT”), and other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy.

I’ve struggled with anxiety — mainly in the form of OCD. Just like Dr. Weekes counseled, I’ve learned that just fighting against anxiety isn’t effective. Rather, I’ve found that it’s important to learn and practice skills which can help, many of which are similar to Dr. Weekes’s process.

Read more about Dr. Weekes here

Another way to deal with anxiety is to practice breathing exercises. Here’s my favorite: The Relaxing Breath.

Here’s an IFOD on my favorite DBT skill: The GIVE Skill


  1. Frank Herbert summed it up in his epic book “Dune” with the Litany Against Fear:

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

  2. This is essentially a precursor to today’s Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)….although ACT goes further in terms of skills to assist the process, and the importance of positive actions moving towards a meaningful life. Great approach. ‘The Happiness Trap’ by Russ Harris is the ‘self-help’ guide to this approach.

  3. I’m wondering when you read her research because I was told to sit in my discomfort for most of my teen years (and it worked).


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