Restrictive Eating Behaviour
Restrictive eating behaviour goes beyond what is commonly termed “fussy eating” or “being picky” with food. Restrictive eating can start in young childhood as displaying a preference for a limited diet. As the child grows up, the repertoire of food choices remain small and may even become narrower in response to a various individual and social experiences.
Meal preparation for a young child with restrictive eating disorder can be challenging for the food preparer. The child may prefer to remain hungry when encouraging them to try new food and offering no suitable replacement. As a parent of that child you can then feel that you are neglecting them and failing to give them nutritious meals. The tension at meal times can increase when the food preparer is enthusiastic about cooking and finds that the time spent on your gastronomic delight does little to inspire the child’s appetite to eat it.
As a disorder, restrictive eating has changed from Selective Eating Disorder (SED) to the group term Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorders (ARFID). It can also be termed as a Food Neophobia.
Do you have restrictive eating problems?
With restrictive eating habits, there is usually a sensory aversion to the unwanted food. The appearance of the food, the colour, the presentation, the taste, the texture, the temperature and/or the smell of the food causes disgust or an anxiety response (panic attack). Seeing the food nearby or talking about the food is enough to provoke the negative response.
Generalised avoidance patterns can usually be identified e.g. the fibrous, crunchy or varying textures found in raw fruit, vegetables or meat; the smooth or lumpy textures found in sauces, or the acidic or spicy tastes found in certain fruits or Asian foods.
But the restrictive eater can also have specific and random aversion issues too, usually caused by an individual direct or indirect bad experience. The bad experience is often forgotten, but it continues to direct the aversion. The problem food appearance, flavour or sensation is then difficult to rationalise; it just looks, tastes or smells horrible, feels unpleasant in the mouth, or is difficult to chew or swallow.
Apathy towards food and mealtimes is a natural consequence of these negative reactions. Pressure to eat can trigger anxiety responses which can then become the focus of the aversion.
Can restrictive eating be connected to other eating disorders and phobias?
Parents of children with restrictive eating patterns may become concerned about their potential anorexia, bulimia or binge eating behaviour. However, a child with restrictive eating disorder does not have the same weight and body image issues connected with these other eating disorders. Instead, the lack of nutrition becomes the concern, threatening to affect the physical development of the growing child, and the future health implications for the adult.
Restrictive eating behaviour, however, can be part of a general neophobia (or fear of anything new) and even connected to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Those with a neophobia feel insecure about trying new things and tend to rigidly stick to their already-formed habits or routines. Avoiding the risk of new food with unknown flavours and textures can be just one aspect of a general neophobia.
The term food phobia is sometimes used to describe restrictive eating behaviour since there are common avoidance patterns and the similar negative emotional responses of fear and disgust. But a food phobic person tends to be preoccupied with contamination and hygiene issues. They worry about the hygienic contents of the food, the way the food is prepared, how it is stored or if it is still safe enough (within its use-by date) to be consumed. They believe that if they eat the food, it will cause a bacteria-related illness or food poisoning (sickness and diarrhoea etc.) If an illness has been associated with a problem food, the food type will then be temporarily or permanently avoided in case of further contamination.
Over-generalisations are common with traumatic experiences. When you connect a “cause” to an illness with symptoms of say, diarrhoea, you can be forgiven for wanting to avoid that “cause” ever again to prevent another bout of diarrhoea. If it’s chicken that did the damage, chicken only needs to be “off” once to be convinced that it will always be “off” in the future.
These illogical and mistaken over-generalised connections can be easily made with “bad” food, however. With food digestion being closely related to your emotional state, anxiety can be the real “cause” of symptoms like diarrhoea and not the food that you happened to eat around the time of experiencing your diarrhoea symptoms. When you believe that food is the culprit, it’s difficult to separate cause and effect. You may just blame the food without realising the impact of your anxiety, because food is an easier object to target. You expect to be unwell, and your anxiety makes you unwell.
Your anxiety symptoms can also affect other aspects of digestion, not only diarrhoea. When you forcibly eat food that is “bad” or that you dislike, it can cause muscle tension (spasm) in the upper oesophageal tract (and diaphragm). The result of this spasm is difficulty swallowing the food. The body can react by gagging (retching), choking or feeling nauseas (vomiting). In more severe cases it can even cause persistent vomiting (rumination syndrome). Whilst these symptoms are “normal” reactions under the tense conditions triggering them, nobody wants to react in this way. If you persistently react to a particular food by retching, you will naturally want to eliminate that food from your diet.
Restrictive eating and social anxiety
Without parental and family pressure, a young child with restrictive eating behaviour will focus on their own food choices and accept their own boundaries until they are ready to change. But the growing child will inevitably make comparisons with themselves and how others eat. At around the time of teenagehood, the value system typically shifts towards social standards of acceptance. “Fitting in” during social eating occasions has increasing importance and peer judgement gradually leaks into what you should and shouldn’t eat. Just having “different” eating habits might draw attention and embarrassment, which a teenager with restrictive eating behaviour and social anxiety will want to avoid. It could be a high risk situation adversely reacting to new food with everybody watching you. With social anxiety, it’s as if you are constantly on show, but without wanting to give a performance.
School dinners, the increasing number of friend’s parties and formal dining events become a continuous source of anxiety. There is pressure to eat what everyone else is eating in case you stand out. But the anticipation can start days before the event, not knowing what is on the menu, not liking what is on the menu, being in fear of offending the host if you don’t eat everything served on your plate, or feeling guilty about wasting the money of the person buying the set menu food at a fancy restaurant.
It would seem logical and helpful to communicate your restrictive dietary needs, but the inability to assertively communicate your needs is often part of the (social anxiety) dilemma. Just mentioning the issue is likely to bring you attention. It doesn’t matter if you have praise, encouragement or criticism; you just don’t want to be the focus of any attention.
These internal conflicts in being able to handle the situation will build up your anxiety. Your appetite is usually lost by the time the event arrives. Cancelling with notice or not showing up at all increases the guilt of letting people down and losing friends, and acts as a deeper trauma likely to cause the avoidance of all future social dining experiences.
For those who feel under pressure to attend and try new food that you dislike, a panic attack is likely to trigger the digestive muscular spasm symptoms (gagging, choking etc.) described above. It’s distressing enough being at home and provoking these tension-related symptoms. For the socially anxious person who fears embarrassment, displaying these tension-related symptoms at a formal dining occasion like a family wedding, would cause complete humiliation.
Social anxiety then adds another problematic layer to the restrictive eating behaviour. Having a social trauma with that food (or a different food that has similar properties) will associate a deeper avoidance of future social dining experiences.
What causes restrictive eating behaviour?
The causes of restrictive eating behaviour can be linked to physical, emotional/psychological and socio-cultural factors most influential during childhood.
Some developmental disorders and temperamental traits can be inherited from your parents, predisposing you to develop similar patterns of restrictive eating behaviour in childhood. Research by Schreck at Pennsylvania State University found a higher percentage of children with obsessive compulsive disorder and autism are more likely to have selective eating problems.
Children with acute sensory processing abilities (sensory processing disorder) are likely to overreact to “normal” sensory stimuli. The condition causes certain sights, smells, tastes and sensations to overload how their brain handles sensory inputs. Other research suggests that a small percentage of the population are “super tasters”, possessing a gene that heightens their taste response. Super tasters are overwhelmed by certain taste sensations that “non” or “normal” tasters can manage comfortably.
Some children will acquire their selective eating behaviour by imitating parents (or significant authority figures) that also eat a small repertoire of food. Parents can have a selective eating disorder themselves or may be influenced by hectic lifestyle choices. Convenience food like takeaways tends to be high in saturated fat, sugar and salt with many of the ingredients being overcooked. Children can become conditioned to eat only these flavours and textures. This can then set up an expectation for these flavours and textures that are rejected with healthier home cooking food choices. The pressured parent who wants to feed their child quickly (without meal time conflict) will give children what they know that they will eat, rather than spending time extending their curiosity for new food types.
Some (non food-related) learned experiences can be emotionally destructive to the growing child’s eating patterns. Family traumas like parental rowing and abuse can cause constant fear and insecurity. Since appetites are affected by emotions, a child who feels anxious and insecure during meal times may struggle to eat certain flavours and textures. These foods can then be associated with trauma and avoided because they symbolise family trauma.
Other indirect traumas can be caused by seeing a parent or family member choke on a certain type of food. Without an explanation about why the parent has reacted in this way, the young child might identify the food as the cause of this trauma to their parent and avoid it in the future to be safe from danger.
Direct trauma with food is often the major influence of restricted eating behaviour, where the child concludes that the food is associated with the trauma. If the child has a physical or emotional condition (mentioned above) that initially restricts their eating behaviour, then trying food that is outside the “norm” can overwhelm their sensations and prevent them from wanting to eat that food again. If the food causes an illness (food poisoning) or a physical tension-related symptom (when alone or in public), then this food type will again be avoided.
Parents who possess overly strict eating patterns, are controlling and abusive with food will cause lasting damage to a child’s restrictive eating behaviour. The majority of clients who have sought hypnotherapy treatment from me often recall agonising memories of battles with food involving their parents or other significant authority figures. Being force fed certain food, having to stay at the table for hours until the plate is cleared and being punished for not eating the food are common childhood traumas.
The parents may have been subjected to abuse themselves and continue to inflict these abusive and manipulative patterns on their children. Other parents are just overly enthusiastic about their (lack of) “parenting skills” when it comes to eating methods and stimulating a child’s appetite. By forcing the child to eat at just one meal time, they are unaware of the damage that it is doing in the long term. Insisting that the food is “healthy and good for you!” won’t make the food taste or feel any better. Yes, it’s common for some children to avoid the main course when they know that a dessert awaits them, but the child’s manipulation is usually innocent at a young age. It’s up to the parent to tactfully work around this.
Either way, the emotional conflict that these food wars create becomes the association that the child wants to avoid in the future. Eating this food type again as an adult would “bring the horror story back into their lives”. And a child who is defiant then feels that eating this food as an adult would be a victory for the parent because they historically connect “healthy food” with control and manipulation. It’s not surprising that the defiant growing child then opts to stay “unhealthy” to spite the controlling parent.
Treatment for restrictive eating behaviour
Most restrictive eaters would like to broaden their limited food choices. There can be numerous personal and lifestyle changes that can motivate a desire to overcome the restrictive eating behaviour. For example, reaching teenagehood or young adulthood, being in a new relationship and being a new parent are common situations to encourage a dietary change.
Motives to change restrictive eating often include: the limitations it places on your lifestyle, new healthier eating values, feeling embarrassed about how the restrictive eating appears in public and how the restrictive diet is affecting significant others e.g. your partner or your children. A successful treatment will confront the variety of issues that cause your food aversion and identify progressive realistic and achievable goals.
A combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and systematic desensitisation are conventional approaches used to treat restrictive eating behaviour. The strategies will vary for adults and children. The teenager or adult who chooses to start therapy will arrive with a motive for change. Young children are still responsive to the conditioning patterns offered by their parents. Both the young children and parents will discuss the child’s current restrictive eating behaviour and how it is conditioned by the parents. A treatment plan is discussed and new conditioning strategies can be suggested. For example, the emphasis with young children can focus on offering non-food related rewards (e.g. a sticker) for being curious about tasting food that is new or disliked. It’s important to avoid giving food-related rewards like sweets. The experience should be fun with the parents similarly being involved in the new taster sessions.
Exposure to the new food needs to be repetitive (with trials completed at least once a day) and thus keeping a stock of that food item is essential for continuity. It can take ten attempts with the new food to convert it from a “dislike” to “acceptance”. A parent typically surrenders to a child’s refusal after two attempts and will then give the child what they know they will eat. This prevents “failure” on both parts and reduces food wastage, but the submission is premature for long term gains. When persevering with the food trials, the food doesn’t have to be “loved”, more that the anxiety and tension-related symptoms are alleviated. The new food item can then be “accepted” and can be included into the general meal.
Some parents try to disguise food to reduce the anticipation of rejection. This can have the benefit of minimising strong flavours or rough textures when they are liquidised into a soup for example. The child has already eaten the food that they “dislike” (albeit in a disguised form) and this can be used as a reference to reduce the fearful reaction when they say “I don’t like carrots!” The parent then (smugly) replies “you didn’t object to the carrots in my homemade soup that you’ve been eating on the last ten occasions!” If applied carefully, it can enable the child to separate the “danger” that a disliked food might cause them. There is a risk however. When outsmarting the child too frequently or too obviously (when the carrot isn’t disguised enough), the child can feel betrayed and will distrust not only the parent’s future cooking, but other’s attempts to control what they want to eat. It’s far better to gain their approval with trials, praising being curious with new food and ignoring their refusal of a food. Criticising the refusal will hinder their progress.
Another useful way to encourage children’s curiosity with food is to involve them in the preparation, cooking and serving of food. This can still be done with some of the food that they dislike e.g. using a selection of liked and disliked food to top a pizza. This helps children be creative with food, learn about textures, and how food changes in flavour and appearance when it is being cooked. Again, they should not be forced to eat the disliked food, more that they gradually get used to it being present. When they are involved in family meal preparation, it gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership with the food that can transfer into curiosity and acceptance in the long term.
How can hypnotherapy help restrictive eating behaviour?
My hypnotherapy treatment for selective eating behaviour incorporates cognitive behavioural therapy approach to challenge negative attitudes and systematic desensitisation to encourage graduated exposure to disliked foods.
Hypnotherapy is used to reduce anticipatory anxiety and control the anxiety reactions when sampling the food. Positive visualisation of food eaten can accelerate the food trials, acting as pleasurable experiences that have already been practised in reality. Regression is also used to remove past negative “causes” of an aversion, releasing the beliefs that are contributing to an emotional block with disliked food.
For more information on treatment for your restrictive eating behaviour in Cardiff, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Spider Phobia Treatment Cardiff
One of the most common and oldest recorded phobias is a spider phobia (or arachnophobia). The term is derived from the Greek terms “arachne” meaning spider and “phobos” meaning fear. Whilst the term is usually associated with spiders, it also includes other arachnids including daddy long legs and scorpions.
Arachnophobia in UK
In UK, almost one in five people admit to being terrified of spiders. However, the research doesn’t say what percentage of the sample is too embarrassed to admit that they have a spider phobia!
Are UK spiders dangerous? Some UK spiders are known to bite, but their venom is considered harmless.
Spider phobia symptoms and reactions
The fearful reaction that is common with all phobias (including an intense fear of spiders) is a panic attack. Your panic reaction can seem disproportionate to the actual danger that confronts you, but “knowing” that the actual harm you face is minimal doesn’t ease your severe emotional response.
The panic response can include, but is not specific to:
- A racing heart rate and stress induced chest pains
- Breathlessness (rapid and shallow breaths)
- Sweating and hot/cold flashes
- Trembling and Dizziness
- Confusion and hysteria
- Nausea and other gastrointestinal tension
The role of anticipation with your spider phobia
The panic reaction is generally acute when actually confronting your phobic object (a spider). Where you see the spider and experience the panic attack can then become a fearful location in which you anticipate seeing the spider again. Your fearful mind is trying to protect you from yet another “trauma” by generating anxiety symptoms, so you feel the breathlessness and the rapid heart rate etc. as you approach the (previous traumatic) location. You now distrust the location and avoid it, whether there is a spider there or not. Your anxiety symptoms predispose you to believe that you will see another spider because your “instincts” are being emotionally influenced by fear. At this advanced stage of your spider phobia management, others might say that you are becoming paranoid! You are just responding to how your brain has become wired to deal with spider fear.
In addition to location traumas, there are other associations that you will instinctively make. The season in the year can be a significant trigger for anxiety. Feelings of apprehension can creep up on you, leaving you confused about having Seasonal Affective Disorder or some background virus and then you remember that “spider season” in UK is around autumn (early September until mid October). This is when the outdoor temperatures drop and male spiders seek their mates in warmer indoor locations.
With advanced spider phobias, generalised anxiety (to unrelated issues) can raise your irritability and expectations that you will confront a spider. It’s as if the more anxious you are, the more spider-paranoid you become. You may even have “arachne”-related dreams that are part of your unconscious mind symbolising your anxious connection with spiders.
Spider Phobia: Home used to be a safe place
Progressively, as you are traumatised by seeing spiders, you become more alert to their whereabouts. You want to stay ahead of yourself, so you ask others where they have come across them and label their account as a potential danger. Google is a great place to traumatise yourself further because, still in avoidance mode, you are drawn towards topics that confirm that spiders are a threat to your emotional wellbeing. Your mind is filtering “in” the content that confirms your beliefs about spiders.
With your hyper vigilant action plan, you then compulsively cleanse popular spider assembly areas before you can relax. You might approach the location armed with a long vacuum cleaner and frantically suck up cobwebs as you go. Or you send your “spiderphiliac” loved ones to thoroughly investigate and purify the location first.
Here are some of the popular spider assembly danger areas:
- Under and behind furniture including sofas and under your bed
- Confined spaces with limited exit points such as cupboards, attics or basements
- Outdoor areas such as the shed or garage
- In the ceiling corners of a room
- Various places in the bathroom or toilet
- Near holes, crevices and cracks in walls (all of which need to be sealed)
- Outdoor areas of clutter, debris or vegetation
If you believe that harming a spider is cruel, this may compromise your ability to take assertive action over the spider. You may have access to a “spider catcher”, but you struggle to maintain the dexterity to use it when you are trembling with fear.
For many people, home is the safe place where you close the door and recover from a stressful day, but with a spider phobia, home becomes a restless and insecure place which needs your constant hyper vigilance to feel safe.
Spider pranks, social anxiety and other phobias
Even though your own spider phobia panic reaction can seem illogical, your panic attack can also seem highly irrational to those around who do not have a spider phobia. Unfortunately, their lack of compassion can make you a victim of their practical jokes. I have treated many arachnophobes who have retold their accounts of friends (I use the term “friends” loosely here!) who have placed a toy spider (and worse!) down the spider phobia sufferer’s back just to get a kick out of their startle response. Don’t ask me what their enemies have previously done to them!
These experiences can be traumatic for the spider phobic sufferer. When you have social anxiety (social phobia), you generally struggle to cope with embarrassment, humiliation, negative attention and judgement. The effect of these social traumas (or when having social anxiety as a separate issue) can elevate the spider phobia from a simple phobia into a complex phobia. A complex phobia combines additional layers of distress and avoidance where one established phobia can overlap with the anxiety from another established phobia or fear. In this case, it’s the additional embarrassment of displaying your spider phobia panic reaction to others, which makes the situation even more difficult to manage; even more traumatising.
New phobias can also develop from the reactions of an untreated already-established spider phobia. With a spider phobia, you can become progressively claustrophobic, particularly if you have been in rooms, seen spiders near the exit points and then struggled to leave the room quickly enough to feel safe. These traumatic situations build up the “withdrawal urgency” typically experienced in a (claustrophobic) panic attack when someone hastily flees the source of the fear. Over time, this learned response becomes automated; you see a spider and then dash away from the area knocking down people as you go, just to feel calm again!
Progressively, with these automated reactions, when you feel generally anxious or feel confined in a location, it’s as if your subconscious mind is telling you to “move from your location to feel relaxed” as you have done previously with confined spider traumas. This process can start to link to new confined situations which previously had only low levels of anxiety e.g. when having a dental procedure. When you now have dental treatment and need to stay put to have a filling, you feel tenser than ever before. You associate into your “rapid withdrawal response” and feel claustrophobic, desperate to get out of the dentist’s chair to feel calm again. The untreated spider phobia is entrapping more situations, more triggers and more avoidance reactions that will reinforce your need to run away from danger, but the list of dangerous situations is growing.
Fear and disgust with spiders
Although the fear reaction is considered illogical, people may not appreciate that there can also be a disgust response mixed in with the panic reaction. The internal disgust reaction associated with spiders can be so hideously repulsive, that you can then fear it being triggered. The mix of fear and disgust can vary between spider phobia sufferers, but it adds another layer of distress to the panic reaction. Disgust can be associated with anything, but in this case, it’s the sight of spiders and what you imagine that they could do to you that overwhelms you.
Most spider phobias are started in childhood. The imagination is so vivid at this young age, that a child will traumatise themselves with ghoulish images of spiders doing ghastly things. As a child, these “horror movies” then leak into your dreams giving you nightmares about it. It’s common to be awoken in a panic imagining the object of fear near you. Even worse is a nightmare where you are in contact with this fearful object, something that is likely to make your skin shiver with disgust. It’s a dream that was terrifying as a young child and remains terrifying as an adult, even though you can appreciate that the dream is just a dream.
At this young age, the child’s conscious mind is not able to contain these fearful and disgusting boundaries. They become installed as “video nasties” that will have a huge emotional impact on your behavioural reactions to spiders as you age. By the time you are old enough and your conscious mind is ready to challenge it with irrationality, the emotional mind-set is already in place. Even when the conscious mind is ready to challenge it, the challenges tend to be inadequate because they tend to lack emotional intensity to have any effect on it. For many spider phobics, some of these images remain as the peak of emotional distress that combines both fear and disgust together.
Causes of a spider phobia
Spider phobias are generally learned by personal direct traumas and indirect traumas from authority figures. Biology may also be a cause of your arachnophobia. Click this link for more information on the causes of a phobia.
Treatment for a spider phobia
Medication from your GP may be used to alleviate the short term effect of a panic attack or general anxiety caused by long-term uncontrolled exposure to spiders. It’s common to combine medication with therapy involving relaxation techniques, visualisation and controlled exposure.
How can hypnotherapy treat your spider phobia?
Phobia sufferers are very responsive to hypnosis (you can try this hypnosis test to assess your level of suggestibility). You can benefit from a combined approach including, visualisation techniques, regression to remove the cause, controlled exposure and anxiety (panic) control to assist the removal of your fear of spiders. There is more information in this link on how hypnotherapy can treat your phobia.
For more information on treatment for your spider phobia in Cardiff, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Phobia and Fear Treatment Cardiff
Definition of phobia and fear
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Fear is a natural emotion that helps protect you from imminent or real danger. A phobia is an anxiety disorder that causes you to feel intense fear of an object, situation, place, or living organism. In contrast to the level of danger commonly felt with a fear, the reaction with a phobia is more severe, usually triggering a panic attack. With a fear you may cautiously interact with the object or situation but with a phobia, the intensity of your anxiety influences the way that you lead your life. When you have a phobia, you mould your lifestyle to avoid the object or situation, even though the imagined danger is usually far greater than it actually is in reality.
How common are phobias?
Some phobias that develop during childhood can be short term and can disappear within a few months. However, 80% of phobias that progress into adulthood can become chronic and need to be treated. Approximately 10 million people in the UK have a phobia, and the sufferers can be of any age, sex, and social background. You may feel embarrassed about having a phobia, but you are certainly not alone however remote your phobia might be.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Types of phobias
Phobias can be divided into 2 main types:
- Specific or simple phobias
- Complex phobias
Specific or Simple Phobias
Specific or simple phobias are an irrational fear caused by the thought or presence of a single specific object or situation. The phobia usually develops at a young age, and as you grow into adulthood, its intensity may become less severe. As an adult with a phobia, you can appreciate that your panic reaction is usually disproportionate to the actual danger you are in, but you are still unable to prevent your reaction from overwhelming you.
Specific or simple divided into the following types:
- Animal phobias: these are the most common, and can include being afraid of anything living such as a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), fear of dogs (cynophobia), fear of snakes (ophidiophobia) or a fear of insects (entomophobia).
- Situational phobias: these can occur in response to a specific situation such as a fear of flying (aerophobia), fear of visiting the dentist (dentophobia), or fear of being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).
- Natural environment phobias: these can include examples such as a fear of water (hydrophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of storms (astraphobia), or a fear of contamination or germs (mysophobia).
- Blood-injection-injury phobias: this category can include a fear of blood (haemophobia), a fear of needles or invasive medical procedures (trypnophobia) and fear of injury (traumatophobia). These are specific fears that evoke the emotion of disgust and anxiety. They can also cause a further fear of fainting.
- Other phobias: these can include various fears such as a fear of falling (basophobia) or fear of costumed characters such as clowns (coulrophobia).
These phobias have an overwhelming effect on an individual’s life and mostly develop during teenagehood and adulthood, although the roots of the phobia can be caused in childhood. These are commonly divided into 2 types:
Social phobia: This is also known as Social Anxiety Disorder, and is affiliated with feeling extremely shy or anxious in social situations. With a social phobia, your “danger” is focused on another person’s negative reaction. Thus, you fear embarrassment, humiliation, attention, judgement and intimidation from other people. In its generalised form, all aspects of social interaction are affected by anxiety and can also be combined with introversion where you feel even more anxious in the presence of larger groups. In its specific form, social phobia can affect individual situations such as meeting new people or eating in public. It can also be characterised by performance anxiety situations e.g. when public speaking (or performing in front of an audience), during exams, interviews, in sports performance and in sexual performance situations. When you have an individual phobia and a social phobia to cope with, the social phobia adds another layer of “embarrassment” anxiety. You fear drawing negative attention to yourself with a public display of your panic attack. With an individual phobia and social phobia, great effort is also placed on hiding your anxiety symptoms, since you don’t know who to trust with this information or whether you will be taunted or bullied by your peers.
Agoraphobia: This is commonly associated with the fear of open spaces but can include numerous fears which ultimately leave the sufferer housebound. Before a complex agoraphobia develops, individual phobias and/or a social phobia may combine to gradually affect the sufferer. Other fears that can activate the agoraphobia include a fear of loneliness (monophobia), a fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) which conditions a hurried exit from the situation to a safe place (usually your home), and health anxiety (hyperchondriasis) – the fear of that your anxiety symptom is a more harmful condition. As these fears and avoidance strategies progress, panic disorder can surface where the panic attacks can seem random and unexpected. Your home becomes the “safe place”, but journeys from home can vary from individual to individual depending on the method of travel, distance from home, the activity upon arrival, the situation, time of day, whether you can trust your company during the journey and/or upon arrival. When agoraphobia is untreated, the anticipation of leaving the house can trigger the panic attacks meaning that your home is no longer your safe place.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: What causes a phobia?
There are numerous causes of a phobia ranging from direct trauma, parental influences and genetics. Follow this link more information on the causes of a phobia.
Diagnosis and prognosis of a phobia
Most specific or individual phobias are not formally diagnosed by a doctor. As the condition develops in childhood, you are often told by parents or other authority figures that you have a phobia. As a young child, you live “within” the condition, guided by your parents’ reactions and management of your phobia. Their diagnosis or lack of diagnosis could be influenced by the existence of their own phobias which biases their reaction to you e.g. if they have a social phobia they are more likely to protect you from embarrassment, advising you to avoid a social situations where you could be exposed to “embarrassment” harm.
Following their informal diagnosis and you grow older as a child, you will then research your own condition for confirmation of your behaviour, symptoms and potential coping strategies. Avoidance is the common short-term coping strategy but each retreat only serves to reinforce the power of the phobia over you.
Shock is a common reaction to the diagnosis of a condition as you begin to come to terms with the full meaning of a phobia. As a growing child, avoidance may continue to dominate your behaviour even with your progressive understanding of the phobia. Assessing possible solutions to your phobia can be met with indecision because the commitment necessary to confront it can build anticipatory anxiety when the situation beckons. The accumulation of anticipatory anxiety itself can “flood” your response to the phobic situation, overwhelm you and create yet another traumatic setback in your self help phobia treatment plan; your anticipatory anxiety feelings justify your avoidance instincts.
Fear of embarrassment may play a central role in the prognosis of a simple phobia through teenagehood as your value system shifts towards the approval of your peers. Again with a social phobia you can rationally understand how it is affecting you, yet still feel helpless to deal with the negative attention that it can generate.
Between teenagehood and adulthood, some phobia sufferers can react with denial or shame until you are able to fully accept how the condition is affecting you. To admit that you have anxiety might be considered a weakness by your peers and be a target for bullying. This adds more anxiety in those situations where your panic reaction could be visible to your peers e.g. when speaking in public.
A fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is a demanding situation for many people. When you add social anxiety, it can expose the common social phobia symptoms like blushing and shaking to your peer audience. It can also affect the control of your speech with tension felt in the diaphragm and vocal chords, leaving you breathless when you are desperately trying to sound confident. The effort to suppress these symptoms becomes a distraction to the skills needed to speak in public, but are considered the priority for the social phobia sufferer.
A fear of public speaking is a phobic situation that can span school, undergraduate study and your adult career. Public speaking traumas from school can leave avoidance footprints throughout this period, influencing you to avoid undergraduate presentation tasks, or job applications (or promotions) that specify public speaking in the new role. Where there is the opportunity to delegate, you will justify it as being good development for the subordinate staff.
If the growing need to confront your phobia hasn’t sabotaged your career opportunities, the damage that it can do to your relationships may serve as a “wake up call” to treat certain phobias. In a new relation, the early motivation of the “honeymoon period” can easily mask a deeper social phobia, with shyness appearing as an endearing quality. During this stage of relationship bliss, the anxiety is temporarily “transferred” to your partner as you both push emotional boundaries and are being supported by the other partner to be your “best” person. As the honeymoon period fades, the social anxiety “returns” to its original owner with the declining desire to socialise if the social phobia has not been overcome. The social phobic partner hopes that their gregarious partner is accepting of these changing relationship dynamics or the relationship can be strained with a diminishing desire to socialise together.
Even a flying phobia can impact on a couple’s holiday arrangements and be a source of relationship break down for intolerant partners. Indeed, there are solutions to enjoy holidays together without the need for flying, but the pressure to overcome a phobia is again brought into the limelight with a new family. Parents are aware of how young children can easily learn and imitate phobic behaviour. In an attempt to avoid guilt and shame, this can be a time to motivate the phobic parent to confront the phobia. A phobia held for many years is still treatable, but the treatment now has a long history of conditioned avoidance to work through. The treatment also has to take into consideration the time pressures of working and a family lifestyle that limit the time necessary for graduated exposure to the phobia and its benefits to alleviate it.
During adulthood, the consolidation of personality traits and other mental health conditions can reinforce the affects of a phobia e.g. anger may be communicated as a defence strategy to mask the embarrassment of the phobia or some OCD issues can attach themselves to the phobia forming deeper ritualised patterns of avoidance.
But despite the potential restrictions that a phobia can cause you, your family and your lifestyle, the growing awareness and tolerance of a phobia as a mental health issue can mean that your phobia can still be supported. As you learn to live with your phobia and justify your avoidance, those people close to you can, where possible, change their lives so that you are protected from the distress of your panic attack.
What are the major common symptoms of a phobia?
A panic attack is the acute anxiety condition common with all phobias. You can feel specific symptoms whenever you encounter the object or situation of your phobia. In some cases, you can also experience milder symptoms just by thinking about that object or situation. The severity of your individual anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person.
Psychological anxiety symptoms can include:
- Extreme feelings of fear: these will be intensified as you get closer to your specific phobia object or situation.
- Irrational thoughts: you can appreciate that what you fear does not affect other people in the same way; and that the likelihood that the feared experience is going to actually happen is very remote; and that your fearful reaction is usually disproportionate to the degree of actual harm that you are in, yet this still does not alleviate the severity of your response.
- Hopelessness, frustration and confusion: the conflict of these emotions tearing away at your mind can leave you feeling helpless, anxious and embarrassed.
Physical anxiety symptoms can include:
- Dizziness, light headedness, and nausea when facing your phobia.
- Excessive sweating and an increase in heart rate/palpitations.
- Shortness of breath and shaking.
- An upset stomach (nervous diarrhoea) or IBS is also a common.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Common Phobia Treatments
For many people the common self help phobia treatment is avoidance. If the phobic object or situation rarely affects your life then avoiding it (in the short term) will give you a feeling of control. Connected to avoidance is delegation with certain specific phobias. Getting someone else to remove a spider with a spider phobia (in the short term) is an effective way of minimising anxiety. Changing your lifestyle to minimise exposure can seem drastic to non-phobia sufferers but would only be done out of necessity to reduce long term suffering.
After avoidance, delegation and lifestyle changes to minimise exposure, the next level of treatment approach can include a combination of attending self-help groups and self-initiated exposure therapy. With simple phobias, creating a hierarchy of graduated exposure situations can take time to work through but with the effective use of relaxed breathing techniques or mindfulness, it can prevent the “flooding” of intense anxiety. Flooding (when the participant is not prepared) can cause traumatising setbacks in the alleviation of a phobia.
Complex phobias and agoraphobia are usually more difficult for the sufferer to objectively confront and work through by yourself, unless you understand your belief system and can stage graduated exposure situations that don’t generate internal conflicts. This is where certain talking therapies like counselling or CBT can be helpful, creating an understanding of your beliefs and conflicts so that you can then progressively confront your phobia.
Medication such as tranquilisers is not usually helpful for phobias but they can reduce the short term effect of a recent traumatic exposure of anxiety. Beta-blockers can reduce the effect of panic when you know that you are about to confront a phobic situation e.g. when public speaking. Antidepressants are more beneficial with certain long terms situations found with complex phobias and agoraphobia. The use of any medication should be done in consultation with your GP.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Treating phobias using Hypnotherapy
You may tell yourself that the source of your phobia does not pose an actual threat, however, your mind and body will still react with fear because your phobic reaction exists at the subconscious level. Hypnotherapy is a technique that allows you to understand and disconnect the cause of your phobia. It can help you communicate with your subconscious mind to change how you feel towards the phobia. Under hypnosis, you will feel extremely relaxed while still being in control allowing you to confront your fears without actual exposure trauma. Follow this link for more information on how you can treat your phobia and fear with hypnotherapy.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: for more information contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy
Are you ready to treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy?
Avoidance of a fearful situation is a natural, short-term response to feel safe. In the long-term however, the avoidance behaviour can leave you helpless and stuck with a situation that is far more challenging to overcome. When you are ready to confront your phobia, you have decided at some level that avoidance is no longer the best option for you.
Your decision to overcome your phobia or fear may have been prompted from an external situation or forthcoming lifestyle change. I often ask my clients their reasons for confronting their phobia and fear. They include health changes, internal conflicts, despair, embarrassment, relationship issues, travel arrangements, study needs, conflicts within your family, fear that your children will learn your phobic response, general lifestyle changes, promotion at work or potential situations in your next job.
Whatever your motive to change, you can live your life freely with your anxiety in the distant past when you want to treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy.
How will your phobia be treated?
A previous BMJ publication by Vickers and Zollman gave a clinical review of existing research on hypnosis and relaxation therapies. It concluded that there is good evidence from randomised controlled trials that hypnosis is an effective treatment for phobias and fears.
My treatment therapy will essentially use a variety of hypnotic techniques to help you overcome your phobia and fear. Some types of phobias need a different treatment approach e.g. when treating a fear of fainting compared to a fear of spiders. In addition to this, each client also brings different core beliefs and issues into the treatment process. These need to be analysed to find the most appropriate hypnotic solution.
Hypnotherapy treatment techniques can involve strategies such as removing the emotional “cause” of your phobia or fear, anxiety control, and changing the thoughts, emotions and behaviour connected to your phobia. The treatment will also apply methods used in CBT and controlled exposure to ensure that you are benefitting from other effective processes used to alleviate phobias and fears.
Can you treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy if you have an uncommon phobia or fear?
Some of the more common phobias and fears include:
- Agoraphobia – commonly considered as a fear of open spaces, but is characterised by the fear of leaving home. When you are outside, you fear having a panic attack in a confined space or around other people where you would feel extreme embarrassment. The need to rush home to your “safe” place exacerbates the agoraphobia.
- Arachnophobia – a fear of spiders.
- Phonophobia – a fear of loud noises from any source e.g. balloons, fireworks, car engines, thunder etc.
- Phagophobia – a fear of swallowing usually when eating food but can also be experienced with liquids or saliva.
- Emetophobia – a fear of being sick, your own or somebody else’s vomit.
- Pseudodysphagia – a fear of choking, sometimes related to phagophobia.
- Vaginismus – a fear of pain with vaginal penetration or intercourse.
- Aerophobia – a fear of flying.
- Toilet phobia – also known as parcopresis. This fear of defecation in a public place can also be related to irritable bowel syndrome.
- Urination phobia – also known as paruresis, shy bladder syndrome, bashful bladder and pee shyness.
- Social phobia – fear of embarrassment, attention, judgement, and humiliation.
- Claustrophobia – a fear of confined spaces.
- Acrophobia – a fear of heights.
- Mysophobia – a fear of germs or contamination commonly associated with obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Pyrophobia – a fear of fire.
- Xenophobia – a fear of strangers.
- Entomophobia – a fear of insects.
- Speksophobia – a fear of wasps.
- Cibophobia – a fear of food. Food is avoided to minimise illness (contamination) or vomiting (emetophobia). It can also be called a selective eating disorder when there is a disgust/panic/choking response with certain food types. It can also be mistaken for anorexia.
- Gamophobia – fear of commitment, affecting long-term relationships but can affect other lifestyle situations such as long contract work, mortgaging a house and staying in one city location.
- Hydophobia – a fear of water and drowning.
- Ophidiophobia – a fear of snakes
- Panic disorder – a fear of panic attacks which can be associated with hypochodriasis, medical anxiety and health anxiety.
- Hemophobia (blood phobia), trypanophobia (injections phobia) and traumatophobia (injury phobia) which can develop a fear of fainting or passing out.
If your phobia or fear is obscure and is not listed as a common phobia, you can still treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy. Your phobia and fear will have a sensitising event and subsequent reactions in which you have associated your panic attack. The acute anxiety or panic attack is common with all other phobias and fears. The treatment will analyse your individual background experiences and disconnect your panic response using some of the same hypnotherapy techniques discussed in this article.
Are phobia sufferers receptive to hypnosis?
There are many intra-personal and inter-personal factors that can influence how receptive you are to hypnosis, including a strong desire and commitment to change your behaviour. When you have made the decision to seek professional help from a hypnotherapist, you are already a step closer to being open to therapeutic hypnotic suggestions. What then happens during your treatment will continue that process to its resolution.
When I look back at the profiles of my previous phobia clients, almost all of them have been highly responsive to hypnosis. Does this reliably mean that phobia sufferers can be hypnotised easily? Studies from Stanford University state that phobia sufferers “tend to score high on hypnotic susceptibility scales and… respond favourably to hypnotic intervention.”
Are phobia sufferers generally treatable? In the same article, a psychologist Joseph Barber, PhD considers that the source of a problem and its resolution can conveniently originate from the same place. “The very capacity that lends itself to developing the problem is the same that lends itself to solving it.” Barber considers the learning of phobias as “environmentally suggested anxiety”; which means that the anxiety can be effectively un-learned or relearned with the use of external therapeutic suggestions. You can assess your level of suggestibility using this hypnosis test.
What happens in your first phobia and fear hypnotherapy consultation?
The first important stage in your phobia and fear treatment is to analyse your individual phobic or fearful situation. This is conducted in the early stage of the first consultation but can also continue through your treatment as new issues are uncovered. Every situation can be different and this process ensures that your treatment is individualised to your specific needs. The process includes the following:
Establish the history of your direct and indirect traumas: This usually answers the “how and why” you have arrived at your phobic or fearful situation. Sometimes this is obvious with direct traumas, but with complex situations like agoraphobia, it may involve a number of issues. By understanding this pathway, it helps you to appreciate how your sensitising events have affected you and continues to inhibit the achievement of your goal (the removal of your phobia).
Identify any conflicting beliefs and emotions: Other beliefs and emotions (outside of your specific phobic or fear) may have contributed to your phobic situation. For example, during your teenage years, defiance may have added anger into your coping strategies when people tried to control how you should deal with your insect phobia. So anger and anxiety are now triggered when you confront insects because you anticipate people interfering with how you will cope with your phobic situation. Or social anxiety during your teenage years may have added embarrassment into trying to confront your wasp phobia. So now when you have to cope with the fear from wasps, you also feel embarrassment from your anticipated peer’s judgements.
Examine your coping strategies: In most cases, the (negative) coping strategies that you have previously employed have gradually transformed your fear of a situation into the current phobic situation with panic attacks. With repetition sustained over a long time period, your reactions have now made your coping strategies automated even though you try your best to keep yourself safe from perceived danger. This build up of avoidance reactions can create a complex phobic situation especially when it involves more than one fear. Aviophobia (fear of flying) can involve direct flight-related traumas, but it can also be a complex situation that involves a number of fears e.g. a fear of heights, fear of confined spaces and social anxiety. In order for you to maximise the effective use of your new therapeutic coping strategies and prevent “flooding” of anxiety, this process is made easier when a complex phobic situation has been analysed.
Define your treatment pathway: In response to the analysis of these specific and wider issues that impact on your phobia and fear, your treatment plan can then be formulated to ensure that it is individualised and goal-oriented.
How can hypnotherapy treat your phobia and fear?
Listed below are some of the ways that you can benefit when you are ready to treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy:
- Treat your phobia and fear in a controlled environment
Hypnotherapy offers you the opportunity to confront your fears in a controlled and detached environment, limiting the amount of exposure to your situation so that you are not overwhelmed (flooded) with panic. Hypnotherapy also allows you to safely deal with your fears and the removal of your panic response at an unconscious level. You can accept positive suggestions without interference of your conscious mind.
- Control of your anxiety and panic response
You may not feel that you have conscious control over your phobic response but appreciate that you have ownership of your reaction; it’s yours to change. Your hypnotherapy treatment will help you to alleviate your panic symptoms that cause you to feel so traumatised when confronting your phobia and fears. For example breathlessness (hyperventilation) is a common symptom of panic. After learning relaxed breathing techniques, these techniques will be incorporated into your hypnosis treatment so that your breathing rate and breathing style can be calmer when you are ready to deal with your phobic situation. Other symptoms like palpitations, shaking, profuse sweating etc. will also be alleviated in your hypnotherapy treatment.
- Treat anticipatory anxiety
With some anxious situations, the build up to the situation can be as bad (if not worse) than the actual demands needed to cope with the situation. Your anxious mind will instinctively play any number of random “what if…” scenarios where you meet your doom. Learning to cope with anticipatory anxiety is integrated into your phobia treatment so that you can disconnect the anxious build up to the phobic situation. You can then apply your positive resources when it is needed during the phobic situation.
- Dissociate your disgust or nausea response
Fear and panic dominate most phobias, but your panic response may combine with (or be specific to) a disgust reaction. When your disgust response is triggered, it creates such an overwhelming, internal feeling of revulsion that you are then unable to cope with this emotional response and you fear it being activated by your phobic object or situation. Disgust reactions are common with certain phobias such as a fear of vomiting, fear of insects, fear of holes, fear of germs, fear of blood, etc. They can also contribute to a penetration phobia (vaginismus) depending on your individual background history. Dissociating your emotional disgust reaction is essential for you to overcome this type of phobia.
- Treat your fear of fainting with a blood phobia, injection phobia or injury phobia
About 15% of the population have an in-built fainting response (some people sense it before fainting, whilst with others it happens spontaneously). Physiologically, fainting occurs when blood pressure spikes due to the initial anxiety and then suddenly drops, causing blood to be diverted away from the brain. There numerous physiological explanations (e.g. vasovagal response) and self protective psychological theories why a fainting response is activated. Fear and disgust are the emotions responsible for the creation of a blood, injection or injury phobia. If you have previously fainted or near fainted, it can then trigger this additional fear with the insecurity and embarrassment that can accompany it. Your hypnotherapy treatment is specific to keeping your blood pressure raised as you confront your fears and inhibit your fainting response. This particular hypnotherapy treatment technique is a method also used in The Applied Tension Technique.
- Assisted desensitisation (controlled exposure)
When you research how to treat phobias, you will see the term desensitisation or controlled exposure appear time and time again. Desensitisation is an effective way of treating phobias. By itself however, this method can be cumbersome and time consuming. Hypnosis can offer you the positive mental rehearsals that act as accelerated controlled graduated exposure away from the phobic situation. So when you are ready to progressively deal with your fearful situation, you will feel as if you have already done the practise with the appropriate positive mindset. When combining hypnosis with desensitisation, you can expect a rapid progression your phobia and fear solution.
- Treat the causes of your phobia and fear (sensitising event)
This technique is favoured less by solution focused hypnotherapists who tend to disregard the influence of the past on the treatment of a phobia. The sensitising event holds the repressed emotions contained in the memories that “cause” the phobia and generates the anticipatory anxiety (panic attack) when confronting similar future incidents. When the emotions contained in the sensitising event are released (as an abreaction), it can have a dramatic effect on the alleviation of your phobia. This technique uses regression to identify the experiences just before the sensitising event so that the unconscious details of the trauma (e.g. beliefs held at that time and conflicts that influenced the learning of the anxious response) can be studied and reframed. When you remove the roots, you set free everything above the ground to allow new positive resources to be planted. The Rewind Technique can sometimes be used with some clients with the same purpose of reframing the traumatic emotions contained within the sensitising event or panic attack.
- Visualisation of your desired positive experience
Visualisation is a powerful tool that can launch you towards the achievement of your goal. When you visualise positive change, you are creating the network of neural pathways that can be accessed more easily when you are in that situation. Hypnosis is a relaxed state where the depth of visualisation is enhanced. When you visualise in hypnosis, it’s as if you are passing those “real” imagined experiences down into your unconscious mind to help it accept that this is the new reality without actually being in the experience. Put another way, you are accessing the necessary “in-vivo” controlled exposure that can sometimes be difficult to access in real life situations. For example, when you have a wasp phobia and you want to practise your relaxation techniques with a wasp nearby without being re-traumatised with panic. It can be difficult to recreate a controlled situation involving real wasps. In hypnosis, you can do the “mind work” necessary to dissociate your panic reaction without always having to access the real life situation.
But hypnotherapy can you offer more than just visualisation when using advanced techniques. Many of the cognitive restructuring processes used in CBT can be applied during hypnosis, helping you to accelerate the change of your thought patterns towards the removal of your phobia or fear.
Contact me for more information
So when you are ready to treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy, please contact me giving a few brief details of your phobia. These details will help me understand the precise nature of your phobia or fear however obscure you think it may be. This information will be treated in the strictest confidence.
If you are ready to treat your phobia and fear in Cardiff using hypnotherapy, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Unblocking Your Writer’s Block
Defining writer’s block: The writing process, like any other art, is a creative pursuit that can pose many difficulties along the journey of producing written
material. Some of these difficulties can be overcome with practice, but one of the most infuriating problems is known as writer’s block. If you are a writer, you will probably have gone through this state at least a few times, and it would have undoubtedly been an extremely frustrating phase for you.
Writer’s block can be described as the condition in which a writer is no longer able to engage in or produce new material. As a general condition, you may experience this creative shut-down in varying forms, but ultimately, you will end up staring at a blank screen or page after a very copious period of trying. When you have writer’s block, it’s as if your ‘creativity power’ has become paralyzed and the more you try to break through your block, the more helpless you become.
Writer’s block, however, is not usually a symptom of a lack of writing skills. You can be a very successful writer, a fountain of ideas even, but you can still be susceptible to it for a variety of lifestyle and psychological reasons. And with whatever is causing your creative block, it may even occur to you during this period of stagnation (which can last from hours to years by the way) that you should quit writing altogether. This can be accompanied by a period of extreme self criticism and insecurity exclaiming “what kind of writer am I if I can’t write?”
Managing writer’s block can be helped, and sometimes prevented by understanding what the condition is, appreciating what traits you bring to your writing projects and being aware of the situation and conditions in which you write.
Does writer’s block only affect writers?
Whilst the term “writer’s block” is primarily associated with writers who write novels, it can affect anyone who produces creative written content e.g. students working towards your degree or higher degrees, playwrights, poets, scholars, television producers, article writers in magazines or newspapers, blog writers etc.
A similar “creative block” is commonly experienced by professionals required to produce creative materials, content or products. This list can include artists, architects, sculptors, designers, composers, musicians, songwriters, inventors, teachers, researchers and choreographers. In a much broader sense, a ‘mind block’ can also affect business professionals involved in problem-solving and project management roles.
When you are stuck in your block, you may have gone deep into a project, are now committed to completing it, but you fear that the solution evades you in the time required. As the stress and pressure mounts, it further inhibits your creative abilities to complete the task.
What happens when you have writer’s block?
Consider the mind as a vast lake. Below the surface of the water is your creative subconscious mind that gives you access to your creative zone. It is brimming with stimulating ideas, enriched past experiences and inspiring emotional content. When you are writing expressively, you can freely access the content below the surface and apply your creativity to the task in hand.
But when stress, anxiety and negative beliefs are overwhelming you, access to the content below the surface is obstructed. The surface of the vast lake freezes over. Your creative (subconscious) mind is blocked and you are left to operate from above the surface of the water (using your conscious mind).
Your conscious mind struggles to work by itself. The conscious mind can function, but its concepts are slow, rigid, structured and at times, dull. When your subconscious mind is at hand, your inspirational flow of ideas and emotional creativity can be accessed. The collaboration between the two parts of your mind forms a creative unity that is inspiring and abundant.
At a physiological level, excessive adrenaline and cortisol levels created by stress and negative emotional states cause your brain waves to function at a higher Beta level. At this level, your brain struggles to be creative. When you are in your relaxed creative zone however, the brain waves operate at the Alpha level. At this level, there is a reduction in stress hormones and an increased production of serotonin that can balance your mood and give you open access to your creativity.
What causes writer’s block?
Since the process of writing is usually a day-to-day requirement for the writer, you will discover that many of the causes of the writer’s block are related to your personal lifestyle and habits. If you are a diligent writer, for example, you may have been overly focused on the prospect of completing certain milestones in the time required. But, as a consequence, you have had to sacrifice your resting periods and indispensable full night’s sleep. As you settled on this poor sleeping habit, your brain began to decrease its efficiency and it no longer offered you the surge of creativity you always received in a less pressured lifestyle.
The process of engaging with your creative work is now the hardest phase because your body and brain are not rejuvenated with the needed rest. Coupled with this, there can be the issue of poor eating habits, over-reliance on addictive substances (like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine), a lack of exercise as you attempt to maximise time efficiency. The writer’s block will easily become the standard mindset if your body and brain are not getting the balance of creativity, rest, nourishment and tension-release from exercise. The mind becomes deeply affected by fatigue and “mental fogginess”.
If you are working from home and balancing family life, the slightest distraction from family commitments can justify extended periods of frustrated “clock-watching”. You become agonisingly aware that if you happen to find the key to open your creative door, then it will need to be shut again within a short period of time to meet the external family demands.
A more subtle cause of writer’s block can be related to your organisational skills. The writer’s block is a condition in which your mind is paralysed, unable to manage a complex task with diplomacy and ease. Therefore, some of the causes that breed the writer’s block can be your unrealistic management of tasks. You can be having too many irons in the fire, trying to handle different and unrelated tasks at the same time, for instance, trying to write while using social media and then over-planning the future. In addition to this, you may have made the environment in which you write too distracting. Constant stimulus from the outside world answering trivial emails for example not only decreases your focus and productivity but also drives you toward procrastination. When faced with frustration, responding to the email waiting in your inbox can seem like a temporary honourable achievement. Meanwhile, the available writing slot is getting shorter!
The approach that you use in organising your work is also extremely critical to the rate of your productivity. A lack of realism when dividing your time and work tasks, writing your draft and finding the suitable ideas for your piece ultimately decides how much you will be able to complete. The general cause for this mismanagement is being a perfectionist in the handling of your projects.
Lastly, a common cause that produces a writer’s block is the awareness of pressure to meet creative demands in your day-to-day life. You are probably familiar with the feeling of frustration as soon as you face a blank screen. It can be accompanied by a fear of failure and associated financial worries. This constant anxiety takes you further away from the creative control that you seek. It impedes you from writing imaginatively and stifles your confidence. As your anxiety levels increase, it affects your level of concentration and ability to recall information. Without these valuable internal resources, you are almost guaranteed to have a writer’s block
How is the condition diagnosed?
A writer’s block does not need an expert to diagnose your condition since it is a subjectively recognised. Its presence is likely to be detected as you fail to produce any acceptable content after trying for hours or even days. You may not want to acknowledge to your peers that you have writer’s block as it could define your failing. Instead you persist with “trying” in the hope that some miracle will surface and rescue you from your helplessness. For how long you struggle in denial is your own subjective boundary to establish. Once admitted however, it may then release you from your chains and allow you to recover. You are free to admit that you have the condition and invite others to empathise with your plight.
Major Common Symptoms:
A writer’s block has distinct symptoms that can intervene at all stages of your writing work. Recognizing them will help you understand the severity of your writer’s block and what lifestyle areas you can focus on to release it.
One major symptom you are likely to experience during a writer’s block is a gripping feeling of brain fog. This state reduces your ability to concentrate or think creatively. It is a mental state where your vision is severely limited by the “fog” and as a consequence, you form very poor writing scenarios. When you are experiencing this brain fog, you will find it very hard to write coherently or follow the plot line that you initially decided.
Another common symptom of writer’s block is that of defenceless distraction. You have gone to endless trouble to prepare your ideal creative mood. You sit there poised with the keyboard on your desk and screen in front of you. But instead of progressing with your ideas, the slightest noise or physical imperfection leads you astray. Then your own thoughts send you on another diversion that achieves everything else but the writing task. Irrelevant ideas and activities fill your time until you leave your work-station infuriated and in need of a break; only to return refreshed and ready to start the whole bewildering process off again.
Another symptom that typifies writer’s block is the absence of inspiration. You have a reservoir of ideas and scenarios listed in your journal, but you seem to return back to your starting point with no substance in which your ideas can flow. As you rebound from one meaningless idea to another, your mind gradually becomes disinterested and fatigued. You long to recapture the good old days when resourceful and inventive ideas would spark your creative engine. Your growing apathy depresses you, knowing that there is a world of unceasing ideas that surrounds you. Somehow you just can’t connect with them.
Frustration and anger filter through all of these common writer’s block symptoms. These emotions have secured themselves to the whole process of your writing. You grow more helpless and irritated as you type each sentence. You review the meaningless content on completion, delete it and then churn out another sentence in the hope of a revelation.
Whether writing as a hobby, occupation, or ambition, the symptom of frustration will question your desire to pursue any of them further. As it takes over, it can penetrate into the deeper essence of your creativity. In the end, these and many other psychological symptoms can make the condition of writer’s block a torturous suffering for any creative soul.
Given the serious symptoms that a writer’s block can create, being ready and motivated to subdue its grasp on your creativity should be paramount to ensure your longevity. But like most situations where there are multiple demands, the strategies that prevent a writer’s block (the worst case scenario) may only be heeded after it has struck. Only then does it serve as that “wake up call” that can ensure you apply a balanced approach to your writing and give attention to yourself.
The nature of the writer’s block is not beyond your conscious understanding. You probably know exactly what causes it and maintains it, and in light of these, you can arm yourself with the following techniques and treatments to manage it.
Initially, address the poor lifestyle issues that have become a reflection of your struggle. It may seem to be ignoring the primary issue (your need to produce written material), but your mind and body needs nourishment (healthy eating) and recuperative sleep in order to be creative again.
Then, take an objective look at your writing approach. Analyse your organisation plan that formulates your writing process. What are the measures that you go through in every writing project? Usually, by having a schedule, brainstorming and using outlines for writing drafts, you will guide yourself right back into the heart of productivity. In the same vein, eliminate distractions where possible and improve your work environment to cut out many sources of procrastination.
In order to drive your mind out of the mental inertia, you can provoke your mind by reading an interesting book. Reading can entirely influence your thinking and ideas. One of its benefits is its effectiveness in placing you back in an imaginative and creative mindset.
Additionally, you can flush out your physical tension with a refreshing brisk walk around your local area. Physical activity forces deeper breathing techniques that can clear your mind of clutter.
Once you are back home and ready to write, focus on one more effective treatment: humility. Perfectionism is a paralysing thinking habit. Be prepared to tolerate the first mediocre paragraphs, the recurring incoherent ideas in the draft and the holes in your plots. They are a necessary human component of any writing project. In other words, be more realistic about the imperfections in your work as they are; it is only when writing them that you can discover them and weed them out.
How can hypnotherapy treat writer’s block?
If you are struggling with your self help strategies and are no longer responsive to your peer support, decide on a timescale in which you will seek professional external help. Someone who is objective to your situation can identify solutions that are limited by your own perspective. Hypnotherapy offers a number of solutions at different levels.
Fortunately, writers, like just about all other creative professionals who use their imagination in their skill are highly responsive to hypnosis. You can experience rapid changes from the implementation of hypnotherapeutic techniques.
Hypnotherapy can reduce your stress and anxiety symptoms
Stress and anxiety symptom reduction is an integral part of your hypnosis treatment. You will feel more relaxed about your condition and the way that it is affecting you. Detaching these symptoms will help you feel less affected by it. You can then objectively focus into your block with potential solutions.
Hypnotherapy will help you deal with your lifestyle issues
The negative lifestyle habits that have accumulated due to your writer’s block like eating habits, poor sleeping patterns and lack of exercise will be examined with suggestions to address them. Some of these habits (like smoking and habitual drinking) and major lifestyle changes (like bereavements and relationship changes) can be treated specifically where they seem to be having a direct negative impact on your creativity.
Hypnotherapy will analyse your work situation and working methods
Some work situations and working methods are counter-productive to your creativity; they serve to distract you rather than stimulate you. You may be helplessly and habitually clinging to them believing that they benefit you when, in reality, they stifle your creative potential. Some work situations need a deeper acceptance and humility that can be accessed and boosted in a therapeutic treatment. This can ensure that you continue to be inspired by your talents without being envious of others.
Hypnotherapy will identify your emotional blocks and negative traits
If you don’t already know which negative emotions and traits are exacerbating your writer’s block, your hypnotherapy treatment will be instrumental in identifying them. If you already know what they are, hypnotherapy can help create strategies to reduce their intensity.
Hypnotherapy will re-establish your creative zone
As your negative psychological structures are flagged and then demolished, the aim is to reposition the good structures and create new ones that will redefine your creative zone for writing. This rebuilding process will lift your stress, depression and anxiety. It will also boost your self esteem, placing you back within your core self definitions as a writer.
Hypnotherapy will help you practise self hypnosis
Your continued practise of self hypnosis will keep your creative writing zone active and ensure your longevity. It will also help you to be mindful of internal and external changes that affect your creative zone. It is continuously evolving throughout your career, even with positive experiences and it needs to be resilient to withstand these changes. Learning and practising self hypnosis is an essential part of your hypnotherapy treatment.
Writer’s block conclusion
The writer’s block is a “roadblock” that every writer has to face in any process of writing. When its effects are troubling you, you can be reminded that most writers have already wrestled with them and come through them successfully. In other words, this condition is not a quality of poor writing skills. Instead, it is a symptom of many of the ill-made conditions under which you formulate your creative work. In knowing the causes which produce this condition, you can begin to be more conscious of your bad habits and poor lifestyle choices that surround this creative pursuit. As you improve your lifestyle and habits with reference to the treatments already shared, your mind will once again climb to its maximised creative performance.
For further information on how to overcome your writer’s block, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
The Causes Of A Phobia
What are the causes of a phobia? If you’re unusually terrified of small insects or the idea of using a lift or elevator by yourself, then you’re not alone. Phobias are considered to be a very common psychological condition in both men and women. It is estimated that nearly 10 million people in the UK have a phobia of some kind.
A phobia is defined as an extreme or an irrational fear of a situation, object, location or animal. It typically emerges during childhood and persists into adulthood. Experts offer several explanations for the causes of a phobia, and this includes evolutionary theories and behaviourist theories.
A phobia may also range from mild to severe and can be termed simple and complex, but it’s good to know that whatever terms are used, they are treatable. Some phobic sufferers are highly responsive to hypnotherapy and can respond to treatment very quickly, whilst others require a cognitive behavioural approach to alleviate their phobia. Sometimes the combined approach can be the solution to alleviate your panic attack commonly associated with all phobias.
Genetic Causes of a Phobia
Research by the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta has suggested that the causes of a phobia can be hereditary. The study involved mice that were given a mild electric shock after being exposed to the smell of cherry blossoms, making them associate pain to the smell. The offspring of the mice several generations later were also exposed to the same smell. Surprisingly, the new generation of mice also reacted in fear of the smell of the cherry blossoms, even though no amount of electric shock was applied to them. Since the biological and genetic makeup of mice and humans are similar to each other, the research suggests that phobic memories may also be passed down through the genes of your human ancestors.
Genetic causes substantiate the part that “nature” (as opposed to “nurture”) plays in acquiring say, an emetophobia through the inherited experiences of your family line. This is without the influence of any choices that you might make throughout your life to prevent having the emetophobia in the first place and what you might have learnt from your parents.
When you are old enough to understand your emetophobia and appreciate how it affects you, the avoidance and panic reactions are already dominating your lifestyle. But this does not mean that you can’t choose to have treatment for your emetophobia and change its imprint on your biology. Furthermore, with successful treatment of your own emetophobia, you are less likely to pass it on to your future offspring.
The theory posed from the genetic research suggests that what you pass on to your children can be negative (in the case of passing on the emetophobia). By the same argument, what you pass on could also be positive, in terms of transferring to your children a calmer reaction to sickness (vomit) when the emetophobia has been treated and removed.
Environmental causes of a phobia
Genetics alone though is probably not enough for a phobia to develop in every individual; environmental factors play a significant role too in the causes of a phobia. Directly experiencing a traumatic event creates such a strong future association between the event and an intense feeling of fear. Let’s say that you’ve been attacked by an animal like a dog. Even if the event only happened once, it could influence you to have a strong aversion to animals especially dogs (cynophobia) thereafter, no matter how cute an animal might look to others. And the same progression of events can happen if you have been struck by lightning or frightened (traumatised) by the sound of thunder (astraphobia).
Environmental causes of a phobia have a significant impact through life into adulthood particularly when the traumatic events have been experienced as a child. A fearful event in childhood can leave a deeper and immediate imprint in the highly sensitive and developing young brain than a similar traumatic experience caused in adulthood.
Furthermore, some of the childhood initial sensitising events (ISE) can be easily forgotten by adulthood, causing the growing individual to be confused about the nature of their phobia. For example, a child who has been involved in a car accident in the back seat of a two-door car may subsequently assert the desire to be a passenger in the front of the car. With an obliging parent, the child’s claustrophobia remains hidden and may not become apparent until as a teenager, they are “forced” to ride in the back seat of a teenage friend’s two-door car. The situation creates a panic attack for the teenager.
So can phobias be caused in adulthood? It is very unusual for phobias to be caused in middle adulthood. As explained above, it is more likely that the initial sensitising event (ISE) in childhood has been forgotten. Or the “simple phobia” has progressed and developed into a “complex phobia” involving other fears, social anxiety and panic disorder. This situation can emerge in the following example:
- As a child you have a “simple” spider phobia (arachnophobia).
- Whilst standing on a step ladder, you see a spider and your reaction causes you to fall off the step ladder causing a height phobia (acrophobia).
- The fear of heights progresses into claustrophobia when, as a teenager, you experience intense fear when riding on a rollercoaster (in which you feel trapped and also involves heights).
- Since you were unable to vacate the ride once it started, it causes a panic attack and extreme embarrassment in front of your teenage peers (social phobia).
- Then, in adulthood, a series of stressful events raises your general anxiety. Since many of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety are the same, you feel like you could have a panic attack at any moment and in any location. You are locked in anticipation in fear of having a panic attack and this is enough to trigger your panic attack (panic disorder).
- In order to avoid the social humiliation of having random panic attacks in public places, you stay home to try and cope with your condition. You feel safer being housebound (agoraphobia).
By the time the agoraphobia is dominating your adult life, you have forgotten the early traumatic situations and the avoidance patterns that have contributed to your current desperate “complex” situation.
Indirectly learned causes of a phobia
There are cases when the causes of a phobia are learned from trusted authority figures closely related to the phobic person. For instance, if children see one or both of their parents having an unusual fearful reaction to snakes (ophidiophobia or ophiophobia), they are also likely to imitate the fearful reaction to snakes to keep themselves safe from harm. This trust in “knowing what is safe or harmful” can extend to other people considered as authority figures by a child. It can include respected relatives in the wider family, older siblings, teachers or close friends during teenage hood.
Indirectly learned causes of a phobia can also extend to observation from indirect learning situations. Seeing a live trauma in the television news, reading a convincing story or article, or even watching a recorded documentary can stimulate or reinforce a developing phobia. Even seeing a dramatic film containing convincing fearful reactions to say, an emetophobia can arouse suspicion about the depicted danger of vomit, fear of contamination from another person or the fear of choking on one’s own vomit.
Stress and Phobias
Is long-term stress among the many causes of a phobia? During prolonged periods of stress, it is common to experience anxiety and depression. This generally diminishes your ability to deal with excessive situational demands. It can increase your fear and anxiety of those stressful situations recurring again in the future to near-phobic capacity. Take for example when a mother has a traumatic pregnancy, a traumatic child birth and post-natal health issues for both the developing baby and herself. Depending on the events surrounding these traumas, she could be very fearful of another future birth trauma. Or she may also have lost trust in the medical profession and feel high anxiety when she needs to trust the medical profession again in the future.
In the example above, the constant state of heightened alertness surrounding the stressful birth trauma could be the “cause” of the phobia. Or, depending on the previous trauma history, the stressful events can serve to reinforce previous fearful beliefs created from an earlier health trauma, making the hidden health phobia “conscious” to the mother. Whether as the ISE or reinforcing event, a tokophobia (fear of pregnancy or childbirth) and/or iatrophobia (fear of doctors and the medical profession) is established due to the numerous stressful situations and events.
Psychodynamic Explanations for the causes of a phobia
There are several causes of a phobia, but psychodynamic theorists offer their own explanations for the “cause” of them. They argue that reactions to phobias are the mind’s defence mechanism against repressed feelings of anxiety that have been experienced in childhood. These repressed feelings are considered too painful to consciously deal with and acknowledge later in life, so these feelings are then displaced onto associated situations or objects. The situation or object becomes the phobic stimulus to avoid, thus protecting the individual from having to deal with these painful repressed emotions again.
Or put another way, the situation or object associated with the phobia is not the source of the anxiety; the cause is related more to the product of unresolved conflicts within the various parts of the person’s mind. According to psychodynamic theorists, when the mind’s “conflicts” are centrally treated, the repressed emotions can be safely released, thereby disconnecting the phobia and the associated anxiety.
Causes of a phobia: The impact on your neurology
The combination of these various causes of a phobia (including genetic traits, childhood interactions with your family and your personal direct and indirect life experiences) can ultimately determine how your brain develops and functions when you perceive a threat and cope with your phobia-inducing object or situation.
The part of the brain responsible for controlling fear is called the amygdala. For a phobia sufferer, the right amygdala is considered to be highly sensitised and reactive to phobia-inducing stimuli causing the intense distress (or panic attack) commonly associated with phobic reactions. Where there is long-term trauma, this part of the brain may be generally over-reactive.
Also notable amongst phobia sufferer’s neurology is a higher expectation (anticipatory anxiety) that you will encounter your object or situation of distress. This is termed “expectancy bias” by researchers and is associated with lowered activity of the lateral prefrontal cortex and visual cortex parts of the brain. This under-activity results in an absence of cognitive control to distinguish between “imagined” and “real” threats related to your phobia. Thus with an arachnophobia, you will have a panic attack when you see some black fluff because you are certain that it is a real spider. You are also convinced that, having seen a spider in one location e.g. under the sofa, that it will keep reappearing in that same location, despite that spider being previously removed.
Causes of a phobia in therapy
Ultimately, the goal of a phobia treatment (using self-help or with a therapist) is to be relaxed in your phobic situation/location or relaxed with your phobic object/animal. There are many different ways to achieve this goal. This article has aimed to explore the many causes of a phobia, rather than trying to find ways to treat it. But does knowledge of the causes of a phobia have any practical application in resolving a phobia in therapy? It can be partially helpful, and this would depend on the individual enquiry.
For example, if you are locked into your obsession about knowing why you have a fear of germs (mysophobia), then your obsession can block your access to a treatment solution. Learning that it’s a family trait and not your fault can ease your obsession particularly when you also learn that many of your forgotten childhood experiences involved fearful reactions to germs. With this knowledge, a mysophobic can accept it and “learn to live with it”, even if it does mean being fanatical or compulsive about cleanliness.
Another enquiry might relate to the irrationality and confusion of your complex phobia situation. How can a simple phobia such as a fear of holes (trypophobia) lead to your agoraphobia? Understanding and rationalising how your fears and their reactions have transformed your “simple phobia” into an isolating agoraphobic situation (complex phobia) can be helpful. You can now be realistic about a proposed treatment plan and the time it usually takes to undo complex phobias, rather than hoping for a quick-fix and abandoning therapy prematurely
Some therapy clients have uncontrolled panic attacks (panic disorder), are irresponsive to anxiety control techniques (relaxed breathing) and have forgotten what situation or object is triggering their panic response. By using a psycho-therapeutic approach with hypnosis, it can help you identify the “cause” of your unconscious phobia. Regression hypnotherapy can then be used to create emotional understanding and release the fear contained in those childhood experiences. This is an example of how applying a solution to a client’s past “cause” can benefit a client where a solution-focused approach is struggling to make progress. You could say that it’s still “solution-focused”, but you are regressing back to ISE’s to treat it.
Causes of a phobia: conclusion
Research would indicate that the many causes of a phobia relate to both nature and nurture. Where one cause is evident in a particular phobic person, does this mean that they are more responsive to a certain type of therapy? Perhaps this is another matter for further research.
For further information on the causes of your phobia and how hypnotherapy can treat it, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Anticipatory Anxiety is a symptom that creates and maintains the various forms of anxiety disorder including phobias, panic disorder and generalised anxiety. It is characterised by a heightened state of alertness and obsessive worry before a stressful event is about to happen. You can waste hours or even days going through every possibility of the upcoming event, running “what if…”- scenarios without being able to focus on a helpful solution.
Whether it is a job interview, a social meeting, or a public speech, anticipatory anxiety will take over your mind for the remaining period of time that you have left before the event starts. In its essence, anticipatory anxiety happens because of your nature to try to predict how things will happen and your attempt to remain safe from harm. We are individuals who make use of anticipation to function well in everyday life, but someone with this form of anxiety expects a lot of these situations to be real disasters or catastrophes. This state is also reinforced when past experiences in life have left you with a deep sense of disappointment or shame that has sunk into your unconscious mind. Now, the unconscious alerts you with this stressful anticipation to avoid similar episodes and their associated recurring anxious feelings again in the future.
How does anticipatory anxiety affect you?
Anticipatory anxiety influences you to obsess about the catastrophic scenarios that are likely to happen. Avoidance tactics are considered to prevent your future distress. You might even lose focus on the tasks you are required to prepare and end up being haunted by what can humiliate you and guarantee your failure. You are generally fooled into believing that these anxious situations will happen, when in reality they rarely do happen.
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be triggered at an early stage of knowledge of the event. You are likely to have varying degrees of stomach “butterflies”, sweaty palms, and a racing heart (palpitations). The body can get very distressed because of these symptoms, and as a result, anticipatory anxiety becomes a huge physical discomfort to your well-being. These symptoms, moreover, become a serious form of anticipatory anxiety when you begin to focus on them in ordinary and daily events, and for long sustained periods of time.
It is normal for people to have reasonable levels of worry about important future events, but the alertness should resolve itself as the event passes. With the prolonged form of anticipatory anxiety, the symptoms persist much after the event. And the more debilitating this anxiety gets, the more you will experience psychological problems too. For example, you may develop insomnia, depression and constant panic attacks. Eventually, if anticipatory anxiety has been experienced for periods of more than a month, it becomes a chronic state of anticipatory anxiety.
What causes anticipatory anxiety?
Many of the causes that contribute to developing anticipatory anxiety are related to past experiences. At some point in your life, you were faced with experiences that aroused extreme fear or a suffocating shame within you. Such experiences, if they get reinforced, tend to set deep roots in your psyches and render you avoidant and phobic to those stressful events in the future.
In addition, some people may develop panic attacks that build up because of extreme stress. With the knock on effect of this situation and repeated negative reactions, the sufferer becomes not only afraid of the events, but also of your own anxiety symptoms or the panic attacks. As a consequence, you become locked into this fear of symptom-reaction or “panic about panic”. It can render some sufferers helpless influencing a state of agoraphobia in its progression.
General anxiety is not excluded from this either. If anxiety troubles you at every turn in your life, anticipatory anxiety becomes a symptom of it when too many stressful incidents keep giving you anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, anticipatory anxiety may not be just conscious but may descend into an unconscious form when it creeps into your dreams. Thus, it is very advisable for any person suffering from it to learn about some of the coping techniques that reduce this anxiety and eventually break you out of the cycle of anticipatory anxiety.
Coping with Anticipatory Anxiety
Primarily, anticipatory anxiety can be seen as a state of mind where different ideas are affecting your psyche. It is a line of emotional thinking that zooms in on all the disastrous and negative outcomes that can harm your self-esteem and well-being. Let’s briefly explore some common coping techniques. They all need further development and practise to be helpful in dealing with your anticipatory anxiety.
A powerful way to bring the anxiety into a halt is to interrupt the emotional anxious thinking with positive thinking. It won’t be apparent to you how much effect a positive thought can help you until you can employ and master the use of them. The state of mind suddenly shifts to a stronger and more relieving way of thinking. In other words, the anticipation can be translated into a positive reality as this immediately stops the physical stress and breaks the habit of anxious “over-thinking”.
Another technique that can reduce this anxiety is the act of changing your focus of attention. When your attention has been set on something completely different, the anticipatory anxiety stops taking over your mind and has fewer effects on you. Moreover, a change of focus of attention can give you the strength to not succumb to excessive worry. This is because your selected attention decides what mindset you can have.
The use of your attention, though, need not be limited to motivating thoughts. You can reduce the anticipatory anxiety even by focusing on the nature of your anxiety or your breath, without analysing it or judging it, just becoming mindful of it. This is the basis of mindfulness.
Lastly, you can ask questions that alter your mode of thinking to balance out the negative anticipation. For instance, you may ask about the possible good things that can happen in the short-term and long-term if those bad scenarios might happen. Or by accepting that it’s going to be bad anyway, you can ask yourself how you may recover from the situation and build coping resources in the process. In so doing, you can motivate your state of mind to drop the anxiety and entertain the confident ideas and expectation that you deserve to have.
More self help techniques can be found here: ways to deal with anticipatory anxiety.
How can hypnotherapy help you deal with anticipatory anxiety?
Hypnotherapy can break your obsessive thinking patterns
As you become more anxious, your view of reality will favour that which confirms your anxious reality; in your anticipation, you become convinced that these catastrophes will ensue. In the relaxed state of hypnosis, you can detach this reality and be helped to view the positive alternatives.
Hypnotherapy can help you to visualise the anticipated event as a successful event
Positive visualisation changes the neural pathways in your brain. When you can picture the dreaded event e.g. a public speaking presentation, as one in which you are coping with, the journey leading up to the event can feel less traumatising. With less anticipation, you can then be left to cope with the event itself, accessing the resources needed to deal with the demands in that moment. Hypnotherapy is an excellent way to assist your visualisation abilities enabling you to maximise the potential of your imagination.
Hypnotherapy can help you reframe your past experiences
When you have anticipatory anxiety, the emotions from past traumatic events continue to alert you to similar situations to prepare for another upset, sometimes exaggerating the nature of the future event. But when the emotions from those past traumas are reframed and released, they can become experiences to learn from. Using regression techniques, hypnotherapy can be used to revisit an “open” negative past experience, safely reprocess its meaning and close the event so that you can view future situations as challenges.
Hypnotherapy can be used to restructure your avoidance strategies
Avoidance is one of the main symptoms of anticipatory anxiety. Whilst the “avoidance voice” is there to protect you from harm in the short term, it creates a bigger obstacle to overcome in the long term. Hypnotherapy can use analytical methods to access the decisive “parts” in your mind and employ their resilience to confront the situations that you would previously seek to avoid.
Hypnotherapy can alleviate your anticipatory physical symptoms
Your physical anxiety symptoms like heart palpitations and tense breathing patterns can convince you that your fear is “real”. Hypnotherapy can used to alleviate your physical symptoms and view them as separate from your current distress, helping you to feel relaxed and ready to confront the situation when needed.
In summary, anticipatory anxiety is one of the psychological disorders that can burden your life. Most of the time, it becomes nurtured because of the stressful life that you have led in your past or through some developed phobias e.g. social phobia.
Your past experiences may overwhelm you now because you previously lacked the tools to handle emotional situations back then. That’s why it’s important to appreciate what anticipatory anxiety is, how the various symptoms can affect you and be ready to confront those situations that cause you excessive worry. Then, you can learn relevant coping techniques and apply them when anticipatory anxiety is dominating your life.
Furthermore, it is important to seek professional help if you are struggling with anticipatory anxiety in your daily life. Coping techniques can place you back into a measure of stability. Therapy such as hypnotherapy can strengthen and help you develop new coping strategies in a relatively short treatment course.
For further information on how hypnotherapy can help you deal with anticipatory anxiety, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Tips To Help You Cope With Anticipatory Anxiety
Are looking for help to cope with anticipatory anxiety? Anticipatory anxiety is better known as the “fear of fear.” It’s a very appropriate term because unlike normal anxiety, anticipatory anxiety causes you to fear your own anxiety symptoms; you end up chasing your own panic attacks and as a result, you create more panic attacks. In its chronic form, anticipatory anxiety is also known as panic disorder.
For those who are asking whether it’s normal to have this kind of anticipation, the answer is both yes and no. It’s normal to feel anxious about a huge event, such as your first date, a driving test, a job interview, or a speech. It only becomes a problem if it seems to be occurring on a regular basis and on events that you generally wouldn’t consider to be that overwhelming.
So what can you do to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety? There’s no specific formula that works for everybody, since different people will have varying degrees of symptoms. Nevertheless, there are general ways that can help you minimise the impact of worry and fear when they come. Sometimes working with just one anticipatory anxiety tip that resonates with you can be more effective than attacking it with several, particularly since some tips may appear to contradict others! What will help you as an individual can depend on how your fear is progressing and your core beliefs.
Tip 1: Establish the basis of your fear
A common first step to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to start by asking yourself on what are you basing your fear. You may have experienced a trauma in your past that justifies you anticipating that trauma again, but put the trauma into the context of the bigger picture. How many similar events (not involving you) have ended successfully without trauma? It’s important to reach out and expand all of the other experiences (the factual evidence) that you are ignoring at the emotional level. So if you have a fear of flying, visualise yourself in the many millions of flights taking off and landing successfully to reassure your anticipation. Your panic attack will have no connection with the success of your next flight, but it will ruin the enjoyment of your journey should you decide to fly. Take control of your anticipatory anxiety and you can trust your pilot will take care of your flight for you.
Tip 2: Interrupt your fearful thoughts
Another tip to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to interrupt your fearful thoughts. Fearful thoughts can spiral out of control and keep you trapped in your anxiety. Your imagination can just keep expanding each anxious thought until your symptoms are distressing you.
Once you notice that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed because of a particular thought, interrupt that thought with a positive one. Let’s say you’re worrying about losing your job. In such a scenario, you will be anticipating feeling worthless and dwelling on the follow-on catastrophes such as losing your house or your partner abandoning you. Your positive thought may relate to identifying why you are good at your job or what skills you can develop (with training) to maintain your employability. More often than not, this change of thought can interrupt your fearful thoughts and help you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. Italso keeps the negative thoughts from taking over your mind and emotions whenever they come back.
Tip 3: Imagine the best-case scenario
It’s interesting that the human brain is designed for protection. When the nervous system is aroused, it gets ready to prepare for the worst. That’s the downside though. Since its priority is safety, the brain automatically surveys for the worst-case scenarios so that it can prepare the body just in case. This is not a problem for the average person. For individuals with anticipatory anxiety, however, this can be a huge predicament. You’ve probably heard and used the phrase “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” It’s a common technique used in cognitive therapy to restructure your catastrophe and can be very useful for certain people in different situations. Do you find that when you imagine the worst case scenario though, your imagination draws you towards the worst-case scenario, as if you are doomed? If it does, then you will probably benefit by imagining the best-case scenario. Yes, be bold with the power of your mind and change your emotional journey! It won’t always give you control over the external situation, but it can give you an immediate feeling of calm by imagining the best outcome. This can be a huge step towards learning to cope with anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 4: Learn to relax
In a busy world like ours, it’s very easy to overlook the fact that our mind and body need relaxation. You are more susceptible to worry and anxiety when your mind is not rested. To cope with anticipatory anxiety, you need to make it a habit of taking a “Time-out” at least once in your day. That doesn’t necessarily mean not doing anything. There are many activities that you can engage in that can help your mind and body rest. Identify what you enjoy most. Gardening, reading, writing, hanging out with friends, yoga, exercising, and yes, even playing a sport! – All of these activities will help keep your mind relaxed and rested, if not during but after the activity. If you are curious about doing “mind work”, then “passive” relaxation can be just as effective. Consider meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques to lower stress and anxiety.
Tip 5: Take a step out of your thoughts
It can be so easy to be convinced by your thoughts when you live inside of them. The potential to be pulled into believing those worst case scenarios (explained in tip 3) can leave you feeling helpless, despite those situations rarely ever materialising. Several authors emphasise the ability to be the observer of your thoughts rather than being your thoughts. This is a way to effectively “hack” the natural anxious thinking process and create distance from its influence. To help you cope with anticipatory anxiety using this tip, you’ll benefit by getting into your mind zone (suggested in tip 4) where you can calm your mind and slow down the pace of your thoughts. You can then use your imagination to visualise stepping out of your anxious thoughts, leaving them behind and appreciating the freedom it gives you to choose where you want to take them. Feel empowered when you access a deeper relaxation, confidence or self-belief. All of these can be your liberation from anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 6: Get enough sleep
Just as anxiety can keep you up all night, aiming to get enough sleep can help you to cope with anticipatory anxietymore effectively. The two simply have such a strong relationship, and that relationship is bi-directional. This means that if you want to treat one, you also need to treat the other. When it comes to sleep, however, the key is to get 7 to 8 hours a night and establish good sleep hygiene practices. This will help improve your morning mood and levels of irritability. To improve the quality of your sleep, you need to slowly eliminate activities that stimulate your mind before bedtime. This may include reducing caffeine intake, limiting your screen time, and tailoring your environment to make it more conducive for sleeping. Learning how to guide your mind to sleep can also be helpful.
Tip 7: Face the problem head on
The motivational phrase “face your fear” may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s actually an excellent way to cope with anticipatory anxiety. For the pragmatist, it’s the antidote to being left “in-waiting” for the situation to arrive with nothing to do, which typifies anticipatory anxiety. You may be ready to “flood” your experience and jump into the deep end by tackling the situation head on. Many would prefer a graduated or controlled exposure dealing with smaller parts of the situation to build confidence. If you have a fear of public speaking for example, then consider how you can start in “safe mode” developing public speaking skills whilst gradually increasing the size of your audience, the authority of your audience and the importance of the presentation task. These are common issues that when controlled, can help you develop your public speaking confidence.
Tip 8: Seek support
Whether from family or friends, it’s crucial that you have someone to support you in order for you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. When you think that you’re the only one who has anticipatory anxiety, it makes you feel more embarrassed and self-critical. It helps to have someone close whom you can share your thoughts with, and someone who can offer his or her support when you’re overwhelmed.
Finally, it’s critical that you seek professional help from a therapist or hypnotherapist. This is especially true when you are suffering from chronic anticipatory anxiety or panic disorder. With hypnotherapy, so many of the tips offered in this article can be suggested to your mind without conscious interference. You will also benefit from a huge reduction of anxiety when you are in hypnosis.
For further information on how hypnotherapy can help you cope with anticipatory anxiety, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Making hypnotherapy goals work for you
Stating your hypnotherapy goals or what you want as the outcome of the treatment is an important part of any therapy, not just in hypnotherapy. If the initial contact (by email, phone or face to face) has not already established this, a trained hypnotherapist will ask you directly about the nature of your goal (or presenting condition). They will then (re) confirm the goal during your consultation and may give some mention about the treatment methods used to help achieve it.
Sometimes the goal is clear and the treatment can proceed with both parties sharing the same understanding about the direction of the therapy e.g. “I want to stop smoking”. On occasions, the nature of the goal needs further clarification to ensure that it is attainable since you may be confused about your own condition, how it continues to affect you and what could be a potential solution e.g. when you have suffered abuse in the past.
The following points can clarify the nature of your hypnotherapy goals:
That the goal can be (reasonably) defined
Some hypnotherapy goals are unrealistic and may expect far too much from a short course of treatment. Wanting to be completely “free of anxiety forever” (implying a cure) is an example of an unrealistic goal in hypnotherapy. Stating the goal more specifically can help you to establish the goal or progressive goals in your treatment program. For example:
- With a fear of flying, your goal could be stated as “to be more relaxed during your next flight”.
- With weight loss, your goal could be stated as “to eliminate unhealthy snacking in between meals”
- With social anxiety, your goal could be “to learn how to relax when socialising.”
Stating it as a positive goal helps to engage your imagination and resources into the goal situation. Some clients commonly arrive with negative goals as an illustration of how they are dominated by their negative state. When asked about their goal, they reply “I don’t want to panic in my next flight”. The positive nature of the goal can be re-evaluated by asking “so what do you want (rather than not want) in your next flight?”
How you will know that the goal is being (or has been) achieved
Sometimes identifying that the goal is being or has been achieved is obvious and is connected to the defined goal (explained above). The treatment thus ends and it is mutually acknowledged as being achieved. In some cases where several issues affect the achievement of a goal, intermediate goals may need to be set to show that progress is being made e.g. when weight management goals are being treated, but weight gain through comfort eating is found to be related to anxiety and low self esteem. The latter may need to be treated concurrently, adding anxiety management and self esteem building goals to ensure that the healthy eating patterns are long-term.
Additionally, the arrival of (what is initially considered to be the achievement of) “the goal” may still require continued treatment to secure its conclusion e.g. when a smoker has just stopped smoking during the early stages of the treatment but still feels vulnerable about lapsing into smoking again. They have indicated that previous lapses have occurred due to stress. Stress management goals would also be necessary to help secure the goal of stopping smoking for a sufficient period after initially stopping smoking.
Imagining the arrival of your goal as a future goal-achievement “lifestyle scene” is a useful strategy in goal setting. It can create an open pathway for your mind to explore what happens when the goal is achieved in its entirety. The scene can be accessed by asking the questions “Imagine that you have gone through a successful process of change, how would you know that you have arrived? What would you be sensing, feeling, communicating and doing in the new situation X when this change has taken place?” These questions can almost create a momentary hypnosis. When you immerse yourself into that scene, it can project you into the experience of your goal and can demolish some established negative “anchors” (or connected internal responses that are inhibiting you from achieving it). In addition to asking the question, the client can benefit by visualising it when they are in hypnosis to intensify the desired state.
That the goal can be achieved in a realistic timeframe
This can involve a discussion about the estimated number of sessions required to achieve your goal. It can also give some indication of the duration of the course of treatment (estimated number of weeks and potential frequency of visits to treat the condition). You can expect these figures to be estimates since every client brings a different background to their treatment, but it’s worth asking these questions to gauge your treatment plan.
Stating when you want to achieve your goal by can help set up a schedule of treatment consultations (number of possible sessions before a deadline e.g. the date that you are giving a presentation). It will also help to identify the time available to work on any proposed homework tasks.
Some hypnotherapy goals have continuous targets e.g. when you have a fear of public speaking and you are giving a series of presentations at regular intervals. Treatment progressions can be revised based on the feedback that you give in the subsequent session following each of your presentations.
Unrealistic timeframes usually involve last minute bookings with a demand for a cure of your condition. An example can include wanting one of those “I’ve done nothing about this until the last moment, but am still hopeful for a cure” treatment for your fear of flying, when you are flying tomorrow! Even though some clients can respond quickly to hypnosis, it’s more realistic to expect help to “control” some of your fear symptoms at this short notice, rather than outright cures.
That the goal can be achieved in view of (or in spite of) any personal history, medical issues or situational factors that might affect its accomplishment
When your goal is not “blocked” by background traumas and conflicting beliefs, you can usually set a realistic goal and achieve it independently; the process does not need therapy (external help) to accomplish it. The impact of past doubts and internal conflicts however can harm your ability to achieve your goal. Therapy then becomes an option to objectively deal with your internal conflicts, reframing these negatives and maximising the focus into your goal so that you can see a clear pathway into its achievement.
A professional hypnotherapist will discuss your medical history, background of the condition and lifestyle issues in the earlier part of your treatment, usually in the initial stage of the first consultation. These details can help indicate the extent to which the presenting condition or goal is being “weighed down” by other core issues. Sometimes when a client is highly suggestible to hypnosis, the goal can be treated in isolation of these core background issues and rapid change can take place. (You can assess your level of suggestibility here.) However, it is more common for these deeper background issues to need reframing to help you feel that the goal is detached from your negative history and can then be freely accessed.
To illustrate this, consider the following example. You suffer with panic attacks (this is your presenting condition) and you want to be able to control them (this is your goal). Hypnotic techniques are used to treat the panic attacks but are only partially helpful. Further enquiries into your background reveal post traumatic stress disorder and childhood abuse (cause of your conflicts). The emotions related to the abuse are reframed in your treatment and the panic attacks are subsequently eased (your goal is achieved).
Discussing the hypnotherapy goals is an essential part of the treatment process. Openly examining the nature of your goal can have several benefits including:
- Establishing a direction for the treatment.
- Clarifying if the initial expectations are realistic.
- Helping you set up an early positive “anchor” with the goal so that it can then be accessed and reinforced in the hypnotic treatment.
- Identifying a timescale to achieve the goal.
- Reframing what conflicts are stopping you from achieving your goal.
- Building rapport between you and the hypnotherapist
Are you ready to achieve your hypnotherapy goals?
(Further reading: When you are struggling to achieve your general goals, the SMART approach can be a useful strategy.)
For further information on achieving your hypnotherapy goals, contact Richard J D’Souza, senior hypnotherapist at Clinical Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Performance Anxiety Cardiff
Most performers have experienced performance anxiety at some point in their careers. When that “big” opportunity comes along to shine and demonstrate your knowledge, talents and skills, it can be normal to get the “jitters” leading up to and during your performance. Some nervousness is not always a bad thing; it encourages a state of readiness and alertness.
But performance anxiety can devastate the careers of some of the most competent performers. When it is persistent and overwhelming, your own mind can rob you of the endless preparation from which you have passionately dedicated your performing life. For some of you, performance anxiety can adversely suffocate those life-changing, testing situations that seem to fall into your lap once in a while. You plan, rehearse (and revise) for the big day, but find that your anxiety can destroy what you were doing so perfectly whilst practicing just hours or days earlier.
Managing your fear is an essential part of being able to “nail it” in your performance. When you can control your anxiety and the associated symptoms, you are free to demonstrate your creative abilities.
What is performance anxiety?
- As a performer, it can be defined as your perceived conflict between the demands of the performance situation and your ability to meet those demands.
- Performance anxiety is the overwhelming negative mental, emotional and physical response prompted in a performer when performing.
- It can be experienced in anticipation of, or during a performance to a given audience (or potential audience if you are making a recording).
- The heightened negative state of arousal provokes a distressing response that limits or undermines the ability to accomplish the performance in the desired manner.
- The anxiety can affect you in various ways e.g. hand tremors, nausea, muscular tension, petrification etc. are just some of the unwanted symptoms that you can experience.
- Unfortunately, the part (or organ) commonly affected by the anxiety is the part primarily used in your performanceg. singers may find that their voice is distorted or musicians will tense up their hands (or their lips/embouchure etc. depending on the instrument played.)
- Your performance anxiety may be part of a deeper social anxiety trait characterised by shyness, fear of embarrassment, negative social attention and social criticism. Essentially you are preoccupied with what others are thinking about you and this becomes more severe when a certain audience-type is observing you e.g. a competitor. (But not all anxious performers have social anxiety.)
Who is affected by performance anxiety?
Performance anxiety can be experienced by anyone. Even the most competent performers can accumulate a few “bad experiences” and the way that you react to it can alter how you function in your future performances.
- Performing artists and other professionals – You are passionate about expressing your creativity on a day to day basis. You thrive on communicating your chosen art form, but when you develop performance anxiety, it annihilates your spirit and destroys the essence of who you are. Actors, dancers, musicians, singers, comedians, entertainers, athletes, politicians, lecturers and professional speakers are included in this category.
- Professionals who want to promote themselves – The success of your profession has brought you into the limelight. Your followers request your presence to personally share your expertise. Going on “stage” was not your intended path; it has arrived and now you need to make a decision: confront your fear or hide in the shadows of your potential success. Teachers, writers, lawyers, managers, doctors, engineers and architects are included in this category.
- Occasional “performers” – You are aware of your performance anxiety but you keep the subject-matter hidden from your peers. You are ashamed to admit it because the issue creates a mass of insecurity. Work requests a presentation from you, but you cleverly manage to avoid it or you delegate it to other subordinate staff. You may be required to speak at an informal occasion now and again e.g. a wedding, or sports presentation, and this is where your avoidance finally catches up with you. Years can go by when all is quiet on the performance front, but when the situation comes knocking at your door, you want to pretend that nobody is in! Avoidance can leak into those informal situations and take you by surprise e.g. with sexual performance anxiety or during in an interview.
- Anxious “avoiders” – You have known from a very young age that you struggle with social attention and social embarrassment. Your chosen career and social pursuits keep you safe from the threat of being on stage. You know how to avoid these situations and can aggressively refuse the opportunity if it is demanded of you. You may have let down some people close to you e.g. when refusing to give a best man’s speech. You regret not having developed the skills and courage to deal with those special occasions.
Types of performance anxiety
Performance anxiety is broadly categorised as a type of social anxiety, but not all performers have social anxiety. As a performer, even without social anxiety your own personal traits can work against you in situations when you are need to perform e.g. when you are a perfectionist.
Performance anxiety can be placed into three broad categories (with some overlap):
1.Cognitive performance anxiety,
2.Social performance anxiety and
3.Skills (or motor) performance anxiety.
- Cognitive performance anxiety
This category is defined as the anxiety experienced when using previously learned knowledge and applying it to a specific situation such as a written test or exam in school, college or in your profession. All categories of performance anxiety involve a level of cognitive functioning, but this category considers the use of internal “mind” processes that are usually then written or typed in a time-restricted situation.
Unlike the majority of the situations in the other categories of performance anxiety, there may not be an immediate “audience” in this situation. However, the consequences of the exam could become known to a potential audience e.g. your peer group will know about your grade at a later stage.
Test and exams are the common assessment methods to establish levels of academic competence in school, further and higher education, and employment. The higher the grade, the more likely you will gain entrance into your choice of university and advance your chosen career; exams undoubtedly have a high level of cultural importance.
So what turns the exam into a performance anxiety situation?
Anticipatory (or pre-exam) anxiety – This affects you hours, days or weeks before the big day. It can include issues like whether you have done enough revision, will be able to recall the information on the day or will have the right (or wrong!) questions appearing in the exam. You then worry about the consequences of failing and how this will affect your future career.
Managing anticipatory anxiety is an issue in itself. You have to suspend your ability to deal with something and get it out of the way now because the event takes place in the near future. Anticipatory anxiety tends to fool your mind into believing that you will have a catastrophe e.g. sleep-in and miss your morning exam, have a “mind-blank” or panic attack that numbs your mind for the whole duration. Known stress-related symptoms e.g. insomnia, IBS, nausea can also be added into the overall fear of what might negatively affect the big day.
Anticipatory anxiety also builds up your worry and physical tension levels to such a degree that by the time you get to the exam day, you feel exhausted. High anxiety can also negatively distort your clear thinking; it predisposes you to exaggerate the things that could go wrong.
Mid-exam stress/anxiety – You arrive in the exam room and the “fight or flight” mode kicks-in. Having too much adrenaline can stifle your thinking, concentration, understanding, recall and problem-solving abilities. You worry about how the next couple of hours will go, how you can manage your time, and the implications of your unsuccessful exam performance.
Post exam anxiety – “Pens down!” and that’s it, it’s over! Did you interpret that question correctly? Did you forget some of the answers to question 5? Should you discuss with your peers how others have answered it? Or look at your class notes just to ease your mind? What if you haven’t done enough? How will it affect your application or job prospect if you have failed? How long do you have to wait before you know the outcome? These are the common anxious post-exam questions that the student will ruminate over. This accumulates the anxiety into your next exam or series of exams.
Medical background and personality traits – Certain medical conditions, personality types and attitudes can affect your cognitive performance anxiety. If you suffer with general anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, you are likely to be overwhelmed by the whole exam process.
Your personality traits, values and situation can also affect how you perceive doing exams. They can include:
- Being self-critical.
- Using exam grades as markers for your self-esteem. This can increase the pressure of achieving high grades.
- Having unrealistic expectations.
- A fear of failure.
- Low motivation.
- Low self confidence.
- Being in fear of judgements from your family and peer group.
- Poor study and exam skills. As the pressure mounts, you can overload your timetable of study with little attention to balancing lifestyle habits (diet, sleep, rest and exercise) inhibiting your learning potential, recall and concentration abilities in the exam.
- Even teachers who are aiming to motivate their students can inadvertently inflict fear (and thus more stress) onto their students. Rather than the highlighting the benefits of passing, teachers may project your mind onto the consequences of failing by saying that “if you don’t pass your exams, you won’t get into University!” A reason for doing this can be because a teacher’s effectiveness is often based on high student outcomes.
- Social performance anxiety
Social performance anxiety is the anxiety experienced when performing or communicating in a social situation. Social performance anxiety is intensified by general anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder (social phobia).
With social performance anxiety, you are externally focused on the reactions of others. Typically, you are preoccupied with the belief that your audience is criticising, judging or rejecting you in some way. What you say or do (or don’t say or do) has the effect of drawing unwanted attention, generating feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, insecurity and worthlessness. You can become preoccupied with your own anxiety symptoms (e.g. panic attacks, blushing, stammering and physical tension) disrupting how you want to communicate with your audience. You believe that these anxiety symptoms make you “visible” to them and incapable of achieving the high standards you want, or of those expected of you. Anticipation of the event can trigger anxiety for weeks or sometimes months ahead of the situation.
Social performance anxiety can be divided into two areas:
- Formal social performance anxiety can be defined as the anxiety experienced when you are required to present (usually rehearsed and structured) information to an audience.
- Informal social performance anxiety can be defined as the anxiety experienced when you are required to communicate socially (either verbally or non-verbally) with your audience.
- Formal social performance anxiety
Formal social performance anxiety usually involves presenting rehearsed (or sometimes spontaneous) content to an audience without their active participation in the situation (i.e. only you are required to speak to your audience). It can also include interactive formal situations where you and what you present are the focus of the situation but the audience are required to respond/interact with you in some way e.g. when teaching or being interviewed.
With rehearsed content, formal social performance anxiety often involves a number of preparatory stages including: researching your content; organising it into a coherent and logical structure; learning, rehearsing and memorising the content; considering any stage management issues and use of visual aids; taking into account any situational and personal limitations, and of course, managing your performance anxiety on the day.
Some common examples include:
- Public speaking – speaking at a formal dinner, funeral or in a courtroom (as a lawyer or witness giving evidence)
- Presentations – promoting yourself/your business, or speaking as part of a school class or college assessment
- Stage performances – acting in a theatre production or making announcements in a school assembly
- Lectures – giving a formal lecture to students or other professionals in your niche
- Speeches – speaking at a wedding or special occasion
- Interviews – identifying typical questions that you will be asked and rehearsing the most appropriate answers ready for the interview
- Oral exams – being assessed in language exams or discussing your thesis (viva voce)
- Meetings – Speaking, presenting or chairing formal meetings at work or for an organisation
- Singing – Being examined giving a solo vocal performance or as a part of a band in front of an audience
- Selling or sales performance – The pressure of achieving your sales targets can affect your selling technique
- Informal social performance anxiety
Informal social performance anxiety involves an interactive exchange of talking, listening and reacting to your audience. This situation can include communicating to one person, a group or a much larger audience. The situation is spontaneous and for many, it is more socially demanding; you believe that you can only deal with it when you get there and thus are required to “think on your feet”.
Those who “hide” behind excessive preparation as a way of managing social anxiety in formal situations can struggle with the impromptu nature of these informal situations.
Some common examples include:
- Meeting new people and making polite conversation
- Attending parties or large social occasions
- Being criticised or teased
- Talking to important people or authority figures e.g. teachers, bosses, police officers
- Going on a date or chatting someone up
- Making an important phone call when in the presence of others or when you are alone
In some (more formal) informal social performance anxiety situations, you want to speak or are required to speak without much time to prepare your answer. There is a momentary “spike” in your anxiety which diminishes when you have finished.
Some examples include:
- Participating in role-play as part of work-based development training
- Asking/answering a question in class and worrying that you may get the answer wrong
- Introducing yourself or speaking up in a work meeting
- Ordering food in a restaurant
- Answering unrehearsed questions at the end of a presentation, meeting or interview
- Asking for help – asking for directions when you are lost
- Dealing with conflict – dealing with aggressive people
Informal social performance anxiety can also involve doing common day-to-day obligations that might “put you in the spotlight” and become the focus of attention in social situations.
- Being observed whilst eating, drinking, learning, writing or working
- Walking into a room full of peopleg. a party or classroom
- Arriving late or having to leave early from a meeting
- Leaving a cinema or theatre to go to the toilet
- Doing something that draws attention to you e.g. sneezing, coughing etc. in a lecture room
- Shopping – feeling visible to other shoppers or sales staff
- Having your photo taken or being videoed
- Using a public toilet – feeling so self conscious in the toilet that your bodily functions become affected e.g. you develop shy bladder or feel constipated
- Being stared at when walking past a group of people
- Making eye contact with people in general
- Motor (or skills) performance anxiety
Motor-based (or skills) performance anxiety is the anxiety experienced when physically moving or demonstrating learned (behavioural) skills in front of an audience. The anxiety can also be experienced when performing to a potential audience i.e. when you are being videoed.
As with the other types of performance anxiety, you can experience symptoms for many weeks leading up to the actual performance. The anxiety can affect you during practise or training sessions. It can also affect you when you are away from practise (i.e. when worrying).
The term “motor” performance anxiety is a Latin term from the word movēre. It refers to movement (rather than something exclusively related to cars!) As with the other previous types of performance anxiety, motor performance anxiety can be intensified by general anxiety and social anxiety disorder.
Motor (or skills) performance anxiety can be divided into two areas:
- Formal motor performance anxiety affects your ability to demonstrate rehearsed “skills” in front of an audience. The skills can be applied in a “closed” or set routine. Or the skills can be performed in an “open” field of play when responding to how others are performing (with you or against you).
- Informal motor performance anxiety affects your ability to demonstrate everyday physical skills, tasks and movement in more casual and social situations.
Formal motor performance anxiety
Formal motor performance anxiety situations can include those situations in which you are taught or coached in training sessions (lessons) leading up to the actual performance. The anxiety usually accumulates as the day of the performance beckons, heightening your physical tension levels and affecting the fluency of your skills. It may peak immediately before or as you start your performance. There may also be specific parts of the performance that are perceived as more difficult/pressured and more likely to force an error. In turn, you believe that the mistake will draw more negative attention e.g. when missing a penalty kick that knocks you out of the cup tournament. Additionally, you may be fearful of your ability to recover during the performance if something were to go dreadfully wrong e.g. having a sustained panic attack or show of nerves during a performance could destroy your reputation!
The anxiety can be associated with any audience members, including a future audience when making a video. They can include your managers, teaching or coaching staff, peers (other team members), the opposition, the general audience/spectators, clients, examiners etc. The audience do not have to be present to generate anxiety; what you tell your future audience (family, peer group or colleagues) about the negative outcome can be a continuous preoccupation during the performance; “what will they think of me?”
As with the other types of performance anxiety, the part of your body that is primarily used in the performance e.g. the hands when playing an instrument, can become excessively tense, dysfunctional and prone to “locking” when compared to how it is freely used during practise.
Some examples of formal motor performance anxiety include:
- Musical (instrumental) performances – This includes the precise bi-lateral coordination of the arms, hands and fingers used to play instruments (and legs e.g. when playing a drum kit). Woodwind and brass instruments also require the synchronised use of breath and embouchure to create a harmonised sound.
- Dance performances – Any sequence of rehearsed rhythmical movements that can be mistimed, forgotten or petrified e.g. ballet, tap dancing, modern etc.
- Skilled stage entertainment – This can include circus acts, magic shows, physical comedy (slapstick, clowning and mime) etc.
- Practical lectures/presentations/demonstrations – This includes live visual illustration of artistic, creative and educational skills e.g. during cookery demonstrations, when teaching mechanical skills etc.
- Medical skills – This includes training in hospital wards, clinics or theatre. Skills can include injections, dressing wounds, manipulations, surgical operations etc.
- Sports performance – This includes any sporting situations with the performance of “closed” skills e.g. throwing darts, shooting at a goal in ball sports, shooting with a rifle, taking a penalty, potting a ball in snooker, golf strokes, serving in tennis, field events in athletics. Or anxiety experienced during “open” match play e.g. tackling, defending, dribbling, sparring, running etc.
- Driving test – Passing your driving test is your ticket to being mobile and boosts certain job opportunities. The driving test can expose hidden skills-based performance anxiety in a one-off situation that you may have avoided in other parts of your “performing” life. Your driving instructor may be unaware of its severity in driving lessons until you have failed your test (maybe several times).
- Practical exams – This includes being practically assessed with a time limit in any vocational course e.g. hairdressing, car mechanics, electrician, plumbing etc. A catastrophe in your exam can throw away one of two years of study when anxiety takes hold of your performance.
- Practical interviews – As with practical exams, you may be required to solve a timed practical problem with very little notice to prepare e.g. build a bridge that can support a small weight using only 5 sheets of paper.
Informal motor performance anxiety
Informal motor performance anxiety situations can include those situations which are spontaneous, casual and may not require a (perceived) rehearsed skill; you may believe (because of social expectation or fear of embarrassment) that you just ought to be able to perform the task perfectly in the given situation.
As with other types of performance anxiety, the physical tension accumulates and can peak just before or during the situation. You can also be overwhelmed with your physical anxiety symptoms and they can preoccupy you, affecting your ability to concentrate on the desired task.
How you perceive your audience can affect the level of your anxiety. It can be higher with a larger audience, or because some of the specific members of the audience are considered important or more threatening e.g. your competitor is in the audience. But even with fewer individuals in your audience, your perceived relationship with them can vary the intensity and timing of your anxiety. For example:
- You may know them well and trust them as is often the case with family and close friends.
- You may know them to some degree, but may not see them for some time, leaving you unsure of their opinion of you, as can be the case with colleagues or other members of a club.
- You may not know them at all and are unable to judge their response.
You can assume that the more you know them, the safer you feel, but this isn’t always the case. Some people feel more embarrassed in front of their family performing certain tasks. And for some people, performing in front of strangers can feel safer than group (ii) because you don’t care about them. With group (ii) you have to confront them again at some later stage and it’s that period of time where you are left worrying about their opinion that causes the embarrassment to fester. “What will they say to you when you see them next?!!”
Some examples of informal motor performance anxiety can include:
- Sexual performance – Conditions like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and delayed ejaculation for men can be influenced by anxiety. Anxiety can also affect women’s sexual arousal with conditions like vaginismus, low sex drive and inorgasmia.
- Practical training days at work – Role-plays are a common training activity that is used to demonstrate the learning of work-related skills. Without the ability to prepare your “presentation script” and identify what each role-play is about, role-plays remain an embarrassing dread for many employees and employers.
- Trading stress – Making calculated risks when you are facing volatile and uncertain markets can leave the trader feeling petrified when it comes to hitting the “BUY NOW!” button. You can lose sight of your formulaic strategies when your capital is dwindling.
- Exercising at the gym – When joining a gym or a new exercise class, wanting to look fit and coordinated so that you can blend in with the crowd can take a few sessions. For some fitness novices, the embarrassment of standing out from the crowd is too high. You muster the courage to join the health club and then the anxiety takes over and the attendance level suddenly drops!
- Being watched whilst eating, drinking, writing, cooking, and driving – These are common daily activities that can draw social attention when your anxiety symptoms inhibit the activity in some way e.g. a shaking hand can stop you writing or a fear of choking can stop you eating or drinking in public.
- Being observed when working – When you are moved into an open style office from a private office, you can feel self-conscious when making phone calls or feel visible when struggling with difficult new work task.
- Writer’s or any creator’s block – Completing your book, assignment, project, song, composition, work of art, order etc. for a client/customer or future audience can be obstructed by your perfectionism or deadline stress. Your creative ideas are suppressed by your stressed mind when you are anxious and functioning in “urgency” mode.
- Operating an unfamiliar device in public – This can include using vending machines, self-service ticket machines, self-service tills or obtaining a parking voucher from a meter. Not knowing how to operate these (sometimes faulty) machines and being too embarrassed to ask for help, is a common reason to avoid using them. Knowing that you have a long queue of people behind you just adds to the pressure.
- Using a public toilet – Bladder shyness or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be distressing for the sufferer. You may avoid drinking or eating certain foods or avoid certain social situations depending on the location and layout of the public toilet. When you need to use the toilet, you fear “clamping” your bladder or being constipated. With anxiety-related IBS, being anxious about messing up the toilet with diarrhoea can just make the symptoms worse.
- Walking or being out in public – When you are agoraphobic, just leaving your home is traumatic. You fear having a panic attack in a public place. When you are away from the “safety” of your home, you feel constantly visible and fearful of your own panic attack response.
What causes performance anxiety?
The causes of performance anxiety are related to the causes of social anxiety disorder.
Biological factors – With social anxiety, the part of the brain responsible for regulating the “fight or flight” centre (the amygdala) is active when confronting social situations. This neurological response exaggerates your perceived threat from those people in the social situation. With social anxiety, it’s as if your brain is registering those people present are about to attack you.
There is a genetic factor also linked to social anxiety indicating a possible brain structure and chromosome that can be inherited from your parents.
Socio-psychological factors – The development of social anxiety can be influenced by child-parent interactions. This can happen when a parent (or both parents) with social anxiety encourage social inhibition rather than teaching a child social confidence skills. The developing child can also imitate the parents’ anxious behaviour when the child observes (models) how the parents interact with other people.
Away from one’s parents, the shy developing child can struggle to confront new situations and unfamiliar people. They display a range of insecure and anxious behaviour that researchers define as “Behavioural inhibition”. A child that displays behavioural inhibition is more likely to develop a social phobia.
Traumas such as bullying, social neglect and major social changes e.g. moving schools or a family bereavement can impact on the growing child’s social development. Observing social embarrassment or humiliation towards your peers (or being the focus of it) can further reinforce social anxiety particularly during adolescence. These embarrassing situations traumatise the individual to excessively fear the judgements of others particularly when you need to “perform” (in whatever context) in front of your audience.
Adolescent children can recognise that the degree of social threat in many social situations is irrational, yet you can feel overwhelmed by your anxiety symptoms, avoidance behaviour and feelings of inferiority (it ultimately affects your self-esteem). Some adolescent children can attempt to mask your social anxiety, displaying anger as an alternative way of (not) coping.
By adulthood, many life choices will have been determined by social anxiety. For example, social situations, relationships, exams, hobbies, occupational preferences, promotional prospects etc. can all be limited by the level of perceived social anxiety (or overwhelming social responsibility in the new role or situation). But the socially anxious person can still deny the existence of your condition by disguising your anxiety with superficial excuses for not participating e.g. “I’m not feeling well”, “I’m too busy!” or “It will probably fail, so there’s no point trying!” are common self-limiting coping mechanisms.
Having disguised the social anxiety for much of your life, the threat of say a public speaking obligation in adulthood can expose the need to finally admit that you struggle with it or have the condition (as a specific issue or general disorder or phobia). Avoidance is no longer an option.
What are the common performance anxiety symptoms?
Performance anxiety symptoms are not just experienced during the performance; they can be experienced weeks leading up to it. Even after the performance, the negative interpretation of the experience accumulates the “alertness” in preparation for the next one.
There are 4 categories of performance anxiety symptoms:
- Cognitive, 2. Physical, 3. Behavioural and 4. Emotional
1. Cognitive performance anxiety symptoms relate to your thoughts and beliefs. They can include:
- Negative self image e.g. “I don’t think I’m good enough to do this!”
- Rejecting compliments/praise e.g. “They didn’t mean that; they are only saying this to make me feel good!”
- Negative self evaluation e.g. “I’m really messing this up!”
- High self expectations e.g. “I have to make this perfect!”
- Self blame/responsibility e.g. “I’m going to let the whole team down!”
- Catastrophic thinking e.g. “If this goes wrong my reputation is ruined!”
- Superstitious beliefs e.g. “I fail when I have morning exams!”
- Over-generalising e.g. “Everyone thinks that I’m not capable!”
2. Physical performance anxiety symptoms relate to how parts of your body are affected by the “fight or flight” response. The part that you consider to be the most important for the success of your performance can be the part that is most affected by anxiety.
You can be preoccupied with your anxiety or panic attack symptoms to the extent that you (or your symptoms) are believed to be visible to your audience. Your anxiety symptoms can also dominate your attention, causing you to lose concentration, make mistakes, have memory lapses, become petrified etc.
Symptoms can include:
- Severe muscle tension, spasm, locking or trembling
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Laboured, rapid and shallow breathing
- Rapid heartbeat that feels like it is pounding, irregular or fluttering
- Stammering or a strained choking voice that can sound weak, high pitched and shaky
- Increased sweating and feeling of hotness (or coldness)
- A knotted stomach or feeling of butterflies
- Frequent urination
- Cramped “gurgling” digestion, upset stomach and nervous diarrhoea
- Feeling nauseous, light-headed, dizzy and distracted
- Blushing, hot flashes or chills
- Dry mouth
- An exaggerated startle response
- Disturbed sleep and fatigue
3. Behavioural performance anxiety symptoms relate to how you attempt to cope with your anxiety symptoms. It generally reflects what you do (or don’t do) leading up to the performance. Ironically, many of these activities make the anxiety worse in the long term.
Symptoms can include:
- Avoidance behaviour – You avoid individual practises because it reminds you of the anxiety. But in addition to avoiding activities, it can also include avoiding peopleg. seeing those people who are likely to ask about the performance and create further fear or guilt for not attending. Or it can include avoiding situations e.g. training days.
- Withdrawal – this is similar to avoidance, you may isolate yourself from social interaction and stay housebound. This is because your anxiety is generally affecting your sociability; you don’t want to inflict your worries on anyone.
- Perfectionism – you may over-practise certain parts of performance creating fatigue and then lose the awareness of other important issues in your life such as your health or relationships.
- Procrastination – you participate in “pleasant” non-related performance activities to justify that you are busy e.g. cleaning and tidying, but in reality you are avoiding the constructive preparation that will help your performance.
- Compulsive behaviours – you participate in risky, unhealthy or destructive behaviours to break or divert the hold that anxiety has on you. This can include excessive binge eating, over spending (consumerism), drinking, smoking, drug taking or other addictions. It can also include engaging in high risk, or highly exciting (adrenaline-filled) activities such as aggressive sports, gambling or sexual activity.
- Attachment – you seek comfort in people who are over-protective of you, or visiting places that will keep you “safe” e.g. staying home. Or you seek comfort in routine or ritualistic activities that comfort your mind such as comfort eating, watching television and social media.
4. Emotional performance anxiety symptoms relate to feelings that can accompany your anxiety or they describe the different adjectives that reflect the degree of your anxiety.
Anxiety can be distressing even though you (as a child) may not be able to express how you are feeling at the time. It’s the physical and behavioural components of anxiety that can consciously be the most troublesome in terms of your daily functioning.
Emotional anxiety symptoms can include feeling:
- Irritable, jumpy or edgy
- Sensitive (to criticism or rejection)
- Preoccupied (with other’s responses)
- Worried, apprehensive, nervous or uneasy
Over a period of time, the four components of anxiety accumulate and combine to drive you and your performance into submission. Anxiety can destroy your expressive creativity contained within your talents and skills if it is not affectively managed.
Common treatments for performance anxiety
Medication – The medication commonly prescribed by your GP for performance anxiety is beta blockers (propranolol and atenolol). A beta blocker will help to dull the physical effects of the stress hormones when the “fight or flight” response is activated. They are best for specific situations, like one-off performances, but they won’t help with the emotional symptoms of anxiety. As with all medication, there can be side effects.
Talking therapy – Talking therapies can include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Talking therapies aim to help you change your thinking, control your anxiety and confront your performance situations. Some approaches can take a significant time to change your perception of your performance however.
Self-help therapy – This considers certain lifestyle changes that can alter the physical effects of anxiety e.g. doing exercise, meditation or yoga to lower your levels of physical tension. This approach may also consider confronting the behavioural anxiety symptoms that are drowning your energy levels e.g. maintaining healthy sleeping patterns or cutting back on alcohol consumption. Or it can involve gaining help from your teaching professional or colleagues to alter some of the cognitive anxiety symptoms.
How can hypnotherapy help your performance anxiety?
Hypnotherapy can help you stay in the “zone”
The zone is considered to be a state of focused awareness in which you coordinate all of the effective parts of mind and body to achieve a peak level of performance. Hypnotherapy can help access and stay in the zone when stress and anxiety are disturbing your performances.
Anxiety control is a major part of achieving excellence in your performance situation. When anxiety is high, your cognitive, affective and (motor) skills suffer. Hypnotherapy can offer you “mind tools” that will ensure that you are getting the very best out of your abilities when the situation demands it.
Manage anticipatory anxiety
Anticipatory anxiety can fool your mind into believing that those catastrophes are inevitable. It can consume your mental and physical build-up to the performance day as if that day is happening right now. Anxiety symptoms can disrupt your relaxation time, sleep and sociability. Hypnotherapy can alter that apprehension ensuring that you remain positive and focused on your performance success.
Reframe past traumas
Past traumas act as negative seeds of belief in your historical timeline. That “bad” performance, failure, near miss, injury or criticism gets stored in the deepest part of your mind coated with “Danger – Avoid!” So when you prepare to enter the arena again, your unconscious mind discharges stress signals (adrenaline) to warn you of the threat of a repeat traumatic performance. Hypnotherapy regression techniques can be used to release the emotion of these traumas, so that you can look ahead without the negative emotional bias.
Positive visualisation acts as the mental rehearsal for your peak performance experience. Hypnotherapy provides the mental platform to create an intense visualisation of your desired capabilities. When you can visualise performing confidently in front of your feared audience (e.g. assessor, examiner, competitor etc.) you will activate the beliefs, emotions and physical sensations necessary to achieve your reality.
Desensitise your anxiety/panic response
Practising your skills in isolation is very different to performing your skills with your audience. Some “performance” situations that include your feared audience are hard to create until the situation arrives. Along with positive visualisation, hypnotherapy can help you to you “get used” to your audience. By gradually adding your stressors into visualisations in a safe way, you can be desensitised to your threats and feel ready to deal with them on the performance day.