Coping with OCD
Coping with OCD: Obsessive Compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and repetitive compulsions. Whilst many sufferers take refuge in medication and therapy to treat OCD, the work is often incomplete and requires self-care and coping strategies to manage it. Coping with OCD takes practice and a lot of dedication to be well-implemented. With focused strategies, the benefits can change the way you lead your life. In the following article, ten of the best coping with OCD tips are listed that can help you become an expert of your own condition.
Coping with OCD tip #1: Use Relaxation Techniques
OCD, like many mental health disorders, manifests with physical and psychological states of stress and tension. It throws your mind and body into anguish as you battle with nagging obsessions and intrusive thoughts. A good coping mechanism that many sufferers use to manage these effects is to practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing techniques to centre your mind. Relaxation techniques can take many forms, including self-hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness. Relaxation techniques can involve the use of imagery, visualisation and affirmations to focus your awareness in an engaging way.
There is growing evidence that relaxation techniques can play a significant part in your overall treatment. They have the advantage of being mobile; you can practise them anywhere, whether at home, at work or just relaxed breathing when you are on the go.
If you have tried relaxation techniques and found them to have limited benefit when coping with OCD, sampling a live hypnotherapy treatment will intensify the effect. Whilst relaxation is not the overall aim of hypnotherapy, hypnotherapists who specialise in teaching breathing techniques will transform your relaxed breathing ability to another level.
Coping with OCD tip #2: Challenge Your Thoughts:
Obsessive thoughts make up half of the struggle when coping with OCD. If you are exposed to triggers, they tend to rush in almost immediately and can set off your anxiety for hours afterwards. Some OCD patients with different types of OCD for example, describe that they have intrusive thoughts about harming someone; others worry about whether they have locked their doors securely, turned off the oven, or even have paranoid scenarios about the safety of their loved ones if they are away from them.
When these thoughts perpetuate, you can feel like you are a victim of these thoughts. Managing these distressing thoughts or reducing their power, will alleviate many of the compulsions that stem from them. But, unfortunately, trying to resist these thoughts by fighting them might achieve the opposite result, as it is the lack of flexibility with these thoughts that give them their power over you. In a sense, you can end up repressing them and giving them too much importance.
Coping with OCD effectively requires techniques like exposure to these thoughts or the expression of these thoughts to deprive them of their power. For example, you can benefit by using a journal and writing your thoughts down, or typing them on your smart phone or laptop. The method is to simply write these thoughts as many times as you want or express your feelings or worry regarding them. Alternatively, you could use a daily writing period of 15 minutes specifically made for worry. To your mind, this will be a time where it can vent all that disturbs it in a “safe zone” but it’s important to stay limited by a timeframe so that constructive worrying doesn’t take over your day.
If free expression of your thoughts isn’t always effective, it is also useful to “question your thoughts”, again on paper or your “tech” device. Ask hard questions about the truth and credibility of these thoughts. Do you have evidence for their truth? Is it strong evidence? How do you know you are not wrong? And what would be a realistic understanding of the situation if you are certain?
As an additional or alternative activity, make an audio recording of your written content. Then listen to your recording, interacting with your content to vent or challenge your obsessive thoughts.
Coping with OCD tip #3: Identify Your Triggers
Your OCD compulsions and thoughts do not arise in a vacuum. They are the result of triggering cues, situations or beliefs that make the distressing compulsions necessary to please. They create doubt and worry or generate irrational fears over which you have very little control. However, whilst such triggers play this important role, many OCD patients who haven’t studied their situation well can remain oblivious to how and why certain triggers set off their symptoms.
When you are coping with OCD effectively, you are able to identify your triggers and pay attention to how they create your fears and anxiety. General examples of such triggers can be using a public toilet seat that you believe is contaminated, attending a job interview or a social meeting where you obsess about what you did wrong, or the lack of symmetry and order in certain places that you visit.
Without a good understanding of how and what affects you, you can be a constant victim of OCD. One good technique to use is to keep a notebook and record your triggers, and then rate their emotional intensity out of 10. Since the most intense are likely to give you sustained distress and severe OCD symptoms, focus on managing the lower levels to build confidence. Then gradually approach the higher levels. For example, you could focus all of your attention whilst wiping the public toilet seat so that you can be assured that it’s cleaned well enough and won’t contaminate you. If it’s a job interview that you obsess over, set moderate standards about how it can progress. This will enable you to deal with it more effectively at the interview and in your review of your performance to pre-empt your OCD symptoms from emerging.
Coping with OCD tip #4: Confront Your Fears
The next step that can give you power over your triggers is your ability to confront your fears. Of course, all OCD fears can be very distressing to you, but they are, in fact, quite illusory. You can confront your fears with graduated exposure, paced at a level that suits you. For example, a source of panic can be a dirty floor, disturbing asymmetry in objects, or a job assignment that fills you with debilitating perfectionism. Sometimes, your worst fear can be to lose control and feel contaminated, feel guilty or fear failure.
Use a grading notebook to rate your fears out of 10 and then make a plan to expose yourself to the least fearful thing in the list. When you withdraw from the fearful situation, use the relaxation techniques (from tip #1) to visualise remaining in the “fear zone”. Immerse your mind in that low level of fear, gradually allowing it to disperse without the need to physically do anything. The achievement is to keep it as a mind process, gradually noticing that the fearful emotion at these lower levels can be diminished without force.
Like many sufferers who are coping with OCD effectively, this is a highly useful practice to be able to tolerate your anxiety over time, even for your worst fears.
Coping with OCD tip #5: Do some physical activity (exercise)
The benefits of exercising are vast, and they certainly include the efficient coping with OCD symptoms. Regular exercise (with integrated rest days) can have a lasting positive effect on your susceptibility to stress and tendency to adopt negative and irrational thinking.
Following a medical health check to investigate if you have any contraindications to exercise, regular enjoyable exercise has the ability to rewire your body and mind. With enough commitment you can escape the dark pit of constant reactivity to triggers and repetitive OCD behaviours.
If you want to keep your OCD under control, take up an easy exercise plan that suits your schedule and stay committed to it. Coupled with other coping techniques, exercise will have a major role in changing your OCD symptoms for the long-term.
Coping with OCD tip #6: Talking to others about your OCD
This tip is one of the most dismissed and underrated ways to cope with OCD. While many other techniques have a direct effect on your behavioural and psychological symptoms, the act of talking about your OCD and sharing your experiences can completely reframe your attitudes to the condition.
OCD is not just a simple compulsive reaction to disturbing triggers; rather it’s a complex mental health condition where your symptoms can also thrive in the feelings of shame, lack of self-knowledge, and psychological vulnerability. In times of anxiety and obsessive thinking, for instance, you can lack realism and the psychological fortitude that talking about your condition can bring about.
Sharing your struggle and outlook on your situation with other people builds acceptance and openness to your inner world. It also fosters social belonging and the realisation that you are not alone. You may know some isolated sufferers with OCD. You will find they are more likely to engage in distorted thinking and feelings of worthlessness. These negative moods can aggravate your symptoms.
So, to step away from an isolated perspective, it is important to find friends or close individuals who make you feel safe and are interested in listening to your struggles. Some those people are probably good listeners and with an understanding of your OCD condition can follow helpful listening guidelines.
Coping with OCD tip #7: Seek effective Therapy
Research shows that Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is most effective form of treatment for treating OCD. It represents a treatment of the two forms in which OCD presents itself; recurring obsessions and connected behavioural compulsions. Research has also shown that ERP can be incorporated into other treatment modalities like hypnotherapy.
Making use of ERP therapy will address your issues at a more fundamental level, especially with the help of a therapist. ERP will challenge your believed fears using questioning techniques, exploring your over-generalisations, catastrophic thinking and other cognitive distortions. It will then focus on exposing you to your fears and developing your self-control to resist doing your compulsions. For example, if you fear contaminated toilet seats, you are helped to use a toilet seat and then to proceed without any de-contamination behaviour such as “excessive” hand or body washing. You are supported as your contamination-fears diminish. Breaking that thought/emotion-behaviour pathway is the essence of ERP.
All obsessions remain fearful and disturbing when they are not tolerated at first. For that reason ERP tries to reveal to your mind and body how the fear of the trigger is harmless and recoverable without behaviour. Initially it’s very discomforting, but the longer you stay in the presence of those situations and triggers, the more you develop the strength and flexibility to cope with them.
Coping with OCD tip #8: Explore help from your community
Other than help from your therapist, seeking out extended forms of help will complement the work that you are already doing to assist your condition. There is a huge amount of resources and mental tools to be gained from other people and communities. Ignoring that resource will slow down your progress and make your strategies limited.
Anything from joining OCD associations, finding online communities, and making friends with other OCD sufferers can boost your skills and mood to cope with OCD. Reach out and ask questions or request help from your peers and friends. Many of these individuals can share with you their practical strategies that they use to handle their own OCD, strategies that you may not have thought about before. They might also help with recommending therapists, books, or local groups to join.
You may believe that you have all of the information that you need but even the exchange of sharing your learning with others will help you reflect on aspects that are specific to your condition. Discussions can also help you analyse the process and build confidence into what makes your learning so useful.
Coping with OCD tip #9: Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Attending to other lifestyle issues will help to stabilise your anxiety and impact on your OCD. If you are constantly lacking sleep and eating unhealthily, you will be an easy prey to fatigue. Poor sleep and diet can create a cycle that thwarts the efficiency of other coping techniques.
Start first by regulating your sleep habits and making sure to “hit the bed” on time. Your 7 or 8 hours of sleep needs to be a non-negotiable part of your day, preferably starting early at night to wake up early for a fresh and clear-minded day. As for diet, have your full meals well-spread throughout the day and make sure they consist of healthy foods. With commitment, sufficient sleep and healthy eating and will give you a firm baseline which can improve your energy levels and positive moods.
Coping with OCD tip #10: Celebrate your wins and guard against relapse
In common with understanding your addiction triggers, it is often said that full recovery is only 50% of the solution and that maintaining your recovery is the other 50%. Many OCD patients fall for the mistake of thinking that once their recovery is achieved in the short term, their OCD is gone forever. However, this is a grave error as OCD is a chronic condition and can resurface if you don’t keep an eye on your routine, stress levels, and lifestyle habits.
A relapse is possible if, for example, you stop taking medication without informing your clinician. A relapse can also be common when, having partially confronted your fears and not performed any compulsions recently, your over-confidence lowers your guard and the OCD rituals gradually worm their way back into your life.
Being clear and honest about your progress helps you to pay attention to possible scenarios that can give room for OCD to reappear. In addition to this, it’s highly useful to celebrate your victories and keep progress of small achievements. Feeling proud of your consecutive wins against OCD will motivate you for your next challenges and, more importantly, remind you of the serious work that is still needed.
More information on professional treatment for OCD.
For more information on coping with OCD, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Social Smoking When Drinking Alcohol
Do you give in to social smoking when drinking alcohol?
For the aspiring non-smoker, it can be a recurrent problem setting up your non-smoking goals and then relapsing when you next socialise and drink alcohol. Not only do you wake up feeling guilty that you have crossed your own non-smoking boundaries, but you feel disgusted because your chest feels tight and you reek of cigarette smoke. Then you spend the morning coughing up the contents of what you’ve inhaled and feel hung-over from the heavy night’s drinking session. Does this sound like a night out that you wanted to avoid?
If your goal is to ultimately stop smoking, it’s important to appreciate the impact that your social smoking rituals and the affect that drinking alcohol has on your behaviour and brain chemistry. Combine the two and it can transform many people’s healthy smoke-free intentions into a “Jekyll and Hyde” night out.
Where does it all go wrong?
Social smoking when drinking alcohol: Adolescent social smoking
Psychosocial factors play an important role in encouraging young people to smoke and to form habits that will keep them smoking. During this transition from adolescence into adulthood, the appeal is particularly strong to take risks associated with imitating adult behaviour. It can also be just as attractive to develop reactions that defy controlling behaviour from adult authority figures.
The desire to act like adults however is not matched with an adolescent’s level of brain development. Adolescents tend to be impulsive, ignoring the long-term consequences of short-term behaviour, and tend to lack the analytical decision-making skills that can come from experience. More notably, adolescent decision-making values are filtered though peer group influences. Being praised or criticised by one’s peers motivates adolescents to act or avoid participating in situations.
It’s during these extreme shifts in one’s values that adolescents are particularly vulnerable to starting and persisting with smoking. Smoking cigarettes can seem normal, functional, and deceptively rewarding. It’s not surprising that smoker’s attach beliefs that when smoking, you are: relaxing, having fun, being daring, taking back control, being sociable, being admired and being “grown up”.
What continues the integration of these psychosocial values at a deeper level is repetition with a highly addictive substance. Habits can become consolidated and the “positive” beliefs can then form attachments to other situations. During times of stress or anxiety, the associations of relaxation, having fun etc. create the urge to smoke a cigarette to relieve this stress or anxiety. In addition to other intrapersonal factors, it’s during these habit-consolidation stages that a smoker will convert from being an intermittent social user to a higher personal dependency on nicotine. In other words, you become the “regular smoker” building your dependency on nicotine into addiction.
Contrary to this development, some people are able to place tight boundaries around their smoking rituals, ensuring that it stays within the domain of social situations. They may have already crossed-over into personal nicotine dependency for a many years before reverting back to occasional use. Or it was never their intention to become a “real” smoker, perceiving it as a socially-defined ritual from the start.
Social smoking when drinking alcohol: The social smoker
The social smoker is also known as the occasional smoker, the light smoker or the casual smoker. You may never buy a pack of cigarettes, but instead prefer to scrounge cigarettes off your mates. Without buying a cigarette, it may maintain a state of denial, helping to convince you that you don’t really smoke and could quit at any time. You may also believe that the intermittent nature of your smoking carries no health risks, but this is a myth as even second-hand smoke can harm your health.
As a social smoker, you may view your smoking as a legitimised “dirty habit”, but continue because you are convinced that it helps you to socialise. Unlike some defiant smokers, you are respectful of and are sympathetic towards other non-smoker’s wellbeing. You will suppress your smoking habit in a situation if it is likely to set a bad example e.g. if smoking in front of young children. You will resist your urge to smoke if it might offend someone or be considered harmful to their health.
Your occasional social smoking ritual may involve binge smoking, as your patterns involve conforming to the social rituals of others. You lose track of the number of cigarettes that you smoke since you are unable to register having an empty packet. Over the course of a social weekend, the number of cigarettes that you smoke might exceed the level of a genuine “regular” smoker who smokes constantly throughout the week.
Social smokers may use nicotine for its psychoactive effects, such as for stimulation and pleasure. You are not addicted to nicotine, since you suffer none of the cravings, irritability or withdrawal symptoms in common with regular smokers. You are probably addicted to the ritual of smoking in social situations however, defined by some as a compulsion. Compulsions are prone to growing uncontrollably. With the potential for social-smoking being part of whole days spent during social weekends with your peers, your social smoking habits can place you on a slippery slope towards addiction.
Challenging peer group values and personal values
If your goal is to quit social smoking, it will mean confronting the identity and group culture of your peer group. Can it change or is your peer group defined by conformity? In some social group situations, many individuals want to change something negative about the group but fear being judged or evicted from the group.
Alternatively, quitting social smoking can involve strengthening your personal non-smoking values and believing that they are good enough for your peer group to accommodate. You can be proud to stand out as being different. Ultimately, if all that matters to the peer group is your conformity to do what they do, you may decide to join a different group that accepts you and the life that you want to lead – and not the life that others expect you to lead.
Social smoking when drinking alcohol: Adolescent drinking
Adolescent reasons for drinking alcohol are very similar to the reasons for starting smoking listed above. The reasons include peer pressure, self medication, defiance, sensation seeking, desire to take risks, and imitation of adult behaviour. As with smoking cigarettes, associating a potentially addictive substance with these values is likely to consolidate the “rewards” when combined with the repetition of drinking alcohol.
Another feature of drinking regularly is one of an increased tolerance to alcohol, whereby you need to consume more of it to have the same beneficial effect. Often, this means bypassing the initial “high” that you previously gained from it whilst in pursuit of your sought-after reward. At the physiological level, as your tolerance increases, you are changing your brain’s wiring system.
During the adolescent period, there is still a significant level of brain development. The short term effects of alcohol on the still-developing brain include lower cognitive attention, reaction, functioning and memory. Possible long term effects can include increased alcohol dependency.
There are many different reasons that someone can end up being dependent on alcohol to some degree, even if it means struggling to get through the weekend without at least one binge-drinking session. Having sustained periods to consolidate your “rewards” during adolescence when there is a significant amount of brain plasticity may form a deep association and possible dependency into adulthood that the only way to access these “rewards” is by drinking alcohol.
Combining alcohol into the social smoking mix
Not all adolescents smoke and drink alcohol, but these “gateway drugs” are often amongst the first experimental substances to be used concurrently. In one research study of smoking and drinking amongst youth over 98% of the sample of smokers also drank alcohol, suggesting that smoking is a reliable indicator of alcohol use.
The reasons that adolescents both smoke and drink relate to the same reasons listed above for drinking and smoking e.g. peer-pressure, looking cool, looking grown up etc.
Believing that both substances give you these rewards will compound these associations, integrating the links that smokers often make that drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes “go hand in hand”. When these rewards have been integrated, these combined substances will change your brain chemistry and deceive your brain into thinking that the respective behaviours of smoking or drinking will actualise these beliefs from one another. So when you are participating in one activity e.g. having a great time when drinking socially, the activity can act as a cue for the rewarding memory that powers your craving or urge to then smoke a cigarette.
Social smoking when drinking alcohol: The desire to quit smoking
As adolescents move into adulthood, values can change. What was previously considered a good habit can become a bad habit. The previous adolescent beliefs that activated your smoking or drinking habits may not be important to you, or may not justify your reasons to continue those habits as the young adult. Obviously, you don’t have to “look grown-up” by smoking cigarettes when you are a “grown up” adult for example.
The young adult will also create new beliefs and want to form new habits that complement that stage of your life. Attention to your health and the cost implications to maintain these habits can be reasons to change your habits.
In a survey, about a quarter of the adult sample that drank alcohol just wanted to cut down their alcohol consumption into “controlled drinking”, but not quit drinking completely.
In another survey, it was found that 70% of adult smokers wanted to quit smoking completely.
How does drinking alcohol socially affect a smoker’s ability to kick the smoking habit?
Social smoking when drinking alcohol: potential relapses
From my experience of helping clients quit smoking, one of the main reasons that people have previously lapsed and relapsed back into smoking is due to attending a major social drinking occasion in which several of the peer group smoked cigarettes.
When I’ve treated clients for smoking cessation, one of the biggest fears when stopping is to put in all of the hard work to not smoke for a few days, to then think that you have nailed it, only to lapse on a social drinking night out.
Many smokers quit using NRT, medication from the GP, with therapy or even with self help quit smoking methods. Some smokers may vape as a progressive shift away from smoking cigarettes. Adopting an effective quitting process can involve identifying your potential relapse triggers to prepare you for situations that will trigger your urge. Your stop smoking goals can run smoothly until you hit that situation that helplessly eliminates your good intentions.
When you have background experiences of social smoking when drinking alcohol, the force of habit can make this situation particularly difficult to change what you do when you are in that situation again. Deeply entrenched values from adolescence can form the learned associations that intensify the urge to lapse or relapse back into social smoking when drinking alcohol.
But it’s not just the background experiences that are causing these urges though. Once you have created the “cocktail” of chemical pathways by using both substances concurrently, there are research-based explanations that will then drive your urges to continue that behaviour. It will also explain why so many aspiring non-smokers lapse and relapse when they drink alcohol socially. The urge to smoke and drink together is not just a coincidence.
Why people are prone to social smoking when drinking alcohol
The research-based explanations for why people lapse (and relapse) into social smoking when drinking alcohol includes:
Rational decision-making processes are diminished when drinking alcohol
You can probably relate to the scenario when you have kept off cigarettes for a few days, are dealing really well with the cravings and think that you have cracked it! Then to you decide to enjoy a night out, drinking with your friends to celebrate. In the pub, they venture over to the outdoor smoking area and you join them without giving it a second thought.
Now, if you were driving and staying sober for example, your self-discipline would see this situation as a threat to your quit-smoking goals and would stop you in your tracks. Having shared a few rounds of drinks with your friends however, the implications of your smoking behaviour are rapidly brushed aside.
Even moderate drinking raises your impulsivity. It does this by increasing the amount of nor-adrenaline in the brain, elevating your levels of arousal and excitement. When drinking alcohol, it means that you are prone to seeking immediate rewards rather than the risks associated with those rewards.
Alcohol also removes your rational decision-making abilities by dampening activity in the pre-frontal cortex part of your brain. This means that you will find it hard to resist the offer of a cigarette because your inhibitions are reduced and you are not thinking about the consequences of your long term quit-smoking goals.
Nicotine counteracts the drowsy effects of alcohol
You may already be aware of the sluggish, depressant effects that a heavy drinking session can have on your mood as the night continues. Researchers have identified that the stimulating effect of nicotine can counteract the sleepiness caused by alcohol. This can explain why smokers crave a cigarette when they have drunk excessively and rather than “call it quits” for the night (knowing that you have had more than enough), you will use the stimulants in nicotine to prolong the evening. According to the research, nicotine thus increases your mental alertness, neutralising the sluggish effects of alcohol.
Alcohol and nicotine reinforces/eliminates the effects of one another
When you have had a few drinks and crossed the barrier of smoking one cigarette, the alcohol and the nicotine will be boosting the rewarding properties of the other substance. Nicotine and alcohol act on the same brain pathways, particularly on the mesolimbic dopamine system.
This process would substantiate why so many people say that smoking and drinking goes “hand in hand”; the feelings of pleasure are increased when you combine alcohol and nicotine, flooding your brain with high levels of dopamine and increasing the cravings of one another.
However, other researchers have argued that the combined effects of both substances aren’t all pleasurable. When smoking and drinking simultaneously, stress hormones effectively interact to cancel out the release of dopamine.
This research is suggesting that you feel happy when you smoke and drink separately, but when you smoke and drink together, drinking alcohol is first bringing up the happy memories of smoking. You then smoke a cigarette with your alcoholic drink and your dopamine levels drop. So you drink alcohol more to recover your dopamine and this reminds you of the pleasures of smoking…and so the reaction-cycle continues. Thos who smoke and drink together may find this process particularly tough to eliminate in that moment when a mix of different chemicals are flooding the brain.
Social smoking when drinking alcohol: Quitting smoking
With drinking alcohol increasing the urge to smoke cigarettes and smoking cigarettes increasing the urge to drink more alcohol, the risk of binge behaviour and addiction are high.
By quitting smoking cigarettes however (which the majority of adult smokers want to do), it can lower your alcohol consumption and potential for alcohol-related health problems.
Your may seek help from a hypnotherapist to assist your journey. Or work on some self-help strategies:
First things first…
In your smoking cessation journey, first ensure that nicotine is out of your system for at least three days. Use relaxation techniques to counter the cravings and to deal with stress. Continue to replace any smoking habits with new non-smoking habits and repeatedly integrate them with a feeling of achievement. The social smoker won’t have too many problems with this stage.
Temporarily avoiding social smoking when drinking alcohol
For the social smoker who socialises heavily on the weekend, achieve three days without smoking by recovering from the previous weekend’s activities and waiting until midweek to focus on your smoking cessation goals for the following weekend. Try to curb your midweek socials for a while.
In the short term, change your routine as this will help you to confront your smoking and drinking habits and it will help you to be aware of your smoking lapse triggers.
Some situations target drinking and smoking behaviour. Pubs often welcome smokers as their main audience by creating bigger outdoor spaces to accommodate smokers.
New activities and locations
Can you organise a non-social drinking situation by changing the activity? Do you feel the pressure to smoke because of the location e.g. by going to a specific pub, or because of the people you socialise with e.g. do all of your friends smoke? Can you temporarily socialise with your non-smoking friends?
What would happen if you asked trustful friends to give you a reminder of your non-smoking intentions when you are out? Can you avoid leaving the non-smoking area and venturing over into the smoking area? Can you plan to leave early if you feel the growing pressure to drink in “rounds”?
Lowering your alcohol consumption will help you smoke less. What non-alcohol drink can you drink instead? If you don’t smoke whilst socialising, it may help you reduce your total alcohol consumption.
Reappraise what drives your binge behaviour
Then consider if your socialising is a binge activity. What aren’t you dealing with through your week (or in your life) that is being channelled into the binge drinking and smoking habit on the weekend?
What other more effective ways can replace how you cope with stress throughout the week that will take the pressure off the weekend?
Hypnotherapy to help social smoking when drinking alcohol
If you are a social smoker and your goal is to become a non-smoker, confronting your social habits is an essential part of achieving your goal. With persistence, changing those old negative habits will lead to you forming new positive socialising habits. Initially it will seem like something is missing, but keep focused on your goal and it will become a natural part of how you socialise.
You can contact me for more help if you are struggling with any part of your quit smoking programme.
For more information on social smoking when drinking alcohol, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Can you erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy?
I am frequently asked if you can erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy. The question often stems from misconceptions of the power of hypnosis from the media. Films like “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” further reinforce the fantasy of these possibilities that you can undergo some brainwashing process to erase the bad memories of someone.
Or maybe the enquiry originated from being a member of the audience in a stage hypnosis show in which the memory of a subject was temporarily “erased”. Witnessing the subject being placed in a “trance” and then forgetting their own name can sow seeds of belief into the audience that memory erasure is possible.
Then you are faced with a personal trauma. You find out that your partner has been cheating on you…more than once! You’ve managed to break out of the relationship but the trauma doesn’t end there. You are desperate to get your (ex) partner “out of your head”. But there’s another problem: the more you try and forget them, the more the memories of them just rebound back into your consciousness.
It’s in those moments of helplessness that what you have “learned” from the movies or stage hypnosis shows can seem plausible. You’re desperate to find a memory erasing process that can rescue your torment in a “flick of a switch”. But is it really possible to erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy? Or is it just something that exists in fantasy movies and stage hypnosis shows?
Erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy: fact or fiction?
In order to distinguish what happens in the fictional portrayal of hypnosis against what typically happens in a hypnotherapy treatment, it can be useful to redefine what hypnotherapy is and how hypnotherapy works in practice.
Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses hypnosis to create therapeutic change. Various hypnotic techniques are used to enable you to achieve a “heightened state of consciousness” in which you can concentrate your attention into the achievement of your hypnotherapy goals.
The word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word “to sleep”, but the state of hypnosis is not a state of unconsciousness. Ask someone to “role-play” being asleep and they would instinctively close their eyes. When watching hypnosis in films (and in hypnotherapy treatments), eye closure is often promoted to focus the attention inwardly, but the hypnotherapist is not encouraging sleep in that treatment session.
The state of mind in hypnosis is often compared to states in meditation and mindfulness. In these different practices you are refocusing your own awareness into (or away from) different situations for calmness or re-clarification. Assisted externally by the hypnotherapist, it can be argued that hypnosis is a state of guided “meditation”. Similar to these other practices, it can enable you to perceive your situations with different thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
When defining hypnosis, hypnotherapists refer to being able to access the subconscious mind that holds many of the automated “patterns” of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviours that can remain hidden from the conscious mind. Some of these patterns are negative and self limiting.
Whilst in hypnosis, you are more receptive to the hypnotherapist’s suggestions to access these self-limiting and negative automated “patterns”. You are then encouraged to re-imagine them in alignment with your positive therapeutic goals.
Many conditions like smoking cessation, phobias, weight control, anxiety, stress, panic attacks and depression can be treated with hypnotherapy. The treatment process requires your active participation in which you can recall some of the therapeutic suggestions used during hypnosis. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot be made to do anything against your will with hypnosis.
Having distinguished some aspects of fact or faction, is it still possible to erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy?
Erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy: reality check
As much as you may wish to forget the existence of a person or a painful memory, there is no modern therapy that will enable you to do so. Memory erasing or brainwashing techniques do not exist; nor would it be an ethical practise if it did exist. So when asking whether you can erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy, it stems from the fictional depiction of what people want to believe about hypnosis at a desperate time of need.
The irony of trying harder to forget a recent painful memory
A memory of someone or of something is not a tangible object; memories are complex and contain far more than just the subject-matter. One memory may lead to countless other memories and associations such as other people, places, thoughts and feelings. If you were able to simply erase a memory from your mind, your mind would be missing lots of gaps and connected pockets of information.
Furthermore, whilst studies have shown that you can forget an isolated “emotionally-weak” object that has recently been shown to you in a test; you cannot forget a recent emotionally-charged memory connected to lots of experiences that are typical say, in a long term relationship.
Bad emotionally-charged memories, in particular, are pushed into your subconscious mind to protect you from re-experiencing pain and trauma. This is termed as repression. Whilst you may not be dwelling on those issues, the emotions from those memories can resurface with an appropriate connected trigger causing you to feel distressed.
Often, when someone wants to forget a person it’s because you associate negative feelings and behaviour towards them. These negative associations make it almost impossible to forget this person, as they are marked as “significant” in your subconscious (or unconscious) mind.
When you forcefully try to forget (suppress) a recent painful memory, the memory is recalled. You are then adding more importance to the memory as you re-trigger the painful emotions. By also adding additional emotions like frustration into this effort, you are effectively keeping the bad memory active.
To summarise then, vigorously trying to forget recent (or distant) bad memories backfires, keeping the memory active and causing you more upset. But dealing with bad memories can be managed in different, more productive way.
Remoulding the context of memories with hypnotherapy
Memories are not static constant structures that are fixed in your mind. Memories (and their associated thoughts and emotions) are adaptable and flexible. They are open to suggestion and can accept small deletions or “add-ons” to change some of their original meaning.
Each time that your mind replays memories, minor details of those memories are being remoulded, sometimes without even realising it.
By creating new associations and narratives to that memory, you can effectively change what that memory means to you and how you feel and respond towards it. What will surprise some people is that when you apply these changes, these changes don’t need to have happened in reality, but they still need to be “reasonably acceptable”.
Hypnotherapy is an effective tool to help you “re-edit” the negative emotional associations of a memory. These associations can be reinterpreted into ones that are aligned towards your therapeutic goals. And as you then change the way you feel about the memory, it alters your “template” of mental discomfort and the negative physical reactions.
So whilst you can’t erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy, hypnotherapy can help you change the specific thought, emotion, and behavioural associations that are connected to the memory. In other words, hypnotherapy can change “how you remember” the memory, not the “raw” memory itself.
But some people may be worried about the ethics of such a process that “meddles” with someone’s personal painful memories. Is it right to change something in your negative past that could help you develop a higher sense of morality? It’s a valid concern, but you can take into account the following:
- As mentioned earlier, nothing is done against your will and nothing can be changed without your cooperation.
- The decision to seek therapy is a tentative and personal step. It’s important to seek a therapist that you can trust and whom you believe will guide you towards emotional positivity. The change is for your emotional benefit.
- You will have assessed the need for this change, weighing up the quality of your life that you currently have by maintaining the status quo and the benefits of being free of these painful memories.
- The re-evaluation of one’s past is happening naturally and informally without even trying to change it. When you look at photographs, engage in conversations, watch the television, read newspapers etc. memories are being altered in some way. If your self-help methods are not helping you break free of these painful memories, professional therapy becomes a viable option.
- All therapies, not just hypnotherapy, seek to remould your memories in some way. The approach may actively look back at those memories or deal with them incidentally when looking ahead at what you want to achieve.
When you actively want treatment for a bad memory, hypnotherapy regression techniques and/or rewind techniques may be used in this process. They can be combined with or without solution focused hypnotherapy, which tends to “leave the past behind”. Even the most basic hypnotherapy relaxation inductions that involve a “glance” at a bad memory can help you reduce the intensity of your distress connected to the bad memory.
The hypnotherapist who uses numerous hypnotherapeutic strategies will use regression to treat your bad memory, but will still ask confirmatory questions about the achievement of your (future) goals e.g. “when you have “forgotten” this memory how will you lead your life? How will you then react or feel when you think about this memory or see this person again?”
Which conditions can benefit from a reinterpretation of your memories?
Having discussed whether it’s possible to erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy, there are certain treatment-areas that particularly benefit from a reinterpretation of your bad memories. Your specific issue does not have to fall into the categories below to be treatable.
With some treatment areas, you may not actively dwell on those bad memories, but the beliefs connected to those memories are inhibiting you from moving forwards and accessing positive change.
Fears and Phobias
There are various causes of phobias. Most phobias are learnt during childhood when these traumatic experiences shape your beliefs about your phobic object or situation. Combined with progressive desensitisation, the reinterpretation of the “causal” traumatising event can help you to release the emotions connected your phobia.
Traumas from your parent’s relationship and from your own previous relationships can compound unresolved emotions. They continue to contaminate your current and future relationships. The effect of past abuse, infidelity and parental divorce can cause deep insecurities and jealousy towards to your partner.
Lack of self confidence
Avoiding new challenges because you fear failure can be connected to events in your past. These past “failings” now shape your belief that things will go wrong again in the future, but without taking risks your confidence suffers. Releasing the emotion from these past memories can change the pathway of this negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
Low self esteem
Past criticism, abuse, bullying and neglect can be internalised as a definitions of your worth. Without realising that you are holding onto these memories, you can continue to believe that there is something wrong with you. Reappraising those bad memories can help you challenge your beliefs and rebuild your self esteem.
PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
With post traumatic stress disorder, the traumatic experience is considered to be fragmented and “misfiled” when your mind originally presented it for memory storage. The traumatic memories of the experience are now being reactivated by triggers causing symptoms like distressing flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and sudden fits of rage. Hypnotherapy can enable the traumatic memory to be safely reprocessed reducing your distressing PTSD symptoms.
Summary: the “memory erasing” potential of hypnotherapy
When a memory continues to haunt you, accessing a “silver bullet” that will remove the struggle remains a fantasy. But that doesn’t mean that the memory should continue to haunt you.
With the right expectations, what surrounds the memory can be altered. And it’s important to have the right expectations when starting a therapeutic process of change. This hypnosis test and the article that follows it can help demystify many of the common misconceptions about hypnosis.
Ultimately, you cannot erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy, but you can change what you associate with that memory. Hypnotherapy is a useful tool to facilitate this change with a variety of conditions. When actively focusing on the memory and its associations, you can then remould what that memory means to you.
For more information on whether you can erase bad memories or forget someone with hypnotherapy, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
17 Common Reasons For Drinking Alcohol
People have various reasons for drinking alcohol without their drinking patterns being a cause for concern. An alcoholic drink or two can be part of an occasional celebration or to complement a special meal. Other people may avoid alcohol altogether if they don’t like to taste, fear being out of control, or associate alcohol with past distress.
In the early stages of drinking, you may not enjoy the taste. However, the situation surrounding your drinking behaviour e.g. feeling intimidated by peer pressure, will motivate you to push through your negative taste reaction until you accept it.
After some persistence, you find out that alcohol produces many gratifying effects on your mind and body. If you perceive this effect as rewarding, then your habits will draw you in to establish a level of alcohol dependence, however small. The associations you make with your drinking experiences will shape your values and expectations to continue drinking. But the effects of alcohol on the mind and body are so deceiving that people persevere with drinking alcohol compulsively even after it becomes a problem.
The reasons for drinking alcohol listed here include a further analysis of that reason. When you want to reduce your alcohol consumption, examining your underlying motivation or reason for drinking can help you re-evaluate your perceived reward. This can start a process of change in which you can then find better emotional and behavioural alternatives that are aligned with your new drinking goals.
Reasons for drinking alcohol: two broad categories
There are generally two broad categories that define the common reasons for drinking alcohol. One category uses alcohol as a coping mechanism to ease discomfort (or for negative reinforcement). The other category involves using alcohol to be cheerful and lively at social situations (for positive reinforcement). Both categories are vulnerable to habitual and binge drinking behaviour depending on the situation and individual beliefs. Situations can involve a mix of both categories e.g. when someone’s mood is jovial with moderate alcohol consumption, but after heavy drinking their mood becomes hostile causing them to release repressed anger from childhood experiences.
What are some common reasons for drinking alcohol?
You drink alcohol to relieve stress – Alcohol has anxiety reducing (or anxiolytic properties) and diminishes the feelings of stress. This is often acknowledged in the early stages of drinking, but as the dependency grips you, drinking continues even when the stress-relieving benefits have faded. The memory of the past benefit pushes the misconception that the feeling of relief will arrive after another drink. Ironically, for those with a high alcohol dependency, the increased alcohol consumption intensifies the feeling of stress that you were hoping to escape in the first place.
You are influenced by peer pressure (social norms) – The UK has an established drinking culture and following these social drinking norms and rituals is one of the main reasons for drinking alcohol, regardless of age. Drinking influences can come from your peers, your family, the media, the occasion etc.
In a social situation, you may not want to drink, but the fear of offending someone or standing out from the crowd if you don’t “keep up” can trigger feelings of isolation, a fear of being criticised or fear of being rejected from the social group (or activity). These fears can pressurise people into drinking because it’s socially expected particularly when it is connected to occasions like weddings and large parties.
For some people and social groups, drinking is the activity and the term “drinking buddy” can be used to form a relationship in which heavy drinking is normalised. Ironically, those with a high alcohol dependency will frequently drink alone with minimal social interaction in a social setting. Peer pressure can then be used as the hidden excuse for yet another occasion to believe you are drinking and having fun with friends.
You drink alcohol to feel grown up – Teenagers are highly curious and suggestible when they see adults doing something that they don’t do. With adulthood approaching fast, their impatience can encourage them to imitate adult behaviour. Tell your teenage children not to do something when you are doing it yourself and it’s likely to fire their curiosity when you are not around and see what all of the fuss is about. For teenagers, acting like an adult is one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol. Ironically, when drinking excessively, it’s an excuse for many adults to act like young children!
You drink as an act of rebellion – If you are a teenager who is surrounded by rules and is constantly being told not to do things, being defiant about breaking the rules can be exciting. And when the members of your peer group haven’t “found” alcohol yet, it can seem very cool to do something excessively that they don’t do. The need to stand out as a non-conformist can continue into adulthood however, justifying the drinking behaviour as the definition of your individuality. Being the adult rebel with a high alcohol dependency, others will probably pity your behaviour rather than admire it, thinking that you have somehow lost your direction and now hide behind the “glamour” of your rebellious drinking.
You drink alcohol to take back control – If you have experienced control, manipulation or abuse from a parent or partner, you may use alcohol to “take back control” or even take revenge on your oppressor, particularly if they don’t like you drinking alcohol. Or maybe you are struggling to control a part of your life e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder, and having something that gives your mind moments of “release” can feel like you have momentarily escaped your torture and can “control” something. Drinking alcohol to cope with the despair of abuse and to take back control and is one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol heavily. Even when you have battled your way out of your situation, the subtle reminders of your previous loss of control can be a strong trigger to drink again. It’s a long path back to heal the damage of your situation, but alcohol never really gave you the emotional resources to conquer it.
You drink alcohol to lower your inhibitions – Social phobia or (social anxiety) is a common phobia in which the individual fears embarrassment and attention. Alcohol is often used as “liquid courage” to take the edge off shyness particularly when coping with situations like a first date or a large party filled with strangers. You can feel anxious and drink alcohol to cope in anticipation of the actual event.
As your intolerance increases with a hectic social life, those spontaneous moments of awkwardness can trigger the need for another drink. Ironically, when you then become a binge drinker, your lack of inhibition can create situations that are often embarrassing, aggressive or attention-seeking. This is something that you can obviously blame on alcohol and “shrug off” the next day to hide your blushes, rather than developing skills like using affirmations, breathing techniques to control your anxiety, self hypnosis and meditation.
You drink alcohol to improve your sleep quality – When you are going through major lifestyle changes or work-related stress, your sleep quality can be affected. Introducing alcohol as a sedative to break the sleep-worry cycle can have a short term benefit, but when the effects of alcohol wear off, you are likely to wake up in the middle of the night. As your intolerance to alcohol increases, it means that you will need more alcohol to have the same sedating effect though the night. If the stressful conditions continue, those benefits can fool you into believing that alcohol is helping your long term sleeping habits. Since alcohol is a depressant, it reduces the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) necessary for quality sleep. So when you have drunk alcohol, you tend to wake up feeling fatigued with poor concentration levels. Learning how to regain your natural sleep quality will help you break the sleep-worry cycle.
You drink alcohol to manage pain – It’s common to manage chronic pain with alcohol, but in order to be effective, you will need to binge drink over long periods to achieve some level of benefit. As you build up a tolerance for the quantity of alcohol, you will need more to achieve the same pain-relieving effect. There are further dangers of causing harm to other organs when mixing alcohol with painkillers.
Drinking alcohol helps you to feel better – Another term for using a substance like alcohol to feel better is called self medication. This is a broad category within the reasons for drinking alcohol that includes gaining any perceived benefit whether it’s shared by others or just personal to you.
Common reasons to self medicate (other than reasons already listed in this article) include feeling angry, lonely, depressed, bereft, worthless, frustrated, guilty, ashamed, bored etc. Using alcohol becomes the crutch to help you avoid, escape, divert, deny, suppress, repress, relieve, replace, numb, punish, block, hide, erase, stall, mask, forget etc. actively confronting or dealing with the discomfort associated with another situation.
In so many of those situations, the underlying problem doesn’t go away after you have finished drinking. Drinking alcohol just gives you a momentary release that is more bearable until you have accessed (if ever) a better way of coping with the alternative. If, for example, you drink to block feelings of guilt about something that you did wrong, your attention can be temporarily diverted from that guilty feeling that connects to the situation.
Some problems become more complex with time and latch onto additional situations causing the sufferer to feel more guilt and increase your dependency on alcohol. You don’t find an active solution to their problems; instead, drinking alcohol becomes the solution. Forming new good habits without alcohol takes time; prepare for a long road ahead.
You enjoy the taste of alcohol – Tasting ethanol for the first time as a child is rarely a pleasant experience. Evolution has hard-wired humans to dislike bitterness. But the taste can be “acquired” when it is suggested to you to “give it time” or you attach other reasons to persist with the bitter taste until you accept it e.g. because you want to fit in with your peer group.
Adding sugar to disguise the bitterness will help that acquired “liking” for you alcoholic drink and this addition also takes care of the other half of what evolution has programmed us to do (like sweetness). Flavour it with a whole range of mixers in enjoyable surrounds and your perceptions quickly convert it to the acquired taste that you enjoy.
And despite many people having drunk excessively to the point of vomiting to indicate that your body doesn’t like this, it only serves as a temporary aversion when your peers boost your drinking and vomiting achievement as “cool”.
You really want a drink – When you already perceive pleasure from something, the neurotransmitter that controls the reward centre in the brain called dopamine is playing a major part in motivating your behaviour. Drinking alcohol has an effect of increasing the release of the dopamine giving some people this temporary euphoria of enjoyment. Then add to that physiological process numerous pleasurable experiences like parties and celebrations to set up habits and your “want” and expectation to want more will be amplified.
Unfortunately, with continued alcohol use, the brain adapts to the dopamine overload by producing less of the neurotransmitter and lowering your mood. To regain your euphoria, the brain is tricked into thinking that you have to keep drinking to stay happy, meaning that you may need more alcohol to have the same effect. At this stage of alcohol dependency, your want is bordering on a “need” to feel good again. If you maintain a high level of alcohol consumption, you are on the early pathway to alcohol dependency.
You drink alcohol to warm you up – Drinking alcohol can temporarily feel warming by the receptor nerves in your skin detecting a rise in skin temperature caused by vasodilation. But this effect actually lowers the body’s core temperature as the thermoregulatory system would normally perform this function to cool your core temperature down. Natural ways to warm up include moving around and putting on warmer clothes and wrapping your hands around a hot cup of tea if your hands are cold.
You drink alcohol to quench your thirst – Drinking alcohol has a diuretic effect, helping you to eliminate water from your body by increasing the production of urine, hence you tend to feel thirsty in the night or morning after a drinking session. It’s likely that when you are thirsty and you consume one alcoholic drink, you believe that the next drink will taste better because of the false belief that it is thirst quenching. If you are thirsty, there are many non-alcoholic drinks that will quench your thirst.
You drink alcohol to improve the taste of your food – Pairing your food with alcohol can seem like a sophisticated ritual that is built into fine dining culture. Excessive alcohol consumption however can damage your sense of taste.
Moderate drinking activates the taste and smell receptors connected to the brain to generate a chemo-sensory perceptive experience along the lines of “ah, plenty of berry fruits…etc.” This response makes it an ingenious marketing opportunity to mark up the cost of a bottle of wine in a restaurant. When you then buy your “deliciously” described steak from the menu (another way to build expectation about having something better than it is), you are fully buying into the illusory benefits of wine pairing.
You drink alcohol to feel powerful – Power can mean several things to different people. It can mean feeling confident, self-assured, authentic, courageous, being assertive, funny, sexy, beautiful, sociable, impulsive, flirtatious, important or liberated as an ideal version of your “self”. For some people, it can mean an excessive “high” feeling of arrogance or aggression that can be admired by one’s peers (social confidence) and would not come to the surface without using an elixir to immortalise you in some way. The reason that you might feel powerful is again connected to the brain’s flooding of dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter) that can have the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions. Then there’s the placebo effect – believe that that an amount of alcohol “caused” you to have a good outcome last time and you will drink alcohol again to “create” the same effect.
If you have low self belief and low self confidence, and fear being exposed as dull, unintelligent, ugly etc., you are probably using alcohol to fill your void of insecurities. You remain convinced that alcohol will give you “power” or another emotional boost and guess what, it will probably will!
You drink alcohol to improve sexual performance – Drinking alcohol to improve the quality of your sex can have variable benefits. Depending on your gender, people may drink alcohol to increase your desire to be intimate, be less “fussy” with your choice of partner, lower the level of performance anxiety, increase or decrease arousal levels depending on your underlying negative issue (e.g. premature ejaculation), sustain an erection and delay orgasm. But there is an optimal amount of alcohol to achieve the desired result. Excessive alcohol can have a detrimental effect on the quality of your sex, decreasing sensitivity (common with erectile dysfunction), reducing arousal and your ability to achieve orgasm. As with using any substance excessively, achieving natural sexual satisfaction can become more difficult to achieve as you drink heavily. Many people who binge drink often regret their sexual experiences whilst being drunk.
You drink to get drunk – Drinking with the intention of getting drunk can be motivated by a number of underlying reasons. People usually get drunk to cope with negative experiences, to be more sociable, to conform to ritualised behaviour and to feel more excitable. The physical effects of alcohol include reducing stress by acting like a common tranquilliser in parts of the brain, dimming your judgement abilities so that you “don’t care”, releasing dopamine to increase pleasure and releasing endorphins (opiates) to help you “feel good”. With alcohol being legal, it’s not surprising that people want to get drunk in the short term with all of these physiological effects. Continue to binge drink over an extensive period of time and the changes in your brain chemistry steer you towards high alcohol dependency.
Common reasons for drinking alcohol: Summary
The reasons for drinking alcohol are numerous and personal but can be generalised into drinking for positive and negative reinforcement. Any behaviour associated with a substance can become habit-forming. A behaviour that is part of cultural norms and values can quickly accumulate positive beliefs as you multiply those experiences.
If you are seeking to reduce your alcohol consumption, interacting with your underlying needs will help you to focus on positive changes.
- Relying on any substance like alcohol to cope deceives you that you are really dealing with it.
- The perceived rewards can become a habitual.
- Your initial rewards can be redundant, but you continue to believe that you are still benefitting even though your lifestyle has changed.
- You can be convinced that things would be worse if you didn’t drink.
- As your tolerance to alcohol increases, you need more alcohol to have the same effect.
- When you drink heavily, the rewiring of your brain chemistry makes it harder to cope with those situations naturally.
- Heavy drinking patterns can creep up on you.
- You increase the number of health risks as your drink heavily, including risking alcoholism.
Reasons for drinking alcohol: for more information on hypnotherapy to lower your alcohol consumption contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Accepting Health Anxiety
Accepting health anxiety: You often hear that you should “trust your gut instincts”. It’s probably true for most of the time. But what if those instincts are rooted in fear? Does it then mean that those fearful instincts are distorted and will cause havoc if you follow those gut instincts?
You can appreciate that sending for the emergency fire services each time that someone lights a match because of what might happen to that small isolated fire would be a blatant over-reaction. But when suffer you have excessive fear, your reality is dominated by your emotion; the situation will be catastrophic. With excessive fear, this reaction feels right and the fearful person is unable to “normalise” how less fearful people might dismiss it.
Health anxiety (also known as hypochondriasis) is a condition in which you are preoccupied with the fearful belief that you have or will contract a serious illness. You struggle to enjoy life because you are convinced that all of those bodily “noises” (sensations, feelings and discomforts etc.) that normal healthy people learn to live with is something far more serious. With health anxiety, you are convinced that this small match fire is attached to something highly flammable and needs the fire service to extinguish it. In addition to this, when it has been extinguished, you’re convinced that it will keep relighting and cause another major fire.
Accepting health anxiety: Feared illness or actual illness
The internal systems of the body are constantly making normal “noises” that can affect heart rate, breathing patterns, changes muscle tone etc. Many of those sensations that you feel can alter according to your emotional state. Heart rate slows when relaxed, but increases when you are anxious. Your digestion rate can change with emotions and create many noises along the way! Some of the bodily sensation changes can be uncomfortable, startling and even undesirable, but they are not dangerous. When you are convinced that they are symptoms of a serious illness, your anxiety can exaggerate those sensations, and trigger more of them. When you feel these changes, they are not fabricated. The sensations you feel are real but the fearful beliefs and emotions that underpin them are false. The sensations deceive you because you or people close to you usually have suffered a retrospective medical trauma.
Confronting this internal deception is an important part of your return to health. It means acknowledging that the medical illness you fear is not the medical illness that you have; instead, the fear is the illness.
Accepting health anxiety: From denial to acceptance
Accepting that you have a mental health disorder can be a difficult path. Denial, embarrassment, guilt, shame, frustration, anger and self blame are likely to be just some of your emotional obstacles en route. As you continue your journey, you can then understand what your health anxiety means for you and the options available to cope with it.
Your survival mechanisms can include rituals of exercise, dieting, self care programmes all of which are generally good for your long term health. Some of those rituals can become compulsive and indicate that you are avoiding or struggling to deal with the core issue. This is not your fault as you are driven by your emotions, trying your best to minimise that moment of discomfort.
Your journey of change may initially involve looking back on how it originated. Did you make the retrospective link to childhood values that “taught” you to be fearful of your health? This is not about blaming others, more about understanding your foundation layers of belief. Understanding how you “did it” can relieve some of your mind’s confusion. Some of those learning situations were traumatic and in the same way certain phobias are formed, you were hyper-reactive to the “object” of your fear. Typically, with health anxiety, it involves a close member of your family suddenly falling ill. A massive heart attack can give no warning for you to prepare your grief.
When you are a young child it’s difficult to understand what has happened and how your emotions are affecting you. The mark it leaves on your emotional development won’t show itself for some years to come. It’s likely that authority figures who were coping with their own grief may have shielded you from this trauma without involving you in discussions of your grief. What they may not have realised is that you had already made your own (misplaced and often illogical) associations of health anxiety-learning and this is now taking its hold on you.
So the heart attack trauma and all that you then learn about heart functioning becomes a focus of your attention. Before you understand what stress and anxiety is, you are already convinced that this rapid heartbeat (caused by a panic attack) is a major cause for alarm. Will you also have a heart attack like your close relation? If something does happen to you, will it be your fault if your family go through yet more suffering?
What about other types of family traumas that can exacerbate health anxiety? It is well known that when parents go through acrimonious separations, this creates deep insecurity in children who may struggle with anxiety in the future. This can reinforce the health anxiety “seeds” from a family bereavement or be the start a deep feeling of helplessness when symptoms of anxiety (like a racing heart beat) present themselves. If the excessive attention given to a sick child diverts the family rows, the “emotion gain” can be a trigger for health-related attention-seeking behaviour when the child feels unwell in the future (Munchausen Syndrome).
When you bring health anxiety symptoms into teenage hood, the shift towards a socially-oriented value system brings additional pressure to appear “normal” to one’s peers. Feelings of embarrassment when you get attention are likely to heighten your struggle with excessive anxiety symptoms. You want to remain invisible but the tightness in your chest will surely be noticed and be judged by your peers. You fear looking as if you are having a heart attack and the irreversible damage this will have on your frail social esteem. So you avoid presentations, you suffer panic attacks with exams and your school attendance may suffer as a consequence of your anxiety.
You are still convinced that your palpitations are more than just anxiety. Then there’s the dilemma about admitting these issues to your peers. Will they mock you? Will it make the symptoms worse if they know about it? Afraid to speak out about it, you go through a period of silence, stifling your social confidence and avoiding situations that might trigger your anxiety.
When you are tired of running away from it, you finally speak to your family and they offer their reassurance that it will probably just disappear with time. But how do they know? They aren’t doctors so maybe they’re just trying to distract you. You pluck up the courage to see your doctor who wants to refer you to a cardiologist just to make sure that there is no underlying medical issue. This is helpful that someone has heard you but the appointment is months away. During that period of anticipation, it seems like an eternity. You are convinced that it must be serious to have to see a consultant. Your imagination creates any number of catastrophic scenarios of needing major heart surgery, or that you are untreatable or even worse.
When you finally have your medical consultation, you are told by the consultant that all is clear and it’s probably anxiety. Momentarily, you feel reassured; then you feel betrayed. What if they have missed something? The symptoms are still there and you are not ready to fully accept the diagnosis. “What I am feeling can’t just be anxiety!” The symptoms are too real.
Determined to prove the reality of your chest sensations, you research your symptoms with Dr Google. This is a bit risky because during your research, you are likely to only accept what you already believe. You feel tense during your research and it causes your symptoms to become active just reading about the traumas of heart conditions.
Feeling desperate, you let down your guard and go back to your GP who prescribes some medication for your anxiety. You are not elated about taking medication; you have never had to take medication before. Is it safe to introduce something unnatural into your body? Will it have any side effects? When you research the possible side effects, you read that it could actually cause palpitations. Why was this medication prescribed if it can cause the very problem that you want to resolve?
Feeling betrayed by your doctor, you take matters back into your own hands. The next line of attack is trying untested natural remedies by people who seem to be going through the same situation as you. If it works for them, it could help you too! And when you read the reviews, they are fantastic! You haven’t considered the placebo effect just yet.
Sometimes by coincidence, those natural health remedies help, but the racing heart beat still has its moments. Then, a friend opens up and tells you about their anxiety symptoms. They mention that they have had a similar traumatic background with a relation dying suddenly of a medical condition. You are ready to confide in them and the conversation moves to the topic of health anxiety. In that moment, everything adds up. It takes a while to sink in but when you research “accepting health anxiety”, more of it makes sense.
Now you can get the help that you need. You are not seeking treatment for a medically-based condition; you are seeking treatment for a mental health condition.
Click here for more information on health anxiety treatment.
Accepting health anxiety: For more information on treatment for health anxiety contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
OCD Treatment Cardiff
OCD Treatment Cardiff: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that is characterised by having uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, persistent and sometimes intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that cause emotional distress. Obsessions can cause the individual to act out certain repetitive behaviours or additional mental acts (called compulsions) in order to immediately reduce the distress of the obsession.
It is estimated that about three quarters of a million people in UK suffer with obsessive compulsive disorder, with about half of those being affected severely. It tends to interfere with the majority of people’s lives around early adulthood, but can be problematic at any age.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: OCD in everyday language and OCD in reality
There are many medical terms that cross-over into everyday language. Being “addicted”, “paranoid” or “agoraphobic” are common labels that can be used respectively to describe how a person can exaggerate the enjoyment of something, fear that something terrible is going to happen or have a lack of enthusiasm for social events. But the real conditions are far more distressing than those applied in everyday language.
Similarly, being “obsessed” or “obsessing” are common terms used to give casual reference to say, being preoccupied with a person, a new hobby or with a specific goal. Used in this context, your “obsession” will absorb your time and attention in some momentary way, particularly if the event is recent. You may listen to a new song repetitively and keep singing it when you are doing something routine. Or you may persistently think about a new love interest so intensely that it can distract some moments of your concentration, but it will be placed in the context of your other responsibilities that will help your day to function.
Undoubtedly, the nature of the “obsession” can be related to negative situations like illness or death, but the preoccupation lessens when the situation has ended or when it gradually fades with the passing of time. Generally, you will still get to work at the time required, eat meals regularly, attend social events and ensure that you have a reasonable night’s sleep.
With OCD, the obsessions and compulsions have more permanence. The time spent (usually more than one hour per day) replaying thoughts or perfecting rituals will interfere with the other important parts of your life such as your health, your relationships and your occupation. There is extensive loss of control over your repetitive thoughts or behaviours. Additionally, there is little or no satisfaction when carrying out your compulsions; any relief from the anxiety is usually brief.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: Types of OCD
Your obsessive compulsive disorder can attach onto any specific issue depending on your belief system, history of traumas and reactions to those traumas. There are some common categories of obsessions and compulsions however.
Categories of obsessions can include contamination fears, orderliness and symmetry, fear of danger (and harm), and taboo thoughts.
Categories of compulsions can include rituals of decontamination, rearranging, checking, and reassurance-seeking.
You can access more information here on the common types of obsessive compulsive disorder.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: What causes OCD?
Despite extensive research into the causes of obsessive compulsive disorder, no definitive cause of OCD has been identified. Instead there are various theories that relate to possible causes:
Biological factors – Varied blood flow in parts of the brain and chemical deficiencies of serotonin (and other neurotransmitters) are indicated with OCD brain chemistry. These differences do not confirm whether this is a cause or an effect of having OCD however.
Genetic factors – Those with close relatives who have OCD can increase the likelihood that you will also develop OCD. There have been attempts to identify a specific gene with OCD, but no research has been conclusive. Where OCD is limited to only some members of the family, it may still suggest that the condition could be a learned behaviour from authority figures, rather than a genetically-linked condition.
Environmental factors – The effect of past abuse, traumas and stressful events play a significant role in the development of OCD. They are likely to accelerate its development where there are biological or genetic connections. OCD can also develop in children following streptococcal infection.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: Signs and symptoms of OCD
The severity of your mental or behavioural rituals is the major factor in determining whether you have OCD. In the early stages, you may live inside the condition and not realise its development. For some people, it may take a partner or close relative to point out that your rituals are excessive.
When OCD is suspected, it’s important to have the condition formally diagnosed by your doctor.
What are some of the common signs and symptoms?
Checking – Checking rituals are used to prevent harm, danger and avoid feelings of irresponsibility. It becomes more troublesome when the checking rituals cause you to miss deadlines (e.g. being late for work) and when the rituals have a fixed numerical routine that cannot be compromised e.g. you must check it five times or you have to start the ritual over again.
Hand-washing – Hand-washing becomes an OCD problem when you are in possession of elaborate hand-washing routines that focus more on the comfort of the ritual than the cleanliness of your hands. Hand-washing can also be problematic when you still feel anxious about contamination even after you have thoroughly washed your hands.
Cleaning – Cleaning rituals can become an OCD problem when you experience no relief from your contamination fears, despite you having spent an extensive amount of time on cleaning.
Ruminating on relationships – It’s common to obsess when a relationship has broken down; it’s part of the grieving process. With non-intimate partners, obsessing over the intricacies of what was meant by someone or whether your comment was likely to offend someone can mean more than just issues of social anxiety. It could be a sign of OCD when those conversations keep replaying in your mind and you struggle to turn them off.
Counting – Counting becomes problematic when the ritual of repetitive counting distracts you from being able to function in important situations. Or it could be a sign of OCD when you assign excessive superstitious value on to your behaviour e.g. will only take action with “lucky” numbers, and will avoid participation with “unlucky” numbers.
Despising your looks – Disliking some physical features of your appearance is common. Extensively avoiding social situations or spending hours in front of the mirror fixating on a body part that you perceive as abnormal can be linked to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). OCD is indicated when you place too much importance to your physical features.
Reassurance seeking – It’s ok to have moments of doubt and seek reassurance from people that you trust. Continually asking for reassurance on the same issues and being told you are doing this by someone close to you could be a warning sign for OCD.
Symmetry – Organisation issues are troublesome when they exceed perfectionism. Tidying the sock draw is occasionally helpful, but OCD can be indicated when you may not really want to do the task in the first place, but need to “order it and re-arrange it” to relieve anxiety.
Fear of violence – It’s common to have fleeting thoughts about harming yourself, harming others or being harmed by others. But it could be a sign of OCD when these (sometimes intrusive) thoughts are persistent, you continually seek reassurance about these negative thoughts, or you avoid the situations that could cause this harm.
Hoarding – Most people are guilty of collecting things for that “just in case I need it in the future” moment. When those collections pile up and prevent you from routine functions because they are taking over your sleeping space or the ability to use the bathroom, then it’s time to accept that you have an OCD (related) condition.
Forbidden thoughts – Most people have fleeting taboo thoughts that you can dismiss easily. Struggling to reject forbidden thoughts, believing that they are part of your identity and avoiding those people who are connected with your forbidden thoughts can be a sign of OCD.
You can access many more of the common signs and symptoms of OCD in this article detailing the various types of obsessive compulsive disorder.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: Common Treatment Methods
Accepting that you have OCD is an early common obstacle because most sufferers can feel embarrassed and ashamed of the condition. This denial can cause more avoidance and negative, suppressive coping strategies. Like with so many mental health conditions, you will have done your best to prevent the development of your condition. But once the condition is in full swing, it can be very challenging to treat it without external help.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your GP will offer some of the following methods to treat OCD:
Medication – You may be prescribed SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant medication from your doctor.
CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a talking therapy that explores how your thoughts, beliefs and emotions are influencing your behaviour.
ERP – Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is similar to systematic desensitisation where you are gradually exposed to situations whilst changing how you react to them. With ERP, you are assisted by your therapist to confront the situations that cause you anxiety. Instead of carrying out the compulsion, you are encouraged to tolerate the anxiety and resist your compulsive urge.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: How Can Hypnotherapy Treat Your OCD?
The research for treating OCD with hypnotherapy may not be as comprehensive as treating it with CBT and medication, but there are smaller isolated studies that demonstrate its effectiveness. For example, hypnotherapy has been used when treating two OCD patients with contamination fears, with another OCD patient who had an AIDS-related contamination fear and again as an OCD dissociative tool.
How can you benefit from hypnotherapy?
Hypnotic states of awareness are similar to OCD states of awareness
Hypnosis can be an effective tool for treating OCD because the two states of awareness are so alike. In both hypnosis and OCD, your attention is highly concentrated; your mind will “zone out” and become inwardly absorbed into the intense “reality” of what you are imagining.
There is also a similarity with temporal distortion. When you are in hypnosis, it’s common to lose track of time whilst in deep visualisation. In the same way, during the performance of your OCD rituals, hours can pass you by without noticing how much time you have spent inside your ritual or what is happening in the outside world.
With these common features, it’s logical to treat what can be considered as a “hypnotic” condition using a treatment mode that is so similar. You won’t be surprised to know that previous OCD clients that I have treated have been highly responsive to hypnosis.
You can test your level of suggestibility here with this hypnosis test.
Hypnotherapy can help with anxiety reduction
Reducing your level of your anxiety is an important part of coping with OCD. Hypnotherapy has an advantage over other therapies because anxiety reduction is incorporated into the hypnotic induction. But anxiety reduction by itself is not the complete treatment for OCD; being able to confront the emotions that dominate your obsessions so that you can resist the urge of your compulsions is also a necessary part of your treatment. When you are in a relaxed hypnotic state, you will be more receptive to suggestions that will target this treatment goal.
Hypnotherapy can help you interrupt the patterns from past traumas
Using regression techniques selectively, hypnosis can be used to change the negative emotional learning from past traumas. Interrupting the past patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviour that have consolidated your OCD rituals will help you to break recurrent ritualistic habits that now define your OCD. But this doesn’t mean ploughing through every year of your life as is commonly considered with age regression techniques. Only the most pertinent traumas are selected and reframed for you to benefit from this treatment technique.
Hypnosis can treat the problem part of your OCD mind
Obsessions and compulsions can be intensified when you have recurrent traumas. Your feared reactions then serve to reinforce the impact of these past traumas. Over time, this habitual functioning becomes automated and gets pushed down into your subconscious mind. This process can create (what can be considered as) OCD “parts” of your mind (or ego states) that replay your OCD “programme”. Traditional counselling methods attempt to work on these issues at the conscious level, but this can be a challenging process when this OCD “programme” now resides in your subconscious mind.
In hypnosis, your subconscious mind is accessed. The subconscious OCD “programme” can be treated, adding insight into the sensitising emotional causes of your OCD “programme”. By treating the emotional parts of your OCD mind, you can relearn to cope with these negative emotions, to resist the urge to perform the compulsions and relearn that nothing bad happens when you don’t give in to your compulsions.
Hypnotherapy can be integrated with ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) Techniques
It’s a common misconception that hypnosis will be the magic wand and will simply turn off your OCD in one session. Is a hypnotherapist actively promoting this belief? If you see any hypnosis being advertised in this way, you will know not to bother giving it a second thought as quite simply, it will fail. When you enter your treatment with this expectation, not surprisingly, you will leave saying “hypnosis didn’t work for me”. ERP techniques are the effective way to treat OCD, but these techniques are not a quick fix either. ERP takes commitment and persistence to go through what can be a short-term increase in anxiety, before your condition gradually improves.
What happens in a typical ERP treatment? Under the guidance of your ERP therapist, you learn to confront the anxiety of the obsessions whilst resisting the urge to perform your compulsions. Over time, as you resist your compulsions, the anxiety fades. You progressively learn to challenge the fear that drives your compulsion and accept that nothing catastrophic follows. In other words, rather than taking the short-term “compulsion fix” that has dominated your OCD ritual, you learn to ride out the anxiety as the structure of your OCD “programme” changes.
Another misconception by the other therapies considers that hypnosis is not suitable for ERP techniques because when you are “put under”, you will not be exposed to the anxiety sufficiently to change what drives the urge to perform the compulsion. This depends on how hypnosis is being used. There is some previous research with a war veteran that demonstrates how hypnosis can be integrated with ERP techniques successfully.
Hypnotherapy offers a multitude of therapeutic interventions to treat OCD. It is only limited by the skill of the hypnotherapist employing these techniques. Other therapists may not be able to appreciate this enough if they don’t have the experience of using hypnosis. Hypnotherapy can thus be mistakenly classified as a single-approach modality in which you are “made” to change in one session or it doesn’t work. There are many reasons why other therapies outside of hypnotherapy would fail to treat OCD too, particularly if you only had one treatment session.
Hypnotherapy can treat the emotions that are manipulating your feared reality
Contained within your deceptive OCD programme of “fictional outcomes” is a mix of unwanted (and sometimes intrusive) thoughts, images, sensations, urges, emotions and behaviour. The biggest driver that formulates your OCD “programme” and convinces you that your OCD story is real are the emotions and feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, blame, fear, responsibility etc. Without these strong emotions and feelings underpinning your condition, you would be able to dismiss the thoughts and triggers as nonsense. Instead, you fear them, avoid them, seek reassurance from them and have the strong urge to immediately perform the compulsions as safety behaviour.
Hypnotherapy can help you access, welcome and embrace the emotions and feelings that overwhelm your OCD programme. As part of your integrated ERP hypnotherapy treatment, you can learn to tolerate these negative emotions and feelings that are out of control. This process of emotional desensitisation will give you the confidence to believe that the intrusive thoughts are irrational, overestimated and undeserving of those needless and time-consuming compulsive rituals. Hypnotherapy can convince you that you are strong enough to deal with the deceit behind the OCD programme, to confront the painful emotions and feelings until they pass. With hypnotherapy, what awaits you is emotional freedom from your OCD programme.
OCD Treatment Cardiff: For more information on how hypnotherapy can treat your OCD contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Claustrophobia Treatment Cardiff
Claustrophobia is known as the fear of confined spaces. It is categorised as a type of anxiety disorder and as a specific (rather than a complex) phobia. The term is derived from the Latin word claustrum which translates as a “closed space” and from the Greek word phobos meaning “fear”.
Sufferers of claustrophobia have an illogical fear of being trapped in a confined space. Once trapped, you are convinced that you will have no means of escape.
Natural to the development of claustrophobic traumas is the anticipation that the catastrophic outcome is certain. The mere thought of entering this confinement is enough to cause strained breathing as if your chest walls are threatening to close in on your lungs until complete suffocation.
Breathlessness is a common feature of high anxiety or a panic attack. A panic attack is typical symptom of all phobias. With claustrophobia, breathlessness is one of the most prominent features of the panic attack.
Where possible, avoidance is commonly sought to alleviate your anxiety symptoms. But as most claustrophobic sufferers are aware however, avoidance of these confined situations just intensifies your sensitivity to the relative confinement. It also increases your desperation to evacuate when you perceive that you are trapped or about to be confined in a situation.
Claustrophobia is an extremely common phobia. It is estimated that around 10% of the population in UK are affected by the condition in their lifetime.
Types of claustrophobia
Claustrophobic sufferers fear being trapped, fear being restricted and/or fear being breathless. The history of your personal traumas will influence your perception and ability to cope with either of these situations listed below.
Fear of confined spaces
You fear the relative closeness of the walls/objects that constrain you and/or obscure your view. Without seeing “space” immediately around you, you fear entrapment. You struggle to place trust in what operates (controls) the constraint e.g. an electronic door. The sound or visible operation of the exit is a strong trigger for your panic reaction.
Your fear of these situations can be generalised or specific to one situation. They can include:
- Mechanical situations – lifts (elevators); public transport including airplanes, trains, coaches, ships; yachts and submarines; the underground and subway trains, particularly those that enter extended tunnels; carwashes; MRI or CT scans; fairground rides with limited visibility; small cars or taxis that are centrally locked.
- Structural situations – Toilet cubicles; wardrobes and closets; cellars and basements; store dressing rooms with lockable doors; any confined spaces or rooms that are dark; tight stairwells; mazes or labyrinths; mines or underground sites; tombs and coffins; shower cubicles; trailers.
- Natural situations – tunnels; caves or caverns.
Fear of being immobile
Claustrophobic sufferers also trigger anxiety when you perceive that your movement is restricted. In these scenarios, you can appreciate that there is there is significant space in the distance, but you, the situation or other people inhibit or control your movement, or demand that you “stay put”. Feeling obstructed (as you would in a physically confined space), your panic prepares your limbs for “flight” mode, in readiness to run away to safety. Without actually using up this anxious energy, this can be felt as muscular tremors in your legs (feeling “jelly-like”). Being around people and displaying your panic symptoms (tremors or desperation to leave) can then cause you to feel embarrassed, further adding to your fear cycle.
The fear of mobility situations can include those listed above (in fear of confined spaces) and the following:
- Mechanical situations – traffic jams, driving on motorways or roads with high surrounds e.g. high bushes or trees; sitting in the back seat of a two door car or taxi; using an escalator; a ride at the fairground/amusement park; revolving doors.
- Structural situations – hotels with sealed windows; being in the higher levels of a high rise building.
- Treatment situations – having a injection; needing a hospital medical procedure; being treated at the dentist/optician, or hairdresser/barber/beautician.
- Social situations – as a young child, losing sight of your family particularly amongst crowds; being in the middle of large crowds; bars and nightclubs; public speaking situations; work meetings; interviews; some social situations, some performance anxiety situations e.g. driving test; supermarket queue/line; other situations where you need to line up.
- Venue situations – inner/centre seating position (not close to aisles or windows) or crowd potential at cinemas, theatres, concert and sports venues; prisons.
- Natural situations – forests.
Fear of suffocation
The panic response which triggers breathlessness influences the claustrophobe to fear suffocation. You become hypersensitive to anything constrictive or partially constrictive touching your body, particularly over your head and respiratory organs. Environmental conditions where breathing is strained (because of heat or humidity) can also trigger anxiety with the urgent need to remove clothing to cool down and catch your breath.
Since feeling hot, sweaty and itchy are common anxiety symptoms, this fear of constriction can extend to other parts of the body when they are also constricted in some way e.g. a cast around a limb. It’s as if the immobilised limb is being “choked” of air when it senses increased temperature changes and cannot move. The reflexive need to “evacuate” your whole body from the situation causes general anxiety which can only be eased when you have “ripped off” the constriction at the source.
Fear of suffocation situations can include any of those listed above in close proximity to your body and the following:
- Clothing situations – Wearing tight-necked or tight fitting clothing over your body e.g. ties, polo neck sweaters, girdles etc.; fancy dress suits and masks.
- Apparatus/equipment situations – wearing apparatus over your face or head e.g. crash helmets, masks, breathing apparatus, medical apparatus; immobilising casts over your body; sleeping with your head under the bed clothing.
- Environmental situations – swimming under water with or without breathing equipment; hot and humid climates, being at high altitude.
What causes claustrophobia?
A combination of childhood direct traumas and indirect traumas from your authority figures (usually your parents) will have the most impact on the development your claustrophobia.
Some of the most traumatising childhood experiences include being accidentally (or purposefully as a game or as a punishment) locked in a box, cupboard or small room; being trapped in darkness; getting lost in a relatively confined space e.g. a series of tunnels; being separated and losing your parents in a crowd of people; being left for a period of time or abandoned in a confined space (e.g. the car) by your parents; near drowning in deep water; getting your body, particularly your head stuck or trapped somewhere.
Your biology can also be connected to your claustrophobic fears. Previous childhood bullying involving near-suffocation (being strangled) can also contribute to adult claustrophobia.
Spatial distortion is often identified as a cause of claustrophobia where you underestimate the horizontal distances of objects. However, it is unknown whether this distorted spatial perception is biologically linked at birth or is over-developed through trauma. Someone with a spider phobia is similarly likely to give an exaggerated account of their last spider trauma and the apparent size of the arachnid. Has this size distortion come from birth or learned from traumatic experiences?
Most people can recall where they were and give precise details of their location at the time of an emotional experience. These experiences can be good or bad. Some people are extremely location-sensitive; usually those who are visually or spatially-oriented learners. With this learning style you can prioritise making an intense association with the physical features of your location (e.g. the size of the room) and your emotional experience, over what you were doing in the situation. With a visual learning style you may be more vulnerable to developing spatially-oriented fear, typical of the beliefs held with claustrophobia.
Click this link for detailed information on the general causes of a phobia.
Major Common Symptoms
There are numerous claustrophobic symptoms that vary in severity including:
- Breathlessness, strained & rapid breathing (hyperventilation). A history of asthma attacks may complicate this symptom.
- Choking sensations.
- Body tremors, particularly in the legs. The legs feeling “restless”.
- Increased heart rate.
- Changes in temperature in the form of sweating, hot flashes or chills.
- “Butterflies” in the abdomen.
- Feeling light-headed or faint.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Nervous diarrhoea.
- Numbness and tingling.
Living with claustrophobia
As a child, regardless of how you have acquired your claustrophobia, you will continue to avoid these confined spaces to alleviate your anxiety. If your family understand your condition and treat it sensitively, it will limit the frequency of your panic attacks.
Most situations have alternatives. Lifts can be avoided where stairs are available. The learning value of a school trip and the trauma of using a school bus/coach for transport can be assessed by all parties involved. If the family situation allows, the parents may provide their own transport. With family holidays, where there is a fear of flying, the family can agree to stay in UK or use an acceptable alternative method of travelling.
As a growing child, you begin to understand the physiology of your condition. This helps you to anticipate and avoid many confined situations. But the need to confront them becomes a more of a challenge during teenage years, when there is growing pressure of social conformity. Fear of embarrassment (katagelophobia) connected to a social display of your panic attack adds another layer of anxiety to the fear of confined spaces. Teenagers with social anxiety want to avoid any behaviour that draws attention and is likely to cause humiliation in front of your peers. Amusement parks, large crowds in bars and nightclubs, and centre seating arrangements in concert or cinema venues are just some of the popular youth culture situations that could trigger panic attacks. Having the confidence to admit the condition can be a dilemma because it could be a source of ridicule by less sensitive members of the peer group.
Some of these confined situations can affect the teenage pupil on a daily basis during school, affecting formal and informal public speaking situations. They can disrupt academic performance with the added stress during tests and exams. Excessive anticipatory anxiety may be detrimental to school attendance levels causing the teenager to suffer panic attacks each morning.
If the claustrophobia and social phobia is mismanaged, the teenager or young adult will continually associate feeling safer when you are outside of the confined social situation. With each hurried evacuation, the urge to suddenly dash out of the situation becomes more impulsive. This can impact on infrequent but necessary situations like being stuck in traffic, having injections, medical procedures, MRI and CT scans, dental visits and other treatment situations like the barbers/hairdressers. The need to avoid the embarrassment of this panic response can even affect the development of relationships causing the abandoning of first dates, only to regret the cancellation after. If you have overcome this initial hurdle and the relationship flourishes, meeting the partner’s best friends and family can be traumatising.
Work life can have its claustrophobic moments too, affecting participation in meetings and when speaking in public. Inevitably career progression can be hindered, avoiding interview situations and assessed presentations that are necessary for promotion.
As more situations are avoided and opportunities are lost, the young adult may then be ready to assess the need to seek help. The subconscious layers of fear are well-formed at this stage however. To overcome it will demand a strong, determined desire and a reasonable period of behavioural adjustment.
Professional help is still beneficial at this stage. The therapist will objectively evaluate the significance of the background traumas and identify the specific treatment criteria that will progressively alleviate your claustrophobia.
Phobias are not usually formally diagnosed by your doctor. Observations by close family and friends may be met with a period of denial before fully accepting the condition and how it continues to affect you.
Self-help – Where possible, constructive avoidance is the most common self help treatment method. But avoidance is usually a short-term fix without developing any skills and techniques to overcome the phobia.
When you are ready to confront it, effective self-help methods however can include the use of breathing techniques to manage the general anxiety symptoms, particularly the fear of suffocation.
Progressive self-help methods will consider your subjective criteria that exacerbate the fear, combined with repetitive, graduated exposure to those confined situations. Using this method, breathing techniques are used to keep the anxiety at moderate levels before gradually increasing the confinement of the physical environment. This will prevent high levels of anxiety or “flooding” which can have an adverse effect on overcoming the phobia.
Choose criteria in which you feel comfortable first, and then add to the intensity in gradual stages. The criteria can include:
- Defining each situation as one where you can choose to calmly vacate (where possible).
- Assessing the relative physical confinement of the room or situation. Evaluating the notable design features and their position e.g. opening windows to “give air” and to permit a view, and sitting towards the aisle etc. (For many claustrophobic sufferers, how far you can see out into the distance is a significant feature of your anxiety management. You may be physically confined in the similar dimensions of a situation e.g. in an airplane or glass lift, but just because you can see out of a window, it will make a huge difference to your anxiety and drastically reduce your fear.)
- Establishing the number and proximity of the exits.
- Gradually extending the duration of the confinement. Aim for the anxiety to subside before changing the confinement of the situation or leaving the situation if possible.
- Aiming to access personal control of the exits if possible, rather than mechanical control or indirect control by another person.
- Establishing how many people are present in the situation and your relationship with them. Are they sensitive to your anxiety?
- If you are having a professional treatment, learning more about the treatment process and what you are likely to experience.
- Assessing how much you trust the professional directing the situation. Is there any benefit by admitting your fear to them? Can this trust be developed before the treatment situation?
- Identifying a helpful purpose for yourself in the confined situation e.g. practising breathing techniques, meditation, or mindfulness, cooperating with the treatment process, managing your time with activities if there is extended periods of boredom, learning presentation skills if giving a presentation etc.
- Practising using any “suffocating” or confining apparatus/equipment outside of “real” situation e.g. learning to spend time with a face mask on, relaxing in your own company or with someone you trust who can give you assistance if your anxiety is excessive.
Other treatment methods include:
Medication – Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or an anti-anxiety medication in order to help you treat your anxiety symptoms. Prescribed medication can be combined with therapy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on the negative thoughts that drive your fear. The treatment may combine exposure therapy to help you overcome your phobia.
How can hypnotherapy help you overcome your condition?
Your hypnotherapy treatment will use a combined approach to help you overcome your claustrophobia including regression techniques to remove the cause of your phobia, controlled exposure (systematic desensitisation) and panic control methods. Visualisation techniques, similar to those used with virtual reality computer simulations will be integrated into your treatment to realign your spatial distortion.
There is more information in this link on how hypnotherapy can treat your phobia.
For more information on treatment for your claustrophobia in Cardiff, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Online Therapy During The Coronavirus Pandemic
Online Therapy: As the coronavirus outbreak restrictions grip the nation, its effect is undoubtedly having an impact on the way we live, work and spend our leisure time. It is important to follow the government guidelines to minimise the spread of infection. Wash your hands, keep surfaces clean and cover your sneezes and coughs. Self-isolation and social distancing has been advised to contain the coronavirus.
Online Therapy: Pre-existing health conditions
Changing your lifestyle to protect yourself from the coronavirus can have a negative effect on your emotional health. Your may have had emotional issues that caused you distress before the coronavirus outbreak. Now with the need to self-isolate, many of these emotional issues will be intensified, increasing feelings of fear, anxiety and loneliness.
Coupled with anxiety is the inability to manage uncertainty. Your mind will dwell on catastrophic outcomes, anticipating the worst case scenarios if you (or someone you know) has underlying medical conditions. If you have pre-existing health anxiety, you may be convinced that minor benign symptoms are a sign that you are infected. If a medical test proves negative, you might dismiss it and fear that any new symptoms will need a retest. During calmer moments of rationality, you will feel guilty that you are wasting the very limited resources available at your GP surgery during the pandemic. Panic disorder, characterised by random panic attacks, will also be more distressing with the current level of communal fear.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is another pre-existing condition that can be intensified during the coronavirus outbreak. OCD can include a number of repetitive thoughts and behaviours such as counting, checking, arranging items in a specific order and hand washing. With a fear of contamination, compulsive hand washing can be excessive. You are convinced that your hand washing is not thorough enough. You then start the hand washing routine over again until you feel comforted.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, some OCD sufferers may have self-isolated as a “safety” behaviour, unconvinced that in normal conditions there was sufficient protection against infection from others. With the government advising self-isolation, the OCD sufferer will be “proven right” to be in fear and may become near-agoraphobic even after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
There are similarities with OCD hand washing and certain phobias, such as a mysophobia (fear of germs). With both conditions, you spend an excessive amount of time washing hands but rather than being a comforting ritual, mysophobia stems from a fear of contamination. A fear of contamination sufferer can have both conditions.
Other phobias will generate more anxiety during the coronavirus crisis including monophobia (fear of being alone), thanatophobia (fear of death), xenophobia (fear of the unknown) and nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals). Those with social phobia (fear of embarrassment) and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) may ironically experience a reduction in anxiety with the current self-isolation and social distancing advice, compared to your gregarious and extrovert counterparts.
Looking ahead beyond the coronavirus pandemic, the situation will have an impact on those who have a predisposition towards health anxiety, OCD and certain related phobias. The crisis can act as a “traumatising” event, activating fearful, obsessive or compulsive behaviours. It will undoubtedly act as a reinforcing event that will exacerbate many of these pre-existing conditions.
Online Therapy: Lifestyle changes
With the major change in your lifestyle during the coronavirus pandemic, the need to self-isolate and social distance throws the usual demands, routines and ways to relax into chaos. For example:
- For some people, work can normally act like a distraction giving you something to focus on when there is anxiety.
- People will feel loneliness without the comfort of face to face human contact.
- Stress will be higher with the closure of many resources. Families with small children may find it difficult to entertain their children for what could be months (?), especially with their usual physical activity outlets closed e.g. parks. Bad weather will also deter peoples from wanting to go outside.
- An absence of goals and increased boredom can heighten feelings of depression.
There are a number of other lifestyle issues that can be worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Increased anxiety can affect sleep
- Family home life can be more stressful particularly for teenagers with their usual social venues closed (e.g. pubs, nightclubs, wine bars etc.)
- Normal eating patterns can be affected without an established routine. Snacking can become an activity to fill time causing people to gain weight.
- Boredom and isolation can be a trigger for intensifying negative habits and addictions.
- With boredom, people can self-medicate more than usual, drinking more alcohol at home and smoking more cigarettes.
- People who are socially motivated to exercise may find it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise during the coronavirus pandemic.
Online Therapy: Finding a way through
It can take time to settle into positive lifestyle patterns and accept the emotional impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But there can be effective ways to cope:
- Wash your hands but… – If you have contamination OCD or health anxiety, it’s likely that your rituals will be excessive. Keep to the advised guidelines of 20 seconds. Consider if you are washing hands as a ritual for it to feel comforting or for the purpose minimising the spread of infection.
- Work and study from home – Working from home where it is possible will minimise exposure to the coronavirus. Check on government websites if you are entitled to any financial assistance (benefits or loans). As with home studying for many pupils and students now completing their study courses, working from home demands self motivation to assign quality time to your work/studies.
- Limit media exposure – Look at reputable media sources no more than once or twice a day. Ignore social media gossip as these often unreliable sources are likely to increase your fear about the coronavirus; they usually lack evidence to back up their claims. Appreciate that just because you think or read about something on social media, it doesn’t make it right or always mean that it will always come true.
- Plan ahead for routine medication – With many medical services feeling the strain, ensuring that that you request repeat prescriptions early will minimise the fear that you may be without important medication.
- Use phone/video calls to communicate – Where you have access to electronic forms of communication, devote some part of your day to social interaction, keeping in touch with close family and friends.
- Other ways to exercise – Find other ways to exercise safely to reduce stress and physical tension. Uninterrupted walking is a good form of exercise. If you have no medical conditions, running or circuit-based activities on YouTube can motivate you to exercise a variety of different muscle groups. Just getting some fresh air by stepping outside your door and connecting with nature (if it is in easy reach of your home) can help clear your mind.
- Devise an effective home routine – Working from home with small children can be challenging. How and where you each spend your time in each part of the house will need a discussion to accommodate everyone’s needs. Spend time with your children helping them to understand the facts about the coronavirus pandemic and how it has changed your lifestyle. Consider any hobbies that you can (re) start, especially the ones that you keep saying “if only I had more time…”
- Learn to relax – There are various forms of relaxation techniques. Self hypnosis could be your chosen activity and try simple breathing techniques to reduce anxiety and feelings of panic.
- Allocate some time to worry – Using some of the relaxation techniques above, devoting some “active worrying time” can help you appreciate the difference between the present and being in fear of the future. It’s ok to feel anxious during a pandemic, but the feelings need to be placed into perspective with hopeful feelings too. By acknowledging worries as wasteful thoughts you can work on disposing them during your “mindful” exercises. This will also help you to…
- Focus on what you can control – Focusing on what you can influence in your life will help you feel like you have more control over it. This approach is very different to focusing on concerns which tends to be worry-based and has very little impact on outcomes.
- Take care of your lifestyle issues – Set home based goals that are realistic under the present conditions, take moderate exercise, eat healthily, learn how to sleep well, quit destructive habits like smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. By taking care of your health and wellbeing, it may prepare you to fight the coronavirus should you become infected.
- Help your community – Where it’s safe to do so, helping others will lift your mood. Even small acts of altruism, like taking an elderly neighbour’s rubbish can make you feel virtuous.
- Grieving during the crisis – Whether you (and your family) are grieving the death of someone caused by the coronavirus or due to other circumstances, it may be a useful time to seek professional online help with social distancing measures in place and the ability to hold large funerals is restricted.
- Pace your days, weeks and months – Long term goals need to be placed to one side until the coronavirus pandemic is over. By focusing your energy on short to mid-term goals, it help to you feel that you are achieving something tangible. Your normal life experience will be different for some time to come.
Seeking Online Therapy: Coronavirus anxiety and related disorders
During the coronavirus pandemic you may feel an overwhelming sense of worry due to health anxiety and related disorders. With the current uncertainty about when it will end, some people can lapse into feelings of depression and anxiety. Persistent anxiety can trigger the release of stress hormones that keep you in “high alert” also known as the “fight of flight” survival state. Being stuck in this mode for long periods can lower your immune response and cause persistent panic attacks. This continuous state can have a negative impact on your personal wellbeing, ability to work or study, maintain close relationships and your ability to take care of others.
If you tend to struggle with anxiety, online therapy could be a great solution to help you cope during the coronavirus crisis. With online hypnotherapy you will access the same level of professional care that would receive with face to face therapy. Online therapy ensures that you can access help in the safety and comfort of your own home without any of the health risks to you or your hypnotherapist.
How suggestible are you to hypnosis? Try this hypnosis test to assess your level of suggestibility.
The benefits of online hypnotherapy
The benefits of online hypnotherapy include:
- Deep relaxation to alter the affects of continuous anxiety.
- Suggestions designed to accelerate the achievement of your specific goals.
- Regression therapy to treat the “cause” of your condition.
- Immune system-directed suggestions which could improve its efficiency.
- Treating lifestyle issues that are also being affected by stress, anxiety and depression.
Click this link for more information about online hypnotherapy.
For more information about online therapy during the coronavirus pandemic, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Understanding Addiction Relapse Triggers
Addiction relapse triggers: Quitting an addiction should always be understood as a process rather than an accomplished goal. If you are an addict who has overcome your addiction, the job is not finished. The effects of a long-held addiction are likely to be deeply attached to many aspects of your life, including your emotional, mental, environmental, and social levels.
One of the causes that can restart your addictive habit is termed as “addiction relapse triggers”. This can be understood as a phenomenon that occurs when an alcoholic, for example, goes back to the habit of drinking again after a period of abstinence. What makes a relapse occur is the influence of a trigger or group of triggers that drive you right back into your addiction.
These addiction relapse triggers can exist in many forms, but they are also varied enough to range from very obvious triggers to subtle triggers that escape your attention. Visiting the location that is associated strongly with habits of gambling or drinking will obviously draw you in emotionally, creating addictive cravings that lead you to try it “just one more time”. Whereas seeing an advert that promotes what you drink in excess might take you by surprise, playing on your mind until you submit to frustration.
The ability to quit an addiction is achievable for most people. It is usually your surrounding emotional issues, conflicting habits and lack of self-management skills that create triggers that are difficult to resist or subdue. This is why many addicts return to their addictions; you are unaware that your life is littered with triggers and problematic situations for which you have not developed a recovery plan.
With the help of a qualified professional, you can work together to treat the many issues that surround your addiction and identify your personal addiction relapse triggers. Through this process, you can then establish which ones you are ready to confront and which ones you should avoid until you have dealt with the background issues that might destabilise you when you are outside of the rehabilitation centre.
Some of the more common addictions include alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, gambling, video Games, sex, pornography, food, Painkillers, benzodiazepines, and tobacco. There is a growing list of obsessions and compulsions related to modern lifestyles. They are commonly, and in many cases, mistakenly referred to as addictions. This list includes eating disorders, work, television (especially celebrity gossip and reality TV), internet, exercise, mobile phone usage, teeth whitening, retail therapy (or shopping addiction/oniomania), tanning (tanorexia), plastic surgery, coffee, chocolate, Facebook, junk food, beauty products, hoarding and checking finances.
Addiction Relapse Triggers
Listed below are some of the most common addiction triggers that are likely to cause a relapse.
Contrary to popular belief, the bad and tragic times associated with your addictions are not the strongest triggers to cause your relapse; it’s the good times that deceive you best and weaken your resistance. Think back to the experiences where you achieved something special and your addictive substance symbolised your celebration. Was this when your self esteem was soaring and you had the best fun with your drinking partners? Or did the achievement inspire the gambling activities which drove your adrenaline and excitement to the highest levels as you played your riskiest bets and won the games, giving you another euphoric “high”?
When you have quit your addiction for months and restricted your sources of pleasure, these “good times” cravings can return to seduce you for one more mood lift like they did in the old days. It’s seducing because it’s during this period that it seems so unlikely that you will to go back to your addiction now.
Then consider how your brain physiology is so susceptible to the imprint of these joyful memories because it formed deep attachments to higher levels of dopamine during the long periods of your addiction. You cannot deprive yourself of good times, but caution needs to given to how you manage your mood variations, finding new ways to celebrate and new ways cope with your emotion lows.
Places can make incredibly strong connections to your memories, whether they are negative or positive. Even people and objects inside these places act as relevant triggers to the emotions that you have experienced there. Just seeing a single picture can create a wave of negative emotions about a tragic loss or past abuse, whilst the location of your friend’s house can be linked to excitement and fun of wild parties. Even though these location-based triggers are below the level of your consciousness, your addictive behaviour can come to the surface and control your decision-making when you step through the door. It doesn’t take long for the addiction tide to pull you in, only to wake in the morning regretting that you have once again binged on several bottles of beer during the previous night, despite your strong motivation to commit to the recovery plan. And when you revisit the location that you associate with past drug use for example, the environmental trigger rapidly unsettles you. This is because the wiring between your reward centre and memory part of your brain has been welded, raising your expectation to use the drug.
For some time to come, your way out is an uncompromising avoidance to all of these places. If you are surrounded by these triggering places and people (e.g. you take drugs in your family home), continuing support with your therapist will help you maintain control until you are ready to confront your location-based addiction relapse triggers again.
Stress is a constant feature of modern living and the way that you manage it is important for you to feel emotionally balanced. When stress is managed poorly, it can lower your mood and influence anxious and depressive thinking. Additional adrenaline in your system caused by stress inhibits the production of dopamine, something that an addict’s brain has been hard-wired to expect and satisfy on demand from your addictive behaviour. Effective stress management is the key to long-term success in your addiction recovery. As your therapist establishes your emotional profile, stress management techniques will be individualised to help you develop new habits to reduce your stress.
Stress is often considered to be having excessive demands, but a lack of demands can also be stressful if you find it hard to cope with boredom. When you are bored for long periods your time becomes meaningless and you will fill it with whatever is easily available in that moment. Boredom is a major trigger for habits and addictions, and needs to be managed with setting and working towards achievable and realistic goals.
H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired)
HALT is an acronym for some of the states that are considered high risk situations and can make you an easy victim to relapse. According to Ego Depletion theory, when hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness reaches an excess, your willpower to confront your addictive urges is weakened and you will seek immediate comfort. If your comforting strategy is not rehearsed, you are more likely to find comfort in your addiction.
Understanding your own ego and when you are vulnerable to its depletion can help you to take charge of these (and other) excess negative states from overwhelming you. Giving attention to the common healthy lifestyle areas (e.g. eating healthily, managing stress, maintaining social interaction, exercising regularly and sleeping well, practising meditation etc.) are key to preventing relapse from a depleted ego.
Negative emotions from the bad times are at the heart of addictive behaviour and impaired dopamine production. You may have to go back further than the first day that your addictive behaviour kicked off to appreciate this connection. Anxiety, neglect, abuse, betrayal, worthlessness and insecurity are just some of your childhood influences that have created a pathway of dependency. When you found your addictive escape, it temporarily numbed the pain. It was easier than challenging authority figures or trawling back through your emotional history to resolve it. Your “high” remains the reactive mechanism to similar emotions that you feel in your life now. When confronted by negative emotions to resolve, you are tempted to reach for the quick fix because the pain still runs deep.
Gradual exposure to these emotions and their solutions are huge strides to make for someone whose “solution history” is marked by addictive retreat. Embracing the other road is effortful but with therapeutic support, it’s a journey that changes your behaviour and the past emotions that connect them.
Over-confidence is one of the most dangerous addiction relapse triggers that betray you into believing that your addiction no longer exists. Just when you think that you are over it and months (or years) have gone by, you become complacent. Over-confidence deceives you that it’s fine to quit your relapse prevention plan and test the “I’m over it” hypothesis. “Just one more time…” can seem like a reward for all of your efforts and repairs that you have made. And then you realise how foolish you have been and you are back inside your addiction chains again!
Don’t confuse over-confidence with self confidence. With self confidence, you accept that your addiction is a chronic disease and your recovery is a life-long process; you choose never to want “just one” ever again. With self confidence, you embrace your commitment to this choice.
The attention from a new relationship can be hard to resist, but new relationships can come loaded with emotional rebounds that are likely to jeopardise your recovery plan. Rehabilitation programs are very aware of these risks and advise staying clear of new relationships for at least a year during recovery.
So why would rehabilitation programs advise this? Any recovery plan demands commitment and your commitment to it can waiver when the honeymoon period of a relationship is in full swing and the excitement of it can be so seducing. Moreover, this relationship phase is so euphoric that it can deceive you into believing that your new partner’s special attention is a sign of your addiction treatment cure. It’s as if your addiction high has been replaced with a relationship high, without the necessary time to naturally balance these changes.
After a few months, when this honeymoon phase settles down, all of those normal things like arguing and temporary break-ups generate mood changes that need open communication to fix them. If your partner isn’t ready to communicate a solution, then anger, resentment, jealousy, loneliness and abandonment fears can drive your stability downwards. During those emotional lows, you will seek immediate relief from your addiction.
There are many individual and social addiction relapse triggers that can compromise your “clean” intentions. A social situation where your addictive substance is the main event is undoubtedly a risk to your recovery and needs to be avoided in the early stages due to the pressure of social compliance.
When you look back on your addictive pathway, peer pressure may have been the factor to start your addiction and it continues to be your vulnerability when you fear offending a close friend’s offer of another “hit”. Even without an offer from a friend, just being surrounded by your peers who are under the influence (when you are not participating) can cause you to feel lonely and alienated from the surrounding social mood and force your relapse.
And social unease can still be your weakness even when you are with acquaintances, colleagues or strangers who are not addicts. You may struggle to blend in with them and then feel the pressure to look as if you are having a good time. A quick hit can momentarily take the edge off your social anxiety.
If you are convinced that your addiction is the source of your “better self” or your social confidence, you may believe that you need it to be “the life and soul of the party” and without your substance, you are inadequate, dull and a “nobody”.
How you believe that your addiction defines your self esteem and social esteem is an essential part of your recovery treatment. When you have worked through these issues, a return to your social life is no longer a threat to your recovery.
Reminiscing Times of Addiction
The reason that your addiction gained power over you is because at some level you gave it a reward. It convinced you that it numbed the pain of abuse or control, gave you an escape from depression or anxiety, or relieved the stress from work. You persisted with it until the need for it became automated. Then the balance changed. It took over and became the problem that controls you. It destroyed the relationships and situations that are important to you.
In your mind it needs to stay loathed with all memory traces of the addiction’s glory completely eliminated. Only then can you be free from it. But there’s an internal danger to its security; it’s called reminiscing. Reminiscing is also known as replaying the “good old times” where you glamorise your addictive past, boasting about how much more you could “use” compared to your peers and of the power it gave you.
When your mood is low and you are searching for a way out of a problem, the frustration can put you into a daze. You are doing what is natural though, delving into the depths of your subconscious mind to access a solution. You are entering a reflective state of “self-talk” that some would call self hypnosis. When your resolve is strong, your internal voice will reject your romantic past with your substance. When you are down, reminiscing the times of addiction can seem like an attractive activity. Without developing assertive thinking however, it will be a trigger to a relapse.
Learning to stay firm with your intentions is an essential part of your treatment. When you can access an assertive and positive thinking attitude, it takes charge of how you handle those situations. It also guides your mental rehearsals and reflections when you are away from the situations. Learning to take control of your mind will help you eliminate fondly thinking about your past addiction as a glorious period in your life. You will reframe your addiction’s past as a betrayal that it deserves.
Many of the social pressures that can cause your addiction to relapse are listed above in “social settings”. On the opposite end of the continuum is social isolation. Having your own space is important but the mix needs to be applied effectively to avoid loneliness, as this can be another one of the many addiction relapse triggers. Shy introverts are justified to argue a case for avoiding some social interaction, with the degree of social anxiety that you experience, but consider if your addiction has really become your substitute best friend.
Developing self confidence and self worth is an important part of your recovery and this pursuit needs to be placed in the context of welcoming enough external help to support your recovery. During times of social isolation, you can reinforce your negative state of mind. Strong feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, blame, depression and embarrassment then drive you back into your cycle with no positive disruption from others to pull you out of it. Developing a close network of trustful friends can offer you this help, regardless of how much you might view the support of others as a reminder of controlling behaviour from previous authority figures.
Another source of loneliness assistance outside of this friendship circle is the help from your addiction support group. It allows you the opportunity to share experiences and manage situations with those who have similar backgrounds, but in a non-judgemental framework. You can also gain valuable insights into the destruction that other addicts have suffered in their journey, helping you to place your own experiences into a social context. As another benefit of support meetings, it’s natural to form acquaintances and friendships from these support meetings too.
You may personally prefer to avoid group meetings or think that you have exhausted all of the benefits from attending previous addiction support meetings. Individual therapy can still help you to challenge your own negative self limiting beliefs and moderate some feelings of social isolation.
Returning to the situations where you have previously accessed your substance should be avoided during the early stages of your treatment. In these early stages, the trigger is often too strong and complex, and is likely to cause your relapse.
As your therapy progresses, your therapist will help you deal with the surrounding issues and set up a controlled exposure plan to confront those situations again. So if social situations are your vulnerability, treating your self confidence and social confidence is fundamental to the re-exposure of social situations. Your treatment will prepare you to engage with social situations in controlled stages, dealing with craving control and specific relapse issues that are contained in the situation.
Avoidance of these situations can last for a period of months because even though you may believe that you are ready, there’s usually more therapeutic and developmental work to be done before you can confidently confront those situations without feeling vulnerable.
Addiction Relapse Triggers: Summary
In summary, the achievement of quitting an addiction is already a great milestone, but it doesn’t end there. Being aware of and treating the issues that surround your addiction are important stages of your continued recovery. It takes time to dissociate these triggers with the reward of using your substance and reconnect it with the new reward of abstinence.
As you embrace your therapy plan, understand that these triggers are not only diverse and complicated, but also very unique to your specific physical, mental, emotional disposition and life experiences. Your commitment to your therapy will help you identify key techniques and management tools to prevent a relapse.
There are many therapeutic approaches. Hypnotherapy can help you disconnect the triggers to your addiction and anchor new and positive responses to these triggers. Hypnotherapy can also treat the surrounding psychological issues which influence a relapse.
For more information on how to treat your Addiction Relapse Triggers with hypnotherapy, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Affirmations – Unveiling the power of words
What are affirmations? Words have extreme power. When you communicate, your words can not only influence others, but can also transform your internal state on a deep and profound level.
Affirmations are powerful, positive statements that aim to direct your conscious and subconscious mind, challenging previously held unhealthy and negative thinking patterns. When they are spoken with conviction, they can alter your thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviour. When used intentionally to create change, they can help project you into your achievements.
What are the benefits of using affirmations?
Affirmations have helped thousands of people make important changes in their lives. They work because they have the ability to program your mind into accessing and believing the repeated statements and concepts. There’s more on why and how they work (or don’t work) later.
There are several benefits of using positive affirmations, which include their ability to:
- Motivate you to act. And when you action your goals, it further boosts your desire to continue your actions.
- Concentrate on your goals. Goal achievement is helped by persistently keeping your mind focused in the “goal zone”.
- Change your negative thought patterns into positive ones.
- Influence your subconscious mind to access new beliefs.
- Help you feel positive about yourself and boost your self confidence.
How do you create affirmations?
The most common practise of creating affirmations consists of using these five stages.
Stage one: List your negative features
Make a list of what you consider to be the negative features or qualities about
- You as a person, or
- How you cope with life, or
- The situation you are in (home life, work life, relationships).
Your list could be made from your own conclusions or from external criticism (past or present). You may have held onto some of these past comments especially if they were made from authority figures when you were young. At this stage of the process, you don’t have to judge the accuracy of what people have said to you; just formulate a list.
As you make the list, note any general traits such as “I tend to dwell on or be sensitive to what people have said about me” (relating to possible low self esteem and social anxiety issues).
Then, as you identify any common themes, focus your attention on any part of the body that feels tense. For example, it could be a feeling of tension in your diaphragm or in your shoulders. This connection between your negative feature and location in your body is discussed below in stage four.
Stage two: Rephrase your negative features as a positive affirmation
This stage involves identifying and expressing the (positive) opposite, or antonym of your negative feature. You can use a thesaurus to assist you in this stage of the process. Using the example above, a tendency to hold on to criticism could be rephrased as the following affirmation: “I am feeling empowered and more confident as I release external criticism”.
When identifying the new positive words, note the words that resonate with you as suitable and believable replacements to the negative feature. Some words will be moderately positive and some extremely positive. Ranking them can help decide if you are ready for a small or profound change of beliefs.
There is more information on how to write effective affirmations (also known as suggestions in self hypnosis) in the following article, in the section entitled “Creating suggestions”.
Stage three: Repeat your affirmation regularly
Speak your affirmation (silently or verbally) for five minutes, at least three times a day. You can say your affirmation whilst doing something repetitive like putting on make-up or shaving. This has the visual benefit of seeing your facial expression and adding emphasis in front of a mirror.
You could also repeat your affirmation whilst in a relaxed state as a “suggestion” when you practise self hypnosis. Even writing or typing your affirmation can help engage your mind and body (as kinaesthetic learning) into your affirmation.
Make the process of repeating affirmations a regular habit to integrate the desirable state that you seek.
Stage four: Anchor the affirmation into your body
Place your hand onto the area that caused your discomfort when you made your negative features list. As you say your positive affirmation, breathe with your hand on the area of discomfort, as if your combined exhalation and hand placement is soothing or releasing the physical tension in that part of your body.
Stage five: Receive your affirmation from an external source
If you feel uncomfortable about asking someone else to repeat the affirmation to you, make a recording of your own voice saying the affirmation. Then play the audio recording back to yourself. There is nothing wrong in being your own coach at times!
Examples of affirmations
Affirmations are positive statements that many people use to boost their confidence or feel in control of a situation. They may be used for achievements, general happiness, health, motivation in work, or even improving relationships. Here are some example suggestions to help get you started:
- In order to feel more confident about achieving success in your life, you can phrase your affirmation as follows: “Achieving success is a simple process, and I am committed and empowered to be successful in my life.”
- Affirmations like, “I am passionate about my job and committed to fulfilling my ambitions” can be used for inspiration towards your job.
- To motivate yourself to adopt a new habit or stay away from a negative one, you can use affirmations like: “I am focused on achieving my ideal weight of X kg by following a healthier lifestyle.” Or “Each day I am finding it easier to quit smoking as I find new healthier habits to replace my old unhealthy ones.”
- Affirmations to improve relationships with partners can be phrased as follows: “I love who I am, and I am openly attracting positive relationships into my life.” Or to improve your relationship with your children, you could use: “I am guiding my children to be the best version of themselves.”
Affirmations: common question and answers
Are affirmations best said every day?
You do not have to follow a hard and fast rule about frequency and timing of self-affirmations. However, psychotherapist Dr. Ronald Alexander of Open Mind Training Institute believes that repeating affirmations 3 to 5 times daily can significantly help reinforce positive beliefs.
Can they help someone with anxiety or depression?
Whilst affirmations are not designed as cures for anxiety and depression, they do help to engrave feelings of calm and hope as part of a total self care programme.
Can sleep be improved with affirmations?
Are affirmations just another name for positive Mantras?
Affirmations are “belief phrases” that instil feelings of positivity and happiness, while helping to change thoughts and attitudes. Mantras are spiritual or religious sounds or phrases that apparently have no verbal meaning. Mantras act as vehicles to help you access heightened states of awareness.
Why don’t affirmations work for some people?
Some people often state that affirmations do not work for them. There are two fundamental reasons for this. Firstly, positive affirmations are coming into deep conflict with your own internal negative feelings.
A study by the University of Waterloo addressed this issue by stating that whilst positive affirmations may benefit people with high self-esteem, they may actually be harmful and backfire in “negative” individuals who probably need them the most. This group included those with severe low self esteem, anxiety, self doubt or depression.
In the study, when the negative individuals used affirmations, they felt that the positive statements were in deep conflict with their prior negative belief system. In the short term, the affirmations actually made them feel worse about themselves. Ironically, these negative individuals felt better when they were allowed to “speak” badly about themselves, because the statements were compatible with their already-negative belief system.
In order to gain the benefits of affirmations without harming your mental health, it is suggested that you start by going neutral instead of starting with “very positive” affirmations. By introducing reality-based neutral statements, your brain will not trigger bad feelings or reject the status quo. Adopting neutral statements like “I am learning to accept myself as I am” or “Today I am feeling OK about myself” will give you a fighting chance to generate real change and appreciate the benefits of affirmations in progressive stages.
The second reason that affirmations don’t work for you is because your affirmation practise and structure is wrong.
Making use of positive affirmations at times when you are not feeling good about yourself or about something will again make your brain come into conflict with what it feels and what you’re saying in your affirmation. The solution is to repeat affirmations in your Alpha State (a state of mind that is more open to accepting suggestions). By accessing your Alpha State, it will help you to embrace a belief with greater power and efficiency. The best ways to attain an Alpha State are by using breathing techniques, meditation and self hypnosis prior to repeating your affirmations. You can also use recorded or self-recorded audios containing your affirmations to enhance their internalisation.
Finally, it is important to make sure that you format your affirmations correctly. For example, aim to focus on what you want to achieve rather than what you are trying to move away from (or don’t want). There is more helpful information on writing effective affirmations (also known as suggestions in self hypnosis) in the section of this article entitled “Creating suggestions”.
Affirmations are powerful self-help tools to influence changes in your moods, feelings, thoughts and habits. They require practise to be effective. If you are struggling to make affirmations work for you however, consider consulting with a professional hypnotherapist who can help you to create and structure your affirmations. They can also use hypnosis to help internalise your affirmations as believable suggestions. You can then continue your self-help programme independently, developing your affirmations/suggestions to transform different aspects of your life.