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
An important part of managing OCD is about reducing your level of your anxiety. 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 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.
For further information on how to benefit by using affirmations, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
How To Practise Self Hypnosis
Practise self hypnosis: Are you ready to help yourself?
Modern living generally prescribes that if you have a health issue then you should visit a doctor. Similarly, if you are going through a period of stress or anxiety, then you need to see a therapist. These professionals will suggest the best medication and therapeutic solution to your problems.
There is a general misconception however that in order to get well and tackle your problems properly, you have to receive help from someone else, someone who is professionally qualified to deal with your issues. Seeking assistance from a professional gives you the feeling that you getting something that is more beneficial than if you took some remedial steps yourself.
In certain circumstances seeking professional help is a sensible solution, but for most of the population, it is simply unnecessary to spend huge amounts on therapy sessions or on prescribed medication. In many cases you can heal your own symptoms without receiving help from anyone else. All you need is determination, and a bit of self discipline (yes, you already have that!) The rest will follow naturally as you experience the benefits from your input.
This article will offer you some of the ways that you can become your own therapist. All you have to do is to learn to practise self-hypnosis.
What is self hypnosis?
Self hypnosis can be defined as a self-initiated process to deliberately induce a state of concentrated, heightened suggestibility. The process can initially involve changes in your breathing and postural tension to enable a deeper feeling of relaxation. You can then employ suggestions (affirmations), your imagination and visualisation techniques to access a future desirable state (your goal). You may also practise self hypnosis to alter the meaning of past experiences.
Practise self hypnosis: Common misconceptions
Some of the common misconceptions about your ability to practise self hypnosis usually relate to the general misconceptions about externally guided hypnosis (i.e. when the hypnotic induction is being externally guided by another person such as a hypnotist or hypnotherapist).
These misconceptions of hypnosis tend to be portrayed in the media and convince the audience that:
- You will not wake up from a hypnotic trance: Everyone “wakes up” from a hypnotic trance. Self hypnosis is a natural, relaxed state; if you do fall asleep, you will wake up when you are ready.
- You will lose control of your mind and reality: The “power” of hypnosis is in the subject not the person doing the hypnosis. In the case of self hypnosis you are guiding your own thoughts. You are controlling the whole experience.
- You will weaken your mind and become more suggestible to adverts after hypnosis: There is no evidence that hypnosis makes you more susceptible to general advertising. With self hypnosis, you decide which suggestions that you want to follow.
In the practise of self hypnosis, you are inducing your own hypnotic state and can decide when to exit your hypnosis. During your hypnosis you will be aware of and in control of your actions. You are choosing your suggestions and thus choose the direction of your goal.
Practise self hypnosis: What can it treat?
Self hypnosis can be used to change your thinking patterns, emotions and behaviour in a variety of issues. You can practise self hypnosis to deal with everyday problems such as the inability to relax, releasing stress, poor concentration, prioritising, general problem-solving, confidence rehearsal to master skills, and reducing emotions like anger.
You can also practise self hypnosis to achieve medium to long-term goals. These can include dealing with low self esteem, anxiety, depression, breaking bad habits, addictions such as managing craving when stopping smoking, chronic pain, performance anxiety, sports performance, sleep problems and changing negative eating patterns.
Approaching self hypnosis
A common ambition when you first practise self hypnosis is to try and fix deeper long term problems in one session. The bigger problems take dedication and persistence to resolve and a thorough understanding of your core values. Self hypnosis is not a wand waving exercise! Instead, aim to be realistic about your goal. Practise in small steps, achieving small goals rather than miracle cures. First focus your practises on altering day to day issues where you can observe a measurable change. This could be rehearsing some points that you want to present at a meeting, visualising confidence in an upcoming awkward social interaction or problem-solving a hectic schedule to ensure it runs smoothly the following day.
By setting small goals in the early stages, you can learn to appreciate your heightened state of awareness that accompanies self hypnosis. This will involve just developing breathing techniques and lowering levels of physical tension. When you can achieve this state, you can then use it for rehearsing something that might be causing you a low level of anxiety or stress e.g. planning what to take on an important trip. It’s incredible what the subconscious mind will present to you in self hypnosis when you have taken a step back from a taxing situation ahead. You can then add these ideas gained from your self hypnosis into your active note list.
The next stage involves using hypnotic suggestions to direct your mind towards your goal. Suggestions can be similar to affirmations, but when used is a hypnotic state, the affirmation can bypass the conscious mind without interference. The affirmation then becomes a suggestion that can be more readily accepted by the unconscious mind.
Previously, if you have tried consciously repeating affirmations and found little benefit from the process, the hypnotic state can be what gives the affirmation the “power” to transform it into a “believable” belief.
You can use hypnotic suggestions for a whole variety of short-term and long-term goals. You may want to conquer public speaking, build confidence in certain situations like driving or sports performance, build your self esteem, or break a habit like smoking, nail biting or overeating.
When creating suggestions, there are certain “mind” rules that your unconscious mind will accept. These are commonly taught in hypnosis and hypnotherapy courses. These “mind” rules will help focus you towards your goal (rather than away from it). When you create suggestions incorrectly, your unconscious mind will simply reject them.
Here are some suggestions for your suggestions (!)
- The subconscious mind processes positive thoughts; negative statements will direct your mind further towards the negative state. Try not thinking of an orange! Exactly! Don’t tell your mind what you don’t want; instead tell it what you do want. Saying that “I am not stressed. I was never anxious. I will never feel tense again” will be interpreted as “…stressed…tense…anxious”. Instead, make the suggestion positive e.g. “I am relaxing and feel peaceful. My body is calm and still. I feel empowered and strong”.
- Start the suggestion with “I am…” to give it power and affirm what follows on from it. Statements stating with “I want…” will affirm the “wanting” without always having what follows it.
- Phrase your suggestion in the present tense rather than in the future tense. Instead of saying, “I will be more confident”, say, “I am feeling more confident each day”. In response to a future tense structured suggestion, the subconscious mind will reply with “When will it happen? Tomorrow? Next month?”
- Include at least one action word or verb (ending with “ing” e.g. “I am striving…”) in your suggestion to affirm that you are the one taking action towards this positive change. After you take action, it will inspire you to continue your journey and adapt your suggestions.
- Include at least one feeling word or dynamic emotion e.g. calm, secure, liberated, inspired etc. E.g. “I am achieving calmness as I practise self hypnosis”. Select the most relevant emotion that resonates with you. Emotions add energy into your affirmation and can act as a catalyst to change beliefs.
- Create realistic suggestions that complement your existing beliefs. If for example you currently believe that you are at the negative end of the continuum of beauty, then your unconscious mind is likely to reject suggestions that attempt to place you immediately on the positive end of the beauty continuum e.g. “I am the best looking person in the world!” When you start to practise self hypnosis, pitch the suggestions a few steps ahead of you so that you can warm to them. Suggestions can be modified as your belief grows.
- Focus on one goal at a time. Decide your priority and persist with it. Adjust the content of your suggestion as you make progress with your goal. If your goal seems to be hitting a block, use a problem-solving self hypnosis session to understand what may be causing it. Do this by visualising taking a step out of your problem/goal situation and calmly observing the issue objectively from a short distance. Look into the problem noticing a variety of possible solutions. It’s amazing what can be solved in your self hypnotic state.
Ready to practise self hypnosis
Now let’s consider the specific technique of how to practice self hypnosis. You are ready when you have identified a realistic hypnotic suggestion. Here is the self hypnosis procedure:
- Find a relaxing and comfortable location
Find a place without noise or any other disturbance, especially during your initial sessions. Once you get into your practice routine, you can perform it anywhere. Allow extra time e.g. 15-30 minutes so that your mind is not thinking about what you have to do next. Be seated in a relaxed posture, preferably with a head support like when sitting in a recliner chair. Lying down may influence you to fall asleep. This is not the main purpose of your self hypnosis, even though you might benefit from a power nap!
- Change your style of breathing
The breathing technique involves movement of the abdomen when you inhale. This encourages the release of tension in your diaphragm. Follow this link for more information on how to breathe to relax.
- Eye focus or eye closure
The choice is yours whether you keep your eyes open or closed. With eyes open, you can focus on a specific spot, either on the wall in front of you or on a distant object. Staring at an object can cause your eyes to become naturally heavy so that they will close with little effort, but closing your eyes is not essential.
I personally prefer to have the eyes closed to be more observant of how your imagination can interact with your own thoughts. Without any visual distraction, it can also help you appreciate the subtle changes in physical tension throughout your body too (stage 4). Close your eyes at any time that it feels natural to you.
- Relax your body
The release of muscle tension can be combined with each exhale as if breathing out any internal tension that you can feel. When inhaling, breathe in a pleasant feeling of heaviness. Progressively move through the muscles in your body, first starting with the release of tension in your shoulders, gradually moving down to your fingers. Then continue this release from the top of your head, moving down through your body to your toes. If you prefer working up the body from toes upwards, then use that technique. Not that the neck and jaw are common areas that can accumulate tension.
Progressive muscles relaxation (PMR) is an alternative way to release muscle tension. It involves gently tensing groups of muscles (with or without movement) in a specific area before actively relaxing these tense muscles. Move through the whole body using this “tense and release” method to appreciate where you feel tension from top to toe.
By tensing the muscles first when using PMR, it helps you to become more aware of your muscular system, particularly with tension felt in postural muscles. But if you exercise regularly by toning muscles in your body at a gym or anywhere else however, you will probably have this kinaesthetic awareness already. When you can relate to your body in this way then use the simple tension-release method (without first tensing the muscles first) as described above.
- Keep the focus on your suggestions
When you decide to practice self hypnosis, it is the use of suggestions to direct your mind to a specific goal that distinguishes self hypnosis from meditation and mindfulness.
Suggestions can be repeated out loud or silently. Repeating them coldly will have little effect on your goal attainment. So, as you repeat them, vary the emphasis that you give to certain words, engaging your emotions and imagination into each repetition. Alter the speed at which you repeat your suggestions, sometimes dwelling on a certain word to extract a different meaning. Visualise being inside the affirmation, acting out the positivity contained in the suggestion as if it is happening right now!
It can also be useful anchoring the affirmation in the part of your body that felt discomfort when you first began working on the negative situation that you want to change. The diaphragm is a common area of tension with almost any negative emotion. Lightly place your hand at the top of your abdomen (or anywhere else) to comfort the area. As you inhale, “breathe into this area”. Relax the area with each repetition of your suggestion. Release the tension with the next exhale. This process can help move you away from just going through the motions of repeating a “simple cold statement” into a deeper emotional and physical experience where you positively embody the goal that you seek.
- Exit point
When you feel satisfied with the self hypnosis session, you can gently exit your hypnotic state. Gradually count up from one to ten, feeling progressively more alert and activated with each number until you reach ten. You can open your eyes if they were closed, or move your eyes away from the point that you were focusing on. Your self hypnosis session is now complete.
Practise self hypnosis: common questions
Is self hypnosis a skill?
Yes, I consider self hypnosis to be a skill that you develop and make permanent. As with most skills, you need to practise them to master them. Some people have better visualisation abilities than others and may be more reflective in their learning style. Having these traits can mean that self hypnosis can seem like a “natural” activity for you.
But for others who don’t have these traits, it doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from self hypnosis; it may just take a little bit longer for you to benefit. Your belief and persistence will certainly help you achieve your goals when you are ready to practise self hypnosis.
How often and for how long should you practise self hypnosis?
You could start to practise self hypnosis once per day, maybe after work to create a mental partition between your work stress and relaxation at home. Initially, focus on the breathing and physical relaxation stages of self hypnosis for about 5 minutes.
As you progress with this stage, integrate suggestions that help you to lower levels of work-related tension. “I am learning to access a deeper state of calmness using breathing techniques to separate my work and my home life” could be your starting suggestion.
As a guide, the duration of your self hypnosis practise session (with suggestions) should be about 10-20 minutes, with the suggestion stage forming about half of the self hypnosis time.
Make good use of quieter periods in your day, like during work breaks or lunchtime to practise your breathing and help keep some of these techniques accessible for your use later in your day. The part of your day when you don’t have time for these techniques is probably the time that you need it most!
Remember that the quality of your practise is more important than the time that you spend in your practise. Mastering the breathing technique stage is fundamental to your progress and your ability to then integrate your suggestions. With effective breathing, your competence will increase, meaning that less time will be needed in your practise session to be benefit.
Is recording suggestions more effective than repeating them to yourself?
When you are guiding your own (self) hypnosis, a part of your mind still needs to be conscious to direct the experience. This can reduce your ability to readily accept the suggestions during the early stages. It takes a lot of practise to master your self hypnosis with minimal conscious interference.
An alternative method of self hypnosis is to write a script of the various stages above, and then make an audio recording of your script. You can then listen and follow your own voice without “consciously” having to direct it. This has the benefit of first being “the driver” by writing your own suggestions, and then switching seats to become the passenger without having to concentrate on “steering” your mind through your self hypnosis session.
How effective is self hypnosis compared to hypnotherapy?
Self hypnosis is a skill that you develop to help you achieve your goals. As already stated, it is not a quick fix for your problems; it takes time and commitment to master it and benefit from it.
There are various processes that are involved in the success of a hypnotherapy course of treatment. This can include your expectation of hypnotherapy, the skills and training of the hypnotherapist, your goals, your commitment to the treatment process, the interaction of all of these factors etc. Hypnotherapy can achieve rapid results, but for the majority of clients, it is not a quick fix; effective change can take time.
You would certainly expect a course of hypnotherapy to have more impact than a similar time spent in a course of self hypnosis. This is because you are hiring a professional to guide you to achieve your goal. By hiring a professional, you are also making a statement about your commitment to a process that you may not give when it just involves you and your own free time. The hypnotherapist is also objective in the process to establish any of your self-limiting beliefs and how these beliefs might sabotage your ability to achieve your goal. This is an important point within goal achievement because you function through the “lens” of your own beliefs. You can potentially limit how far you go in your journey because you may not fully know yourself or know what you don’t know!
If you are someone who is keen to take charge of your wellbeing by learning self hypnosis and you are struggling to get the process moving by yourself however, you may want to consider a short course of hypnotherapy to kick-start your self hypnosis practise. You can then use this insightful experience to continue your own journey of self learning. In my view, the better hypnotherapists aim to promote this approach in your treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask your hypnotherapist to teach you how to practise self hypnosis.
Practise self hypnosis: Conclusion
In order to practice self-hypnosis successfully, persistence and conviction are key requisites. Without these, your practise may not create a deep enough change in your unconscious mind. Use, develop and experiment with the processes and techniques described above to help immerse you into a calmer lifestyle and one in which you can access your own positive change.
For further information on how to practise self hypnosis, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
What are the differences between Self Hypnosis, Meditation and Mindfulness?
Self hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness are growing in popularity. It’s not surprising when these self-help disciplines can be used to reduce stress and anxiety, and even help you achieve your goals. When you have mastered one or all of them, you can be in charge of easing the symptoms of some serious underlying health issues.
When teaching self hypnosis to my hypnotherapy clients, I have often been asked if there is a difference between self hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness. Purists may not agree, but I believe that each discipline can take similar paths but they do have some distinct differences too.
If you want to take “de-stressing” matters into your own hands, which one should you develop? Let’s compare and contrast each discipline so that you can decide which one to take on your self-help journey.
Let’s discuss hypnosis first
It is a fairly common misconception that “hypnosis” is something that can only occur with the help of some external or professional guidance using a hypnotic induction. It may be hard to believe, but you cannot be hypnotised unless you want to be hypnotised, even though it might look like mind control in those hypnosis films. You ultimately choose which suggestions to accept or reject; the “power” exists within you and not the person hypnotising you. Externally guided hypnosis happens then, because you allow someone else to guide your “self hypnosis”. And during a state of hypnosis you are more receptive to a hypnotherapist’s suggestions that you have agreed are part of your treatment goals.
Hypnosis, in its broadest definition (no, not the one used by authoritarian styles), is a state of altered awareness and you are constantly drifting in and out of hypnosis throughout your day. It happens nearly always by accident, when a person is doing some routine and repetitive task, such as doing the dishes or walking the dog. One moment you’ll be at the park with your dog, and next you’ll be at front of your house door without having any conscious recollection of how you got there. Your mind decided to take a stroll down memory lane while your legs carried you home.
This is an example of hypnosis when your mind is “zoning out”; it goes into subspace and retreats into some peaceful place within itself. This state of awareness is similar to daydreaming. Everyone has done this as some time in their lives. Can you remember doing this in school?
Depending on your priorities, your subconscious mind may want to put aside a calming daydream and solve a problem or anxiety, something that is open-ended and needs to be closed for you to then feel relaxed again. You might do this on the commuting to work, preparing and prioritising your working day ahead of you.
The process of altered awareness can also happen when you “zone in” and concentrate on something so intensely that you shut out external distractions. An example is when reading a good book; you block out those house noises that you may otherwise hear and disturb you (the ones that irritate you when you are struggling to get to sleep). You can also “zone in” when you attend a live performance of your favourite artist and are so taken by the show that you lose track of time and forget about your worries. In this situation your subconscious mind is prioritising the external situation over other “internal” issues, allowing you to be fully absorbed in the show.
What is self hypnosis?
The situations above describe how hypnotic and self hypnotic states can happen incidentally. In a formal context, self hypnosis can be defined as using a process, usually involving relaxation techniques, to intentionally induce yourself into a state of concentrated, heightened suggestibility. Affirmations, your imagination and visualisation may then be used to access a present or future desirable state. It may also be used to reframe the meaning and the emotions of a past event.
How do you perform Self Hypnosis?
First identify some affirmations that are the positive form of your negative state that you wish to change. For example, if you are anxious about giving a presentation, your affirmation could be “I am feeling more relaxed and confident with my presentation as I rehearse my content”.
- Find a comfortable location away from irritating noises (it takes a well-practised self-hypnotist to work with these!) Find a supportive posture such as sitting down in a comfortable chair or lying down on a bed in a slightly inclined position (so you don’t fall asleep too easily).
- Relax by using breathing techniques and then focus on parts of your body feeling heavy in sequence e.g. from head to toe. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Focus on a few words that assists your mind to drift down into a pleasant state of heaviness e.g. with each out breath let your inner voice say “relax deeper”.
- State and repeat your affirmations (internally/silently or externally out loud). Visualise the positive situation and the positive feelings more intensely with each repeat of the suggestion for a period of time e.g. ten minutes.
- Exit your hypnotic state by counting upwards, feeling more alert with each count until you feel alert. Gradually open your eyes if you closed them. Your session of self hypnosis is complete.
In the simplest terms, meditation can be explained as a participative activity in which you silence your thoughts, tune in to your inner self and find peace and tranquillity. Meditation itself is a wholesome activity in which you induce a mode of consciousness; it is not meant to lead to anything else.
How is meditation done?
There are certain steps that you can follow in order to meditate successfully. In its most basic form, these steps include:
- Finding a nice, quiet place in which to settle down in and feel comfortable.
- Then, you close your eyes and begin a basic breathing exercise that involves slow, full and deep diaphragmatic breathing.
- After this, you focus on nothing but the sound and pattern of your own steady breathing. Cleanse your thoughts and empty your mind of any other thought. You can continue for as long as you like staying focused on your breath.
- When you have achieved this for a period of time, you can open your eyes. Stand and stretch your limbs and then carry on your day as planned.
How is self hypnosis different from meditation?
By following these stages in self hypnosis and meditation, it can be easy to mistake one for the other since the first few steps in each discipline are very similar. You will notice that in order to be able to focus into your affirmation more intensely the first three stages of meditation can be used. Both self hypnosis and meditation also involve an end process or awakening.
Self hypnosis and meditation are clearly not the same disciplines however. There is no phase of ‘directed positive change’ in meditation, unless you consider the shift from an active state to a passive quietened state sufficiently directed. Meditation is an activity with no ulterior purpose other than to find inner peace and tranquillity. Some styles of meditation achieve this by visualisation, contemplation, chanting a mantra or focusing on something external or on an energy point (chakra) during the third stage. Some styles of meditation also incorporate movement such as walking meditation or during the practice of martial arts.
Self hypnosis is different in this regard. During self hypnosis there is a goal in mind; an end purpose of transformation. Hypnosis and self hypnosis is nearly always induced in order to make some sort of change so that the person being hypnotised can achieve something*. The goal can be relaxation, but most self hypnosis usually goes beyond this. For example, one might want to use self hypnosis to break a bad habit, quit smoking, dig up an old half forgotten memory to reframe it, boost self confidence, control pain, lift depression, overcome insomnia, reduce anxiety, and so on.
*I say ”nearly always” because on rare occasions, I have had some clients who just wanted to experience what “directed hypnosis” felt like. I asked them if they wanted to change any aspect of their lives and they said no. The hypnosis session ended up being a relaxation session (sometimes called “relaxatherapy”). Instinctively, I integrated suggestions of confidence and ego boosting into their consultation. At the end of the session they were relaxed and appreciative of the experience. They were able to tell the world that they had been “hypnotised” today! So was this relaxation session a “directed meditation” or “guided visualisation” sometimes used in Yoga? I think that this type of session was common to all of these processes.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be described as a state of non-judgemental, heightened awareness in which you consciously and deliberately pay attention to something in the present. What you pay close attention to can be internal processes like your current thoughts, emotions or sensations in your body. You can also pay close attention to external processes that are occurring in your surrounding environment.
Through the practice of mindfulness and focusing on the present experience, you can access an enhanced state of calmness, concentration and clarity. Mindfulness helps to temporarily create distance from the default functioning of the mind that can be overwhelming. The mind is constantly connecting with the past in order to anticipate the future, but it may not always connect with it in a way that benefits you. It can easily exaggerate the emotional learning of past events, predicting catastrophes that rarely happen. Mindfulness sidelines these distractions, capturing the essence of just being, feeling, thinking, sensing and existing in the present.
As a perceptual style of processing then, mindfulness can be therapeutic. The (physical) past is put to rest from a perspective that it cannot be changed, so why ruminate over it? Whilst anxiety about the future can be threatening and remains uncertain, so why try to control it? The only time to exist is “in the now”. Mindfulness enables you to take heed from this philosophy and channel your attention, your energy and your desires on to what is happening to you “right there and then”.
How is mindfulness done?
Mindfulness can be practised in many situations and during various activities. You can be mindful when walking, gardening, painting, eating, travelling on a bus, whilst sitting in the park observing nature around you etc. You can also practise mindfulness during more passive activities. Here’s one mindfulness activity, focusing on breathing:
- Choose a peaceful place in your house away from any distractions. Get comfortable in a chair with your body supported and your eyes closed.
- Imagine your breath being visible. As you inhale with your abdomen, follow the flow of your breath as it gets inhaled through your nose, past your windpipe and down into your lungs. Notice the changing sensations in your abdomen, diaphragm and ribcage.
- As you pause before exhaling, observe the air resting at the bottom of your lungs, circulating for a few moments. Then as you exhale follow the air being breathed up through your chest and out through your nose. Notice the air circulating just outside of your face as you pause, before inhaling the air again.
- Repeat this process with several breaths.
- Then allow your mind to roam, observing your thoughts at a distance. Accept these thoughts as they fade in and then fade out, being replaced with the flow of your breath once again.
- Your mindfulness session is complete. You can open your eyes to return to your day.
How does mindfulness compare to self hypnosis?
Whilst relaxation may be experienced at some point during or after having practised mindfulness, it is far from being a technique in which you “relax” the mind. Instead, during mindfulness, you are aiming to arouse your senses, being more aware of those subtle processes that mostly tend to happen in the background. In other words, you are “zoning in” to whatever is happening in this moment, such as your tuning in to emotions or feelings. This might involve examining the tension within a part of your body right now and having felt it, you can now readily release it. This is a different approach to pushing something aside, even suppressing it, for it to come knocking at your door at a later time.
So how does mindfulness compare to self hypnosis? In many ways, they complement each other and by developing one technique, you may find that it helps the other one.
They both help you to “zone in”: Mindfulness’s perceptual style of focusing your attention is very similar to the “zoning in” state of altered awareness used in self hypnosis (mentioned above in the description of hypnosis). Zoning in would benefit you in areas if your life such as increasing your concentration levels at work and helping your listening abilities during conversations.
They both improve your mind-body connection: Thoughts and emotions create physical changes in your body and you may not always appreciate at the time of which thought is causing which sensation. Generally speaking, positive thoughts can create relaxed sensations, whilst negative thoughts can create sensations of tension. By zoning into these negative thoughts and emotions, mindfulness can be used as a diagnostic tool to establish which unconscious thought is triggering this physical tension. The tension in your shoulders might relate to you being anxious about giving a presentation next week and is the source of keeping you tense, irritable and awake at night. Having established this, you now have a goal for the self hypnosis. Using self hypnosis you can then create affirmations to help you visualise confidence in your presentation, reducing your anxiety-related tension in your shoulders and helping you to sleep better at night.
How does mindfulness compare to meditation?
When you consider the mindfulness breathing practice above, parts of it could be used as a lead into meditation (and self hypnosis). In this specific context, it has many similarities. Some people advocate that “breathing mindfulness” is a type of meditation activity.
This is perhaps one of the main general differences. Mindfulness is a state of mind or quality of awareness that can be applied anywhere. However, meditation is an activity or action; something that you do whilst sitting, focusing, chanting or walking etc.
Now consider a mindfulness practice when you drink a cup of tea. How you are holding the cup, the weight of the cup, the movement of your arm and hand as you bring the cup closer to your lips, the look of the tea, the steam rising from the tea, the initial smell of the tea as you bring it closer, the increased salivation, the slight inhalation of breath to sip some tea, the feeling of the tea (liquid) in your mouth, sensing the temperature in your mouth, the taste of the tea, where you taste it, the changing smell, the feelings as you swallow the tea, the changing taste and aroma in your mouth after you have swallowed it.
There are lots of sensory experiences to be aware of in this mindfulness activity of tea drinking!
Mindfulness tea drinking would not be considered a formal meditation for the purists however. But some informal styles of meditation state that you can meditate during absolutely anything – if you insist that you are meditating when knitting for example; then you are meditating!
Self hypnosis, Meditation and Mindfulness
In this attempt to explore differences between self hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness, it can be recognised that each discipline has features that overlap with another discipline. The practice of one discipline is likely to benefit the practice of another, if only from the awareness and practise of breathing techniques and postural changes.
The individual experience or benefit derived from each discipline however can be varied. Your definition of each discipline will ultimately determine how you approach and participate in each activity. Societies (whether Eastern or Western, secular or religious) have different cultural and philosophical values that can emphasise how to approach each discipline and the potential gains to be achieved from it.
In hypnotherapy as a treatment, the hypnotherapist can integrate many approaches that can still be classified as hypnotherapy. For example, some hypnotherapists will actively promote that they teach self hypnosis. Or the way that suggestions are formed may teach aspects of meditation or mindfulness whilst in a hypnotic state. There can be many benefits of incorporating a broad treatment approach as this evidence suggests when treating stress and anxiety.
From the discussion, I would summarise the following benefits:
Self Hypnosis: helps you to achieve a change or personal goal through the internalisation of suggestions.
Meditation: helps you to still your mind to bring you inner peace.
Mindfulness: helps you to heighten your senses and makes you more aware of everything inside of you and around you.
For more information on self hypnosis, meditation, and mindfulness techniques contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Tips To Help You Cope With Anticipatory Anxiety
Are looking for help to cope with anticipatory anxiety? Anticipatory anxiety is better known as the “fear of fear.” It’s a very appropriate term because unlike normal anxiety, anticipatory anxiety causes you to fear your own anxiety symptoms; you end up chasing your own panic attacks and as a result, you create more panic attacks. In its chronic form, anticipatory anxiety is also known as panic disorder.
For those who are asking whether it’s normal to have this kind of anticipation, the answer is both yes and no. It’s normal to feel anxious about a huge event, such as your first date, a driving test, a job interview, or a speech. It only becomes a problem if it seems to be occurring on a regular basis and on events that you generally wouldn’t consider to be that overwhelming.
So what can you do to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety? There’s no specific formula that works for everybody, since different people will have varying degrees of symptoms. Nevertheless, there are general ways that can help you minimise the impact of worry and fear when they come. Sometimes working with just one anticipatory anxiety tip that resonates with you can be more effective than attacking it with several, particularly since some tips may appear to contradict others! What will help you as an individual can depend on how your fear is progressing and your core beliefs.
Tip 1: Establish the basis of your fear
A common first step to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to start by asking yourself on what are you basing your fear. You may have experienced a trauma in your past that justifies you anticipating that trauma again, but put the trauma into the context of the bigger picture. How many similar events (not involving you) have ended successfully without trauma? It’s important to reach out and expand all of the other experiences (the factual evidence) that you are ignoring at the emotional level. So if you have a fear of flying, visualise yourself in the many millions of flights taking off and landing successfully to reassure your anticipation. Your panic attack will have no connection with the success of your next flight, but it will ruin the enjoyment of your journey should you decide to fly. Take control of your anticipatory anxiety and you can trust your pilot will take care of your flight for you.
Tip 2: Interrupt your fearful thoughts
Another tip to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to interrupt your fearful thoughts. Fearful thoughts can spiral out of control and keep you trapped in your anxiety. Your imagination can just keep expanding each anxious thought until your symptoms are distressing you.
Once you notice that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed because of a particular thought, interrupt that thought with a positive one. Let’s say you’re worrying about losing your job. In such a scenario, you will be anticipating feeling worthless and dwelling on the follow-on catastrophes such as losing your house or your partner abandoning you. Your positive thought may relate to identifying why you are good at your job or what skills you can develop (with training) to maintain your employability. More often than not, this change of thought can interrupt your fearful thoughts and help you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. Italso keeps the negative thoughts from taking over your mind and emotions whenever they come back.
Tip 3: Imagine the best-case scenario
It’s interesting that the human brain is designed for protection. When the nervous system is aroused, it gets ready to prepare for the worst. That’s the downside though. Since its priority is safety, the brain automatically surveys for the worst-case scenarios so that it can prepare the body just in case. This is not a problem for the average person. For individuals with anticipatory anxiety, however, this can be a huge predicament. You’ve probably heard and used the phrase “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” It’s a common technique used in cognitive therapy to restructure your catastrophe and can be very useful for certain people in different situations. Do you find that when you imagine the worst case scenario though, your imagination draws you towards the worst-case scenario, as if you are doomed? If it does, then you will probably benefit by imagining the best-case scenario. Yes, be bold with the power of your mind and change your emotional journey! It won’t always give you control over the external situation, but it can give you an immediate feeling of calm by imagining the best outcome. This can be a huge step towards learning to cope with anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 4: Learn to relax
In a busy world like ours, it’s very easy to overlook the fact that our mind and body need relaxation. You are more susceptible to worry and anxiety when your mind is not rested. To cope with anticipatory anxiety, you need to make it a habit of taking a “Time-out” at least once in your day. That doesn’t necessarily mean not doing anything. There are many activities that you can engage in that can help your mind and body rest. Identify what you enjoy most. Gardening, reading, writing, hanging out with friends, yoga, exercising, and yes, even playing a sport! – All of these activities will help keep your mind relaxed and rested, if not during but after the activity. If you are curious about doing “mind work”, then “passive” relaxation can be just as effective. Consider meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques to lower stress and anxiety.
Tip 5: Take a step out of your thoughts
It can be so easy to be convinced by your thoughts when you live inside of them. The potential to be pulled into believing those worst case scenarios (explained in tip 3) can leave you feeling helpless, despite those situations rarely ever materialising. Several authors emphasise the ability to be the observer of your thoughts rather than being your thoughts. This is a way to effectively “hack” the natural anxious thinking process and create distance from its influence. To help you cope with anticipatory anxiety using this tip, you’ll benefit by getting into your mind zone (suggested in tip 4) where you can calm your mind and slow down the pace of your thoughts. You can then use your imagination to visualise stepping out of your anxious thoughts, leaving them behind and appreciating the freedom it gives you to choose where you want to take them. Feel empowered when you access a deeper relaxation, confidence or self-belief. All of these can be your liberation from anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 6: Get enough sleep
Just as anxiety can keep you up all night, aiming to get enough sleep can help you to cope with anticipatory anxietymore effectively. The two simply have such a strong relationship, and that relationship is bi-directional. This means that if you want to treat one, you also need to treat the other. When it comes to sleep, however, the key is to get 7 to 8 hours a night and establish good sleep hygiene practices. This will help improve your morning mood and levels of irritability. To improve the quality of your sleep, you need to slowly eliminate activities that stimulate your mind before bedtime. This may include reducing caffeine intake, limiting your screen time, and tailoring your environment to make it more conducive for sleeping. Learning how to guide your mind to sleep can also be helpful.
Tip 7: Face the problem head on
The motivational phrase “face your fear” may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s actually an excellent way to cope with anticipatory anxiety. For the pragmatist, it’s the antidote to being left “in-waiting” for the situation to arrive with nothing to do, which typifies anticipatory anxiety. You may be ready to “flood” your experience and jump into the deep end by tackling the situation head on. Many would prefer a graduated or controlled exposure dealing with smaller parts of the situation to build confidence. If you have a fear of public speaking for example, then consider how you can start in “safe mode” developing public speaking skills whilst gradually increasing the size of your audience, the authority of your audience and the importance of the presentation task. These are common issues that when controlled, can help you develop your public speaking confidence.
Tip 8: Seek support
Whether from family or friends, it’s crucial that you have someone to support you in order for you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. When you think that you’re the only one who has anticipatory anxiety, it makes you feel more embarrassed and self-critical. It helps to have someone close whom you can share your thoughts with, and someone who can offer his or her support when you’re overwhelmed.
Finally, it’s critical that you seek professional help from a therapist or hypnotherapist. This is especially true when you are suffering from chronic anticipatory anxiety or panic disorder. With hypnotherapy, so many of the tips offered in this article can be suggested to your mind without conscious interference. You will also benefit from a huge reduction of anxiety when you are in hypnosis.
For further information on how hypnotherapy can help you cope with anticipatory anxiety, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Access The Zone in Cardiff
What is The Zone?
The Zone (sometimes called the “flow” mental state and the peak performance zone) is considered to be a state of optimal functioning. It is a heightened state of focused awareness and inner clarity in which your acquired knowledge, creativity, emotions, skills, motivation, passion and practised skills are synchronised, automated and “flowing”. You are not “consciously” trying to perform; you have immersed yourself “in” the state of performing The zone is a state of optimal focused awareness and every part of you is harmoniously operating within the essence of your peak performance. You are very much inspired “in” this moment; with no ego or fear of outcomes.
When you are in the “zone”, your brainwave activity level is reduced down from the Beta level (which dominates when you are focused on the outside world) to the “Alpha” level. In the Alpha state, you are conscious but you are relaxed. Alpha brain waves dominate when you are being creative, emotionally connected and decisive.
The informal zone
You will have experienced the zone in informal situations. Have you been immersed in any of the following activities?
- Having a conversation and being “connected” with your partner.
- Writing effortless flowing content for your essay or thesis.
- Feeling drawn into the suspense of a thriller movie.
- Playing a video game.
- Reading a good book in a public place and not noticing people walking by.
- Playing a game of chess and losing track of time.
- Feeling emotional when hearing someone talk about their journey of achievement.
- As an audience member being fascinated by the presenter (lecturer, teacher, speaker or entertainer etc.) and the content of their presentation.
The informal zone is a natural state of relaxed focused awareness. Your behaviour may not be goal-directed as might be in a skilled performance, but you are still fully absorbed in your activity.
Getting into the zone to enhance your performance
The “performance zone” or “peak performance mind state” is a term that has been synonymous with elite sports performers. Consider the level of concentration and skill demonstrated by professional sports people when participating in golf, shooting or archery, or of elite athletes immediately before and during a sprint track and field event.
The performance zone is not exclusive to sports people however, you can sometimes see professional musicians completely absorbed into the emotion of their performance; their eyes are closed and they are barely conscious of their surrounds. Similarly, actors can be seen in the stage sides, deep in concentration and rehearsing their script, just prior to their stage entrance. They then appear on stage seamlessly recalling extensive, emotion-filled dialogue as is reading from an autocue.
The performance zone can be considered as a highly productive state of awareness particularly when you can access it to achieve work tasks. Employers value employees who can maintain long periods of concentration.
Getting into the performance zone at work is easier if:
- You are passionate about the task.
- You believe in the need to complete it.
- You can develop your creative abilities.
- You can use/transfer a few previously learned skills.
- You can visualise (at some level) the potential solution.
- You have an incentive but it is more intrinsic.
- The work situation (physical structure, resources, personnel, reasonable timescale etc.) meets your needs to fulfil the task.
- Life outside work is stable.
Strategies to enhance your performance zone
Do you find that in your practise sessions, you are “nailing it” but when it comes to the big occasion, your performance is below standard? If this happens on a regular basis, then it’s time to review your performance strategies. Consider introducing some the following performance zone strategies to boost the performance of your skills:
- Focus on the requirements of this moment – as close to the present as possible.
- Remove any judgment about your performance – that includes your own (internal) or from the audience, coach, peers or opposition (external)
- Centre on the quality of the next one objective and let it go when it’s completed – the result will take care of itself.
- Cut through perfectionism by focusing on the function of your performance.
- Distance any external problems or distractions – unload them well before you get on the performance stage or the arena.
- Identify and focus on the relevant performance cues that are specific to enhancing your performance in your activity e.g. when defending your opponent with the ball in basketball, by watching their midsection, you are less likely to be faked. Discuss this with your coach/teacher.
- Simplify your approach when you are on the performance stage. Analyse the complexity in the practise session/tutorial, when you are away from the performance stage.
- Keep your mood playful – that doesn’t mean that your performance is not important; a playful state lowers the stress you place on your performance.
How can you practise staying in the performance zone?
In the early stages of your new skill acquisition, you are unlikely to access the zone. This is because you are conscious of what you are doing and what is required of you. You are also unpractised and unrehearsed. It’s a bit like experiencing your first day at work or learning to play a piece of music for the first time; you feel overloaded with information due your own high expectation of wanting to appear capable.
With focused practise sessions (e.g. when being coached), the formation of individual practise skills combine to create a network of coordinated schemes. Gradually, the schemes become familiar and fluent. With continued practise the schemes can then become automated and operate at an unconscious level. Repetition is an essential physical part of accessing your performance zone.
Is accessing the zone just down to practise? Accessing the zone in performance situations requires the use and development of your imagination, emotions and beliefs. These can then combine with your practised physical skills.
Breathing techniques, meditation, mental rehearsal, mindfulness and visualisation are useful tools to help cultivate your performance zone; these mind tools require you to imagine how you want to be during your performance (not what you are dreading happening i.e. the negative “what if’s”). Find a suitable situation in which you can regularly practise the mental rehearsal of your peak performance.
Here are some visualisation techniques to practise when you are away from the performance stage, as it gets closer to your performance and during the interval breaks. Find a relaxing situation, close your eyes and use relaxed breathing techniques to lower the level of your brain activity i.e. get into your “alpha” state:
- Imagine that you are performing at the highest level for your activity, with all the features of your performance present. By doing this, you can train your mind to get used to performing under pressure.
- Identify your most emotionally confident and resourceful state. Visualise how you would be demonstrating this confidence when performing at your peak level.
- Recall the feeling of confidence from past experiences of your achievements. Or visualise confidence demonstrated from a role model in your area of expertise. “Paste” this feeling into your next performance.
- To maximise body (or any part of you, including your voice) functionality, imagine your body part being the perfect “fit” in your performance situation.
- Practise focusing your mind on empowering affirmations (positive statements), images/symbols, emotions, and words that will inspire, energise and motivate you e.g. passion, power, rhythm, intensity, determination, invincibility, flow, belief etc.
- Identify and narrow down the key qualitative processes/techniques of your peak performance e.g. fluency and rhythm. Practise imprinting them into your mental scheme.
- Visualise removing the feeling of “trying”. Instead, access the feeling of “being”.
What disrupts the performance zone?
Excessive stress and anxiety can shatter your peak performance zone. When you are worried about something or you are getting frustrated with your performance, your level of brain activity increases. You are taken up, out of the automated “alpha” state and placed back into the “beta” state where you are conscious of your surrounds and trying to force your skills. Stress and anxiety management is thus an important part of staying in the zone.
What is your stress? Stress can be different for everyone. What destroys one performer can motivate another. Your beliefs about yourself and your ability are essential components for keeping you mentally focused and in the zone. Negative traits can be learned from early parent conditioning, peer criticism, and your own interpretation of failed performances. Negative traits act as the source of your future insecurities and worries. They pull you away from the present, away from your performance zone. When you can identify the nature of your negative beliefs, you can work on centring this negativity. Using visualisation, you can realign your distortions to remove fear and judgement. With practise you can access positive thinking states.
Here are some common negative beliefs (stressors) that can take you out of your performance Zone and ways to correct them:
● You doubt yourself and your ability – You don’t believe that you or your skills are good enough to succeed. How you think and communicate also reflects this. In your mind, you believe that you can’t do it!
Zone Tip – Visualise displaying your skills with complete confidence. Picture the peak of your playing abilities to acquire your performance zone.
● You are a perfectionist – Your refusal to accept anything short of perfection means that you apply yourself rigidly to your performance. This can work when you are in control, but when something takes you off your path, it can strain other parts of your life.
Zone Tip – Visualise having a wider, balanced perspective to access your performance zone.
● You are easily intimidated – Opponents will stare at you, mock you and physically attack you (when the referee is not there) in the hope to rattle you and knock your concentration. They want to undermine your self-worth.
Zone Tip – Visualise keeping your “cool” and boosting your own self esteem to acquire your performance zone.
● You want results now! – You are impatient and that exposes your inability to be disciplined with your effort. When things go wrong you get angry.
Zone Tip – To access your performance zone, visualise having a calmed patience. Imagine reaping your rewards in the long term by staying on your mission.
● You fear (another) injury – Having been injured or seen your peers sit on the sidelines for extensive periods, your fear of injury is holding back your progress. You are restrained and shy in attack.
Zone Tip – Visualise having a mental toughness when you compete. This is a necessary part of acquiring your performance zone.
● You fear failure – Linked to perfectionism, your sensitivity to making mistakes builds your fear of failure. You are so preoccupied with avoiding mistakes that it impedes your ability to do what is right.
Zone Tip – Visualise your ability to bounce back from errors or blips; learning from your mistakes will keep you resilient in your performance zone.
● You try too hard – Your aggressive style overwhelms your skills set. You force your playing style, wrongly equating over-exertion with successful performance. You risk injury and fatigue.
Zone Tip – Visualise balancing your effort with other important skills e.g. agility, rhythm. Appreciate what is “smarter” (not harder) to achieve your performance zone.
● You are sensitive to criticism – Your sensitivity to people’s comments eats away at your soul because you may believe that you need to be right. You become preoccupied with their criticism; it gnaws at your self-esteem and your performance. You are unable to distinguish if it was said as an attack or as feedback to help you improve your abilities.
Zone Tip – Meditate with the comment to identify if there is anything that you can learn from it. Then consider if it can be discussed to clarify its meaning. If not, let it go. Visualise that you are worth more than the attack made on you to keep you in your performance zone.
● You have high expectations – It’s good that you have ambitions, but your high expectations create an inner feeling of constant emptiness. You create unrealistic and unachievable goals that ultimately cause you to doubt your abilities.
Zone Tip – Reorganise your goals so that your interim objectives are realistically achievable. This will lift your confidence in your abilities. Visualise the combination of your long term goals and short term objectives to ultimately achieve what you want.
● You stay in your comfort zone – You underplay your potential and lack the “grit” to go up a few gears when the situation demands it. Low pain threshold, tiredness and apathy prevent you from achieving a higher ranking.
Zone Tip – Visualise your power, resilience and determination to develop your physical and mental stamina. This will keep you in your performance zone.
Can the zone be addictive?
The performance zone is a desirable mind state; you develop it to improve your ability in a performance situation. The informal zone however has a more recreational purpose e.g. when being connected in conversation. In the informal zone, you are using the zone to relax or distance yourself from a different situation in your life. Participating in an activity for some “flow” therapy can be a way of switching off and escaping from your external worries. But anything that can be beneficial can be overused when the external stress is persistent.
Overdosing in potentially compulsive activities like playing video games, shopping, sex and gambling can become addictive. They possess a “meditative” yet adrenaline-filled zone of escapism. As the addiction grows, the insatiable need for the “flow” state can be to the neglect of your other responsibilities e.g. family relationships, your health, finances etc. When addictions take over your life, the previous solution to your problem becomes the new problem.
Hypnotherapy and the zone
What does accessing the performance zone mean to you? Are you looking to improve your sports performance or have the edge over other elite professionals? Maybe your performance anxiety is inhibiting your stage performance in some way. Or perhaps you are looking to improve your creativity in your art or concentration levels for your exams. Hypnotherapy can be the treatment that will accelerate your success.
● Hypnotherapy can help you access your performance zone
Essentially, the zone or the “flow” mental state is similar to a hypnotic state of awareness. You lose your self-consciousness; your attention is focused and absorbed into the activity, and time has become irrelevant. These are all phenomena commonly experienced in hypnosis. The hypnotherapy treatment will help you reach deeper levels of concentration when you want to connect with your performance zone.
● Hypnotherapy can help you identify your emotional blocks
Negative beliefs can weigh down your peak performance zone. If you don’t know what they are, the treatment will be instrumental in helping you identify them. You may already know what they are, but feel overwhelmed by their presence. With your unconscious mind open to suggestion, you can access new positive beliefs, replacing the emotional blocks that are holding you back.
● Hypnotherapy can improve your confidence and self-belief
Confidence and self-belief are essential personal characteristics of the performance zone. Your positive thoughts, emotions and behaviour can help you push through your own restrictive barriers. Visualising confidence and self-belief in hypnosis will boost your feeling of superiority over your skilled performance.
● Hypnotherapy can help you reframe your past “traumas”
The unresolved handling of injuries, criticism, failures, errors, mistakes etc. can remain stored in your mind keeping you safe from having yet another set-back. Traumas that have not been resolved generate your self-doubt, indecision and hesitancy. Once these traumas have been reframed, you can freely access the confidence in your performance zone.
● Hypnotherapy can intensify your visualisation
Conscious interference and anxiety can blur your visualisation abilities. You can be wrestling with what you want to achieve and what you are trying to avoid. In hypnosis, your visualisation can be guided without conscious interference, picturing your skills and goals as “real” events. This enhanced mental rehearsal can integrate your mind and body functioning so that it can actualise into your performance.
● Hypnotherapy can help you overcome performance anxiety
The cognitive and behavioural symptoms of performance anxiety can devastate your performance zone. To overcome your performance anxiety, your practises need to gradually incorporate “live” situation stress, where you can adjust to your perceived threat e.g. members of your audience. Hypnotherapy can be used to identify the nature of your threat and help you to visualise confidence with your audience. This will help you to lower the anxiety symptoms on the performance day.
● Hypnotherapy can change your negative internal self-talk
Self talk is natural to all of us. The various parts of your mind can make themselves known when your emotions are compromised; one part will say “do it!” and the other will say “run away!” Hypnotherapy can help your confident voice dominate your experience in your performance.
● Hypnotherapy can help you re-align your goals
How you are structuring your long-term and short-term goals can make a difference to your experience in your performance zone. Unrealistic goals can leave you doubting your ability. Hypnotherapy will help you make changes that will work with you and your performance aspirations.
● Hypnotherapy can help your motivation
Your motivation can be deflated when your performance is suffering (and vice versa). Your motives can be re-established to fuel the drive in your area of expertise. Accessing feelings of desire to perform successfully is a fundamental ingredient in accessing your performance zone.
Are you ready to access your performance zone?