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
Phobia and Fear Treatment Cardiff
Definition of phobia and fear
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Fear is a natural emotion that helps protect you from imminent or real danger. A phobia is an anxiety disorder that causes you to feel intense fear of an object, situation, place, or living organism. In contrast to the level of danger commonly felt with a fear, the reaction with a phobia is more severe, usually triggering a panic attack. With a fear you may cautiously interact with the object or situation but with a phobia, the intensity of your anxiety influences the way that you lead your life. When you have a phobia, you mould your lifestyle to avoid the object or situation, even though the imagined danger is usually far greater than it actually is in reality.
How common are phobias?
Some phobias that develop during childhood can be short term and can disappear within a few months. However, 80% of phobias that progress into adulthood can become chronic and need to be treated. Approximately 10 million people in the UK have a phobia, and the sufferers can be of any age, sex, and social background. You may feel embarrassed about having a phobia, but you are certainly not alone however remote your phobia might be.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Types of phobias
Phobias can be divided into 2 main types:
- Specific or simple phobias
- Complex phobias
Specific or Simple Phobias
Specific or simple phobias are an irrational fear caused by the thought or presence of a single specific object or situation. The phobia usually develops at a young age, and as you grow into adulthood, its intensity may become less severe. As an adult with a phobia, you can appreciate that your panic reaction is usually disproportionate to the actual danger you are in, but you are still unable to prevent your reaction from overwhelming you.
Specific or simple divided into the following types:
- Animal phobias: these are the most common, and can include being afraid of anything living such as a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), fear of dogs (cynophobia), fear of snakes (ophidiophobia) or a fear of insects (entomophobia).
- Situational phobias: these can occur in response to a specific situation such as a fear of flying (aerophobia), fear of visiting the dentist (dentophobia), or fear of being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).
- Natural environment phobias: these can include examples such as a fear of water (hydrophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of storms (astraphobia), or a fear of contamination or germs (mysophobia).
- Blood-injection-injury phobias: this category can include a fear of blood (haemophobia), a fear of needles or invasive medical procedures (trypnophobia) and fear of injury (traumatophobia). These are specific fears that evoke the emotion of disgust and anxiety. They can also cause a further fear of fainting.
- Other phobias: these can include various fears such as a fear of falling (basophobia) or fear of costumed characters such as clowns (coulrophobia).
These phobias have an overwhelming effect on an individual’s life and mostly develop during teenagehood and adulthood, although the roots of the phobia can be caused in childhood. These are commonly divided into 2 types:
Social phobia: This is also known as Social Anxiety Disorder, and is affiliated with feeling extremely shy or anxious in social situations. With a social phobia, your “danger” is focused on another person’s negative reaction. Thus, you fear embarrassment, humiliation, attention, judgement and intimidation from other people. In its generalised form, all aspects of social interaction are affected by anxiety and can also be combined with introversion where you feel even more anxious in the presence of larger groups. In its specific form, social phobia can affect individual situations such as meeting new people or eating in public. It can also be characterised by performance anxiety situations e.g. when public speaking (or performing in front of an audience), during exams, interviews, in sports performance and in sexual performance situations. When you have an individual phobia and a social phobia to cope with, the social phobia adds another layer of “embarrassment” anxiety. You fear drawing negative attention to yourself with a public display of your panic attack. With an individual phobia and social phobia, great effort is also placed on hiding your anxiety symptoms, since you don’t know who to trust with this information or whether you will be taunted or bullied by your peers.
Agoraphobia: This is commonly associated with the fear of open spaces but can include numerous fears which ultimately leave the sufferer housebound. Before a complex agoraphobia develops, individual phobias and/or a social phobia may combine to gradually affect the sufferer. Other fears that can activate the agoraphobia include a fear of loneliness (monophobia), a fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) which conditions a hurried exit from the situation to a safe place (usually your home), and health anxiety (hyperchondriasis) – the fear of that your anxiety symptom is a more harmful condition. As these fears and avoidance strategies progress, panic disorder can surface where the panic attacks can seem random and unexpected. Your home becomes the “safe place”, but journeys from home can vary from individual to individual depending on the method of travel, distance from home, the activity upon arrival, the situation, time of day, whether you can trust your company during the journey and/or upon arrival. When agoraphobia is untreated, the anticipation of leaving the house can trigger the panic attacks meaning that your home is no longer your safe place.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: What causes a phobia?
There are numerous causes of a phobia ranging from direct trauma, parental influences and genetics. Follow this link more information on the causes of a phobia.
Diagnosis and prognosis of a phobia
Most specific or individual phobias are not formally diagnosed by a doctor. As the condition develops in childhood, you are often told by parents or other authority figures that you have a phobia. As a young child, you live “within” the condition, guided by your parents’ reactions and management of your phobia. Their diagnosis or lack of diagnosis could be influenced by the existence of their own phobias which biases their reaction to you e.g. if they have a social phobia they are more likely to protect you from embarrassment, advising you to avoid a social situations where you could be exposed to “embarrassment” harm.
Following their informal diagnosis and you grow older as a child, you will then research your own condition for confirmation of your behaviour, symptoms and potential coping strategies. Avoidance is the common short-term coping strategy but each retreat only serves to reinforce the power of the phobia over you.
Shock is a common reaction to the diagnosis of a condition as you begin to come to terms with the full meaning of a phobia. As a growing child, avoidance may continue to dominate your behaviour even with your progressive understanding of the phobia. Assessing possible solutions to your phobia can be met with indecision because the commitment necessary to confront it can build anticipatory anxiety when the situation beckons. The accumulation of anticipatory anxiety itself can “flood” your response to the phobic situation, overwhelm you and create yet another traumatic setback in your self help phobia treatment plan; your anticipatory anxiety feelings justify your avoidance instincts.
Fear of embarrassment may play a central role in the prognosis of a simple phobia through teenagehood as your value system shifts towards the approval of your peers. Again with a social phobia you can rationally understand how it is affecting you, yet still feel helpless to deal with the negative attention that it can generate.
Between teenagehood and adulthood, some phobia sufferers can react with denial or shame until you are able to fully accept how the condition is affecting you. To admit that you have anxiety might be considered a weakness by your peers and be a target for bullying. This adds more anxiety in those situations where your panic reaction could be visible to your peers e.g. when speaking in public.
A fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is a demanding situation for many people. When you add social anxiety, it can expose the common social phobia symptoms like blushing and shaking to your peer audience. It can also affect the control of your speech with tension felt in the diaphragm and vocal chords, leaving you breathless when you are desperately trying to sound confident. The effort to suppress these symptoms becomes a distraction to the skills needed to speak in public, but are considered the priority for the social phobia sufferer.
A fear of public speaking is a phobic situation that can span school, undergraduate study and your adult career. Public speaking traumas from school can leave avoidance footprints throughout this period, influencing you to avoid undergraduate presentation tasks, or job applications (or promotions) that specify public speaking in the new role. Where there is the opportunity to delegate, you will justify it as being good development for the subordinate staff.
If the growing need to confront your phobia hasn’t sabotaged your career opportunities, the damage that it can do to your relationships may serve as a “wake up call” to treat certain phobias. In a new relation, the early motivation of the “honeymoon period” can easily mask a deeper social phobia, with shyness appearing as an endearing quality. During this stage of relationship bliss, the anxiety is temporarily “transferred” to your partner as you both push emotional boundaries and are being supported by the other partner to be your “best” person. As the honeymoon period fades, the social anxiety “returns” to its original owner with the declining desire to socialise if the social phobia has not been overcome. The social phobic partner hopes that their gregarious partner is accepting of these changing relationship dynamics or the relationship can be strained with a diminishing desire to socialise together.
Even a flying phobia can impact on a couple’s holiday arrangements and be a source of relationship break down for intolerant partners. Indeed, there are solutions to enjoy holidays together without the need for flying, but the pressure to overcome a phobia is again brought into the limelight with a new family. Parents are aware of how young children can easily learn and imitate phobic behaviour. In an attempt to avoid guilt and shame, this can be a time to motivate the phobic parent to confront the phobia. A phobia held for many years is still treatable, but the treatment now has a long history of conditioned avoidance to work through. The treatment also has to take into consideration the time pressures of working and a family lifestyle that limit the time necessary for graduated exposure to the phobia and its benefits to alleviate it.
During adulthood, the consolidation of personality traits and other mental health conditions can reinforce the affects of a phobia e.g. anger may be communicated as a defence strategy to mask the embarrassment of the phobia or some OCD issues can attach themselves to the phobia forming deeper ritualised patterns of avoidance.
But despite the potential restrictions that a phobia can cause you, your family and your lifestyle, the growing awareness and tolerance of a phobia as a mental health issue can mean that your phobia can still be supported. As you learn to live with your phobia and justify your avoidance, those people close to you can, where possible, change their lives so that you are protected from the distress of your panic attack.
What are the major common symptoms of a phobia?
A panic attack is the acute anxiety condition common with all phobias. You can feel specific symptoms whenever you encounter the object or situation of your phobia. In some cases, you can also experience milder symptoms just by thinking about that object or situation. The severity of your individual anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person.
Psychological anxiety symptoms can include:
- Extreme feelings of fear: these will be intensified as you get closer to your specific phobia object or situation.
- Irrational thoughts: you can appreciate that what you fear does not affect other people in the same way; and that the likelihood that the feared experience is going to actually happen is very remote; and that your fearful reaction is usually disproportionate to the degree of actual harm that you are in, yet this still does not alleviate the severity of your response.
- Hopelessness, frustration and confusion: the conflict of these emotions tearing away at your mind can leave you feeling helpless, anxious and embarrassed.
Physical anxiety symptoms can include:
- Dizziness, light headedness, and nausea when facing your phobia.
- Excessive sweating and an increase in heart rate/palpitations.
- Shortness of breath and shaking.
- An upset stomach (nervous diarrhoea) or IBS is also a common.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Common Phobia Treatments
For many people the common self help phobia treatment is avoidance. If the phobic object or situation rarely affects your life then avoiding it (in the short term) will give you a feeling of control. Connected to avoidance is delegation with certain specific phobias. Getting someone else to remove a spider with a spider phobia (in the short term) is an effective way of minimising anxiety. Changing your lifestyle to minimise exposure can seem drastic to non-phobia sufferers but would only be done out of necessity to reduce long term suffering.
After avoidance, delegation and lifestyle changes to minimise exposure, the next level of treatment approach can include a combination of attending self-help groups and self-initiated exposure therapy. With simple phobias, creating a hierarchy of graduated exposure situations can take time to work through but with the effective use of relaxed breathing techniques or mindfulness, it can prevent the “flooding” of intense anxiety. Flooding (when the participant is not prepared) can cause traumatising setbacks in the alleviation of a phobia.
Complex phobias and agoraphobia are usually more difficult for the sufferer to objectively confront and work through by yourself, unless you understand your belief system and can stage graduated exposure situations that don’t generate internal conflicts. This is where certain talking therapies like counselling or CBT can be helpful, creating an understanding of your beliefs and conflicts so that you can then progressively confront your phobia.
Medication such as tranquilisers is not usually helpful for phobias but they can reduce the short term effect of a recent traumatic exposure of anxiety. Beta-blockers can reduce the effect of panic when you know that you are about to confront a phobic situation e.g. when public speaking. Antidepressants are more beneficial with certain long terms situations found with complex phobias and agoraphobia. The use of any medication should be done in consultation with your GP.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Treating phobias using Hypnotherapy
You may tell yourself that the source of your phobia does not pose an actual threat, however, your mind and body will still react with fear because your phobic reaction exists at the subconscious level. Hypnotherapy is a technique that allows you to understand and disconnect the cause of your phobia. It can help you communicate with your subconscious mind to change how you feel towards the phobia. Under hypnosis, you will feel extremely relaxed while still being in control allowing you to confront your fears without actual exposure trauma. Follow this link for more information on how you can treat your phobia and fear with hypnotherapy.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: for more information contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
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.
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.
The Various Types Of Hypnotherapy
It can be immensely useful being aware of the various types of hypnotherapy, whether you are aspiring to be a hypnotherapist or a potential client wanting treatment. Hypnotherapy is a domain that offers a huge toolbox of treatment techniques. Various approaches can be applied for different clients with different conditions. Each style of hypnotherapy can have its respective benefits when a client presents a specific need.
Understanding the types of hypnotherapy can improve your therapeutic skills as a hypnotherapist. As a client it can help you appreciate what to expect in your hypnotherapy session and be treated in a way that matches your expectations. I have used all hypnotherapeutic approaches in my experience, and am flexible enough to adapt my approach when the situation demands it. My training included all of these various types of hypnotherapy styles even though my qualification has the classification of “Clinical Hypnotherapy”.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Solution Focused Hypnotherapy
As the name suggests, this type of hypnotherapy focuses on achieving solutions to your issues rather than deconstructing past problems. From a solution-focused perspective, delving into the past is considered ineffective.
Solution focused hypnotherapy can generate impressive and tangible results. It is used by a great number of hypnotherapists and can be implemented with just about every client. The approach is employed as soon as you are asked the question “what is your goal?” If you have a ‘fear of public speaking’, then your treatment is aimed at ‘confidence in public speaking’. Your ‘public speaking’ situation is analysed and the treatment is staged in measurable progressive steps, assessing where you are now and how your public speaking confidence can increase.
This is one of the types of hypnotherapy that has a focused interaction where the hypnotherapist helps you tap into your inner resources and capacities. It assumes a level of motivation and commitment on your part, as you are provided with homework tasks that move you towards the achievement of your goal. You will mutually set fixed interim goals and hypnosis will essentially be used to guide you to your destination. Eventually, you will become familiar with your inner strength and solution-seeking abilities to access your psychological wellbeing.
Does it have any shortcomings? Some of the mutually agreed goals in solution focused approaches can overly focus on symptoms. Symptoms can be coping mechanisms of deeper unconscious problems that are ignored until the treatment comes to standstill. The deeper unconscious issues are also known as the causes or “why” you behave as you do. For example, you want help to reduce your weight, but your weight gain is an unconscious defensive reaction to childhood abuse (i.e. you stay overweight to be less attractive to potential abusers; a form of Secondary Gain.) In your solution-focused treatment, you are asked “what is your goal?” and respond to the question appropriately “to lose weight”, because your reason for gaining weight is unconscious. Your treatment can then plateau unless the solution focused hypnotherapist is also trained to uncover past causes using other hypnotherapy techniques. Without this training, the weight loss solution would be temporary. When causes are uncovered, the solution can take a more successful treatment pathway, treating the cause and the symptom together.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Ericksonian Hypnotherapy
This style of hypnotherapy is named after one of the most prominent figures of psychiatry and hypnosis, namely Milton Erickson. He believed hypnosis to be a natural state that we involuntarily encounter several times a day. Erickson’s informal approach to treatment matched his beliefs about hypnosis. He was renowned for using indirect suggestions and storytelling in which his patients may not have known that the treatment had formally started.
Unlike most direct (and authoritative) types of hypnotherapy, the Ericksonian style attempts to access the client’s behavioural, cognitive, or even analytical levels in a way that speaks to the subconscious rather than the conscious. As an approach, it uses symbolism, metaphors, stories, and implicit suggestions that help the client not only collaborate, but also adopt the healing message or command within the suggestions. Many hypnotherapists call themselves Ericksonian, but they may be very far from using the true approach that Milton Erickson devised.
It may be helpful for all types of hypnotherapy to make room for this kind of creativity. The Ericksonian approach requires the hypnotherapist’s inner judge and subtle creative capacities to be employed. They need to be very sensitive to client’s distinct problems and profiles to ensure that the indirect suggestion or story yields the desired effect. For these reasons, clients with excellent visualisation skills and reflective abilities should be encouraged to seek hypnotherapists who employ Ericksonian tools.
Changes within the client can be quite deep and profound when these techniques are used effectively. It can be used to treat (but is not limited to) addiction, OCD, pain management and habit control.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Analytical Hypnotherapy
Analytical Hypnotherapy borrows primarily from the school of psychotherapy. It is also known as hypno-analysis and curative hypnotherapy. It can be used to treat a number of conditions including phobias, negative emotions, depression, psychosomatic symptoms etc.
Being analytical in its approach, this method of hypnotherapy investigates the client’s hidden causes that are creating issues. Fundamentally, it analyses your behaviour, reactions, and beliefs by using probing questions. It asks ‘’why’’ and seeks to identify the root impulses behind the said problem. When the true causes are brought to the surface, you will be guided to think and respond differently to them. As a result, positive and altered behaviours will be the new positive change to your health. Whilst the hypnotherapist works together with you to get to the core of an issue, the object of the session will be to obtain insight and understand the real dynamics that are controlling your life. You will be more self-aware of your psyche and the nature of your behaviour, and therefore will be able to take control and change negative behaviour.
In the treatment of a phobia for example, analytical hypnotherapy aims to discover and treat how your panic response attached itself to the phobic stimulus e.g. a spider. It also validates how the “wrong” childhood association has been carried into adulthood. The adult mind knows that this connection is irrational and unhelpful but is consciously unable to access where these feelings originate. Using Hypnoanalysis, the adult mind can go back and reinterpret the event, releasing the fearful emotion created as a child.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Behavioural Hypnotherapy
Behavioural hypnotherapy is probably the most direct and immediate types of hypnotherapy in its working methods. There are no disguised suggestions or analysis of issues. Instead, behavioural hypnotherapy focuses solely on the behaviours, (present or future ones) that the client demonstrates. In the first session, the hypnotherapist takes note of all the negative behaviours that the client has accumulated. Judged simply as learned behaviours, both the client and hypnotherapist proceed to agree on the appropriate changes and positive behaviours that are desired. Hypnosis is used to integrate these changes until they are firmly established. You are advised to keep practicing self hypnosis even after treatment is over, so that you have personal control over the new behaviours.
Behavioural hypnotherapy is useful for behaviours such as negative habits (nail biting, habitual drinking and smoking). It can also be used to modify the finer details of behaviours such as specific eating habits that are contributing to weight gain.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Cognitive Hypnotherapy
All types of hypnotherapy have a specific focus, but what is “spoken” in the mind is the main focus of this style of hypnotherapy. Whether you are battling with phobias, anxieties, or lack of concentration, cognitive hypnotherapy will help you get rid of the thinking patterns, beliefs, or feelings that you are dominating you. Cognition here is believed to be at the heart of your negative behaviours and psychological harm. In other words, the cognitive hypnotherapist will work with you to replace unhelpful thoughts and bad beliefs about the world so that the subconscious is in tune with a ‘’healthy’’ thinking conscious.
Once identified, common cognitive distortions such as over-generalisation and catastrophic thinking are realigned using hypnosis. The assumptions of this style of hypnotherapy derive from the theories of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And the common process that unites these theories is the change of bad ‘’actionable’’ thoughts in consideration for your goals, values, and needs.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Past Life Regression
This is one of the types of hypnotherapy to have an unconventional view of the client’s problematic behaviours and issues. By using hypnotherapeutic techniques, it addresses a client’s problem with the belief that it is affected by a ‘’previous life’’. So, the causes and logic that are thought to drive any kind of issue are believed to come from “past life” experiences. Clearly, this belief is always implemented with respect to the client’s own beliefs. So, it may be found that some hypnotherapists interpret the past life belief literally, whilst others use it metaphorically. When an issue is at hand, the client and hypnotherapist observe the emotions and behaviours then travel together to a regressed interpretation of it in the past life. The issues will be understood in the context of past memories so that they are given real meaning. The issues are treated using other types of hypnotherapy.
In the end, this type of hypnotherapy can work well with some clients by providing them with insight and understanding into their issues. And this can help the client take back control or cut the ties from harmful past lives’ memories. An example of its application includes the treatment of phantom pain in which the client was convinced was a trauma in a previous life. When the client was regressed to a past life, it is found that they sustained an injury to that limb that was left untreated. The therapy involves “treating” the past life injury so that the current life pain can be released.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Hypno-Psychotherapy
This is a merged type of hypnotherapy where both the contents of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy work together to solve problems. Psychotherapy is, in essence, an analytic approach that tries to trace back psychological problems to a cause. It has views on emotions and psychological impulses that can be given rise either from a traumatic event, childhood attitudes, or some bad parental conditioning. So, with the addition of hypnotherapy, hypnosis and relaxation techniques are used to further the process of psychotherapy in the sessions.
For example, a cause can be attributed to your very first trauma with airplanes which became the root cause for your flying phobia. You may not be aware of it or simply forgot it, but the hypnotherapist will work with you to uncover these causes and tensions that are behind any complication or disorder. Most types of hypnotherapy try to work within the client’s psychological perspective, but this type leans more toward allowing understanding to take place in the client’s way of thinking.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Clinical Hypnotherapy
Clinical hypnotherapy is normally the implementation of hypnotherapy techniques in a clinical environment such as a hospital of GP practice. It gives the impression of being a more “effective” treatment than other types of hypnotherapy, but may include very a similar application of techniques.
Not all clinical hypnotherapists are really “clinical” ones unless they are medically qualified. “Clinical hypnotherapy” became popular as a hypnotherapy qualification during the late eighties and nineties to distinguish it from stage hypnosis, when the boundaries of hypnosis as a “therapy” and artistic stage show were blurred. Thus the term “clinical” emphasised that the hypnosis was therapeutic.
Clinical hypnotherapy can be concerned with treating medical conditions such as stress-related skin issues, chronic pain, IBS, psycho-sexual disorders and psycho-somatic conditions, but is not limited to treating only these conditions. So, while many types of hypnotherapy exist, this type of hypnotherapy can focus on treating those conditions in which traditional medicine approaches has been unable to treat.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Regression Hypnotherapy
The basic premise for this style of hypnotherapy is dissipating a problem issue by regressing back to its initial formation. In the example of treating a phobia, regression is executed by taking the client’s mind to past incidents related to the phobia. The hypnotherapist uses a combination of hypnotic techniques to access negative (or positive) memories related to the client’s goal. By safely re-experiencing the event, the client will understand the self-limiting beliefs and emotions surrounding the event that triggered the phobia. They can then start to reinterpret these beliefs and emotions using the adult mind.
Not all use of regression is helpful or reliable when accessing certain traumatic events, especially if the hypnotherapist has a biased view of the client’s history. For regression hypnotherapy to deal with your past events, it is important to seek a hypnotherapist who is well-versed in using regression hypnotherapy techniques.
Types of hypnotherapy: Other Therapies & Techniques
Hypnotherapy is a vast domain. It is definitely not limited to the various types of hypnotherapy already mentioned here. Generally, the types of hypnotherapy already discussed are more dominant in hypnotherapy sessions given their suitability to client’s problems and needs. But, it is common for hypnotherapists to use other types of therapy, with or without certification.
One such type of therapy is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is a system of communication skills for psycho-therapeutic ends. NLP certified therapists may also take courses in hypnotherapy because they both use mind reprogramming techniques. Their combined knowledge allows them to use these skills that may take longer to treat using traditional counselling methods.
But, it doesn’t end here. Certain hypnotherapists also pursue counselling qualifications and offer both hypnotherapy and counselling. The counselling techniques can be effective in creating rapport and directing the use of suggestions when using hypnosis. Unless the client has specified their treatment style, does it really matter how they get there as long as they ultimately still achieve their goal?
Other therapies such as Time-Line Therapy draw from NLP and are concerned with the treatment of negative emotions and anxiety disorders. It assumes that the unconscious mind is a linear timeline of events. Relaxation techniques including hypnosis are used to help the client to release painful emotions connected to traumatic events. It can be very effective in reducing negative emotions such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
Some hypnotherapy techniques have classifications that aim to distinguish themselves from other types of hypnotherapy. Integration hypnotherapy (also known as Parts Therapy) for example, considers your personality to be composed of various parts. These parts have been formed from good and bad past experiences and now serve specific functions of the inner mind. These parts want what is best for you but can be in conflict when you desire or have to cope with change.
Parts therapy aims to resolve these inner conflicts and desires by allowing the parts of your personality to communicate more freely. Parts therapy can be usefully applied when a client says that “part of me wants to do this, but the other part of me wants to do that!” It can deal with many conditions where anxiety is the restraining emotion and the desire for confidence is the inspiring emotion. It can be used to treat unwanted habits like smoking and weight issues where momentary urges inhibit the achievement of long terms goals.
Integration hypnotherapy approaches can be varied, drawing from other modes of therapy including Ego State Therapy and Gestalt Therapy. How you use these modes of therapy will depend on the situation, the client and experience of the hypnotherapist.
Hypnotherapy has no shortage of new techniques that claim to be more effective than older ones. Some techniques complement a new scientific trend. One such example is Gastric Band Hypnotherapy, which followed the development of gastric band surgery for obesity. With Gastric Band Hypnotherapy it claims that you can lose weight by visualising that you have had the same (Gastric Band) surgical procedure, but without any medical risks involving surgery!
There is a vast domain of specific techniques used in hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy schools teach different ways to hypnotise clients e.g. using “a handshake” method, not just by using voice induction. Then there is an abundance of visualisation techniques that can be used to induce a depth of relaxation or “trance” and rapidly treat certain conditions. Commonly taught visualisations include ‘’The Arrow’’, ‘’The Swan’’, and ‘’The Kinetic Shift’’.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Summary
This article has listed the various types of hypnotherapy. With experience and skill, the hypnotherapist can adapt the specific treatment approach or technique to the individual situation with some excellent outcomes. Hypnotherapy is only limited by the imagination of the hypnotherapist and their skilled ability to apply creative visualisations when it is deemed to be helpful in the session.
For further information on the various types of hypnotherapy and how hypnotherapy can help you, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
The Causes Of A Phobia
What are the causes of a phobia? If you’re unusually terrified of small insects or the idea of using a lift or elevator by yourself, then you’re not alone. Phobias are considered to be a very common psychological condition in both men and women. It is estimated that nearly 10 million people in the UK have a phobia of some kind.
A phobia is defined as an extreme or an irrational fear of a situation, object, location or animal. It typically emerges during childhood and persists into adulthood. Experts offer several explanations for the causes of a phobia, and this includes evolutionary theories and behaviourist theories.
A phobia may also range from mild to severe and can be termed simple and complex, but it’s good to know that whatever terms are used, they are treatable. Some phobic sufferers are highly responsive to hypnotherapy and can respond to treatment very quickly, whilst others require a cognitive behavioural approach to alleviate their phobia. Sometimes the combined approach can be the solution to alleviate your panic attack commonly associated with all phobias.
Genetic Causes of a Phobia
Research by the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta has suggested that the causes of a phobia can be hereditary. The study involved mice that were given a mild electric shock after being exposed to the smell of cherry blossoms, making them associate pain to the smell. The offspring of the mice several generations later were also exposed to the same smell. Surprisingly, the new generation of mice also reacted in fear of the smell of the cherry blossoms, even though no amount of electric shock was applied to them. Since the biological and genetic makeup of mice and humans are similar to each other, the research suggests that phobic memories may also be passed down through the genes of your human ancestors.
Genetic causes substantiate the part that “nature” (as opposed to “nurture”) plays in acquiring say, an emetophobia through the inherited experiences of your family line. This is without the influence of any choices that you might make throughout your life to prevent having the emetophobia in the first place and what you might have learnt from your parents.
When you are old enough to understand your emetophobia and appreciate how it affects you, the avoidance and panic reactions are already dominating your lifestyle. But this does not mean that you can’t choose to have treatment for your emetophobia and change its imprint on your biology. Furthermore, with successful treatment of your own emetophobia, you are less likely to pass it on to your future offspring.
The theory posed from the genetic research suggests that what you pass on to your children can be negative (in the case of passing on the emetophobia). By the same argument, what you pass on could also be positive, in terms of transferring to your children a calmer reaction to sickness (vomit) when the emetophobia has been treated and removed.
Environmental causes of a phobia
Genetics alone though is probably not enough for a phobia to develop in every individual; environmental factors play a significant role too in the causes of a phobia. Directly experiencing a traumatic event creates such a strong future association between the event and an intense feeling of fear. Let’s say that you’ve been attacked by an animal like a dog. Even if the event only happened once, it could influence you to have a strong aversion to animals especially dogs (cynophobia) thereafter, no matter how cute an animal might look to others. And the same progression of events can happen if you have been struck by lightning or frightened (traumatised) by the sound of thunder (astraphobia).
Environmental causes of a phobia have a significant impact through life into adulthood particularly when the traumatic events have been experienced as a child. A fearful event in childhood can leave a deeper and immediate imprint in the highly sensitive and developing young brain than a similar traumatic experience caused in adulthood.
Furthermore, some of the childhood initial sensitising events (ISE) can be easily forgotten by adulthood, causing the growing individual to be confused about the nature of their phobia. For example, a child who has been involved in a car accident in the back seat of a two-door car may subsequently assert the desire to be a passenger in the front of the car. With an obliging parent, the child’s claustrophobia remains hidden and may not become apparent until as a teenager, they are “forced” to ride in the back seat of a teenage friend’s two-door car. The situation creates a panic attack for the teenager.
So can phobias be caused in adulthood? It is very unusual for phobias to be caused in middle adulthood. As explained above, it is more likely that the initial sensitising event (ISE) in childhood has been forgotten. Or the “simple phobia” has progressed and developed into a “complex phobia” involving other fears, social anxiety and panic disorder. This situation can emerge in the following example:
- As a child you have a “simple” spider phobia (arachnophobia).
- Whilst standing on a step ladder, you see a spider and your reaction causes you to fall off the step ladder causing a height phobia (acrophobia).
- The fear of heights progresses into claustrophobia when, as a teenager, you experience intense fear when riding on a rollercoaster (in which you feel trapped and also involves heights).
- Since you were unable to vacate the ride once it started, it causes a panic attack and extreme embarrassment in front of your teenage peers (social phobia).
- Then, in adulthood, a series of stressful events raises your general anxiety. Since many of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety are the same, you feel like you could have a panic attack at any moment and in any location. You are locked in anticipation in fear of having a panic attack and this is enough to trigger your panic attack (panic disorder).
- In order to avoid the social humiliation of having random panic attacks in public places, you stay home to try and cope with your condition. You feel safer being housebound (agoraphobia).
By the time the agoraphobia is dominating your adult life, you have forgotten the early traumatic situations and the avoidance patterns that have contributed to your current desperate “complex” situation.
Indirectly learned causes of a phobia
There are cases when the causes of a phobia are learned from trusted authority figures closely related to the phobic person. For instance, if children see one or both of their parents having an unusual fearful reaction to snakes (ophidiophobia or ophiophobia), they are also likely to imitate the fearful reaction to snakes to keep themselves safe from harm. This trust in “knowing what is safe or harmful” can extend to other people considered as authority figures by a child. It can include respected relatives in the wider family, older siblings, teachers or close friends during teenage hood.
Indirectly learned causes of a phobia can also extend to observation from indirect learning situations. Seeing a live trauma in the television news, reading a convincing story or article, or even watching a recorded documentary can stimulate or reinforce a developing phobia. Even seeing a dramatic film containing convincing fearful reactions to say, an emetophobia can arouse suspicion about the depicted danger of vomit, fear of contamination from another person or the fear of choking on one’s own vomit.
Stress and Phobias
Is long-term stress among the many causes of a phobia? During prolonged periods of stress, it is common to experience anxiety and depression. This generally diminishes your ability to deal with excessive situational demands. It can increase your fear and anxiety of those stressful situations recurring again in the future to near-phobic capacity. Take for example when a mother has a traumatic pregnancy, a traumatic child birth and post-natal health issues for both the developing baby and herself. Depending on the events surrounding these traumas, she could be very fearful of another future birth trauma. Or she may also have lost trust in the medical profession and feel high anxiety when she needs to trust the medical profession again in the future.
In the example above, the constant state of heightened alertness surrounding the stressful birth trauma could be the “cause” of the phobia. Or, depending on the previous trauma history, the stressful events can serve to reinforce previous fearful beliefs created from an earlier health trauma, making the hidden health phobia “conscious” to the mother. Whether as the ISE or reinforcing event, a tokophobia (fear of pregnancy or childbirth) and/or iatrophobia (fear of doctors and the medical profession) is established due to the numerous stressful situations and events.
Psychodynamic Explanations for the causes of a phobia
There are several causes of a phobia, but psychodynamic theorists offer their own explanations for the “cause” of them. They argue that reactions to phobias are the mind’s defence mechanism against repressed feelings of anxiety that have been experienced in childhood. These repressed feelings are considered too painful to consciously deal with and acknowledge later in life, so these feelings are then displaced onto associated situations or objects. The situation or object becomes the phobic stimulus to avoid, thus protecting the individual from having to deal with these painful repressed emotions again.
Or put another way, the situation or object associated with the phobia is not the source of the anxiety; the cause is related more to the product of unresolved conflicts within the various parts of the person’s mind. According to psychodynamic theorists, when the mind’s “conflicts” are centrally treated, the repressed emotions can be safely released, thereby disconnecting the phobia and the associated anxiety.
Causes of a phobia: The impact on your neurology
The combination of these various causes of a phobia (including genetic traits, childhood interactions with your family and your personal direct and indirect life experiences) can ultimately determine how your brain develops and functions when you perceive a threat and cope with your phobia-inducing object or situation.
The part of the brain responsible for controlling fear is called the amygdala. For a phobia sufferer, the right amygdala is considered to be highly sensitised and reactive to phobia-inducing stimuli causing the intense distress (or panic attack) commonly associated with phobic reactions. Where there is long-term trauma, this part of the brain may be generally over-reactive.
Also notable amongst phobia sufferer’s neurology is a higher expectation (anticipatory anxiety) that you will encounter your object or situation of distress. This is termed “expectancy bias” by researchers and is associated with lowered activity of the lateral prefrontal cortex and visual cortex parts of the brain. This under-activity results in an absence of cognitive control to distinguish between “imagined” and “real” threats related to your phobia. Thus with an arachnophobia, you will have a panic attack when you see some black fluff because you are certain that it is a real spider. You are also convinced that, having seen a spider in one location e.g. under the sofa, that it will keep reappearing in that same location, despite that spider being previously removed.
Causes of a phobia in therapy
Ultimately, the goal of a phobia treatment (using self-help or with a therapist) is to be relaxed in your phobic situation/location or relaxed with your phobic object/animal. There are many different ways to achieve this goal. This article has aimed to explore the many causes of a phobia, rather than trying to find ways to treat it. But does knowledge of the causes of a phobia have any practical application in resolving a phobia in therapy? It can be partially helpful, and this would depend on the individual enquiry.
For example, if you are locked into your obsession about knowing why you have a fear of germs (mysophobia), then your obsession can block your access to a treatment solution. Learning that it’s a family trait and not your fault can ease your obsession particularly when you also learn that many of your forgotten childhood experiences involved fearful reactions to germs. With this knowledge, a mysophobic can accept it and “learn to live with it”, even if it does mean being fanatical or compulsive about cleanliness.
Another enquiry might relate to the irrationality and confusion of your complex phobia situation. How can a simple phobia such as a fear of holes (trypophobia) lead to your agoraphobia? Understanding and rationalising how your fears and their reactions have transformed your “simple phobia” into an isolating agoraphobic situation (complex phobia) can be helpful. You can now be realistic about a proposed treatment plan and the time it usually takes to undo complex phobias, rather than hoping for a quick-fix and abandoning therapy prematurely
Some therapy clients have uncontrolled panic attacks (panic disorder), are irresponsive to anxiety control techniques (relaxed breathing) and have forgotten what situation or object is triggering their panic response. By using a psycho-therapeutic approach with hypnosis, it can help you identify the “cause” of your unconscious phobia. Regression hypnotherapy can then be used to create emotional understanding and release the fear contained in those childhood experiences. This is an example of how applying a solution to a client’s past “cause” can benefit a client where a solution-focused approach is struggling to make progress. You could say that it’s still “solution-focused”, but you are regressing back to ISE’s to treat it.
Causes of a phobia: conclusion
Research would indicate that the many causes of a phobia relate to both nature and nurture. Where one cause is evident in a particular phobic person, does this mean that they are more responsive to a certain type of therapy? Perhaps this is another matter for further research.
For further information on the causes of your phobia and how hypnotherapy can treat it, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Tips To Help You Cope With Anticipatory Anxiety
Are looking for help to cope with anticipatory anxiety? Anticipatory anxiety is better known as the “fear of fear.” It’s a very appropriate term because unlike normal anxiety, anticipatory anxiety causes you to fear your own anxiety symptoms; you end up chasing your own panic attacks and as a result, you create more panic attacks. In its chronic form, anticipatory anxiety is also known as panic disorder.
For those who are asking whether it’s normal to have this kind of anticipation, the answer is both yes and no. It’s normal to feel anxious about a huge event, such as your first date, a driving test, a job interview, or a speech. It only becomes a problem if it seems to be occurring on a regular basis and on events that you generally wouldn’t consider to be that overwhelming.
So what can you do to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety? There’s no specific formula that works for everybody, since different people will have varying degrees of symptoms. Nevertheless, there are general ways that can help you minimise the impact of worry and fear when they come. Sometimes working with just one anticipatory anxiety tip that resonates with you can be more effective than attacking it with several, particularly since some tips may appear to contradict others! What will help you as an individual can depend on how your fear is progressing and your core beliefs.
Tip 1: Establish the basis of your fear
A common first step to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to start by asking yourself on what are you basing your fear. You may have experienced a trauma in your past that justifies you anticipating that trauma again, but put the trauma into the context of the bigger picture. How many similar events (not involving you) have ended successfully without trauma? It’s important to reach out and expand all of the other experiences (the factual evidence) that you are ignoring at the emotional level. So if you have a fear of flying, visualise yourself in the many millions of flights taking off and landing successfully to reassure your anticipation. Your panic attack will have no connection with the success of your next flight, but it will ruin the enjoyment of your journey should you decide to fly. Take control of your anticipatory anxiety and you can trust your pilot will take care of your flight for you.
Tip 2: Interrupt your fearful thoughts
Another tip to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to interrupt your fearful thoughts. Fearful thoughts can spiral out of control and keep you trapped in your anxiety. Your imagination can just keep expanding each anxious thought until your symptoms are distressing you.
Once you notice that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed because of a particular thought, interrupt that thought with a positive one. Let’s say you’re worrying about losing your job. In such a scenario, you will be anticipating feeling worthless and dwelling on the follow-on catastrophes such as losing your house or your partner abandoning you. Your positive thought may relate to identifying why you are good at your job or what skills you can develop (with training) to maintain your employability. More often than not, this change of thought can interrupt your fearful thoughts and help you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. Italso keeps the negative thoughts from taking over your mind and emotions whenever they come back.
Tip 3: Imagine the best-case scenario
It’s interesting that the human brain is designed for protection. When the nervous system is aroused, it gets ready to prepare for the worst. That’s the downside though. Since its priority is safety, the brain automatically surveys for the worst-case scenarios so that it can prepare the body just in case. This is not a problem for the average person. For individuals with anticipatory anxiety, however, this can be a huge predicament. You’ve probably heard and used the phrase “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” It’s a common technique used in cognitive therapy to restructure your catastrophe and can be very useful for certain people in different situations. Do you find that when you imagine the worst case scenario though, your imagination draws you towards the worst-case scenario, as if you are doomed? If it does, then you will probably benefit by imagining the best-case scenario. Yes, be bold with the power of your mind and change your emotional journey! It won’t always give you control over the external situation, but it can give you an immediate feeling of calm by imagining the best outcome. This can be a huge step towards learning to cope with anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 4: Learn to relax
In a busy world like ours, it’s very easy to overlook the fact that our mind and body need relaxation. You are more susceptible to worry and anxiety when your mind is not rested. To cope with anticipatory anxiety, you need to make it a habit of taking a “Time-out” at least once in your day. That doesn’t necessarily mean not doing anything. There are many activities that you can engage in that can help your mind and body rest. Identify what you enjoy most. Gardening, reading, writing, hanging out with friends, yoga, exercising, and yes, even playing a sport! – All of these activities will help keep your mind relaxed and rested, if not during but after the activity. If you are curious about doing “mind work”, then “passive” relaxation can be just as effective. Consider meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques to lower stress and anxiety.
Tip 5: Take a step out of your thoughts
It can be so easy to be convinced by your thoughts when you live inside of them. The potential to be pulled into believing those worst case scenarios (explained in tip 3) can leave you feeling helpless, despite those situations rarely ever materialising. Several authors emphasise the ability to be the observer of your thoughts rather than being your thoughts. This is a way to effectively “hack” the natural anxious thinking process and create distance from its influence. To help you cope with anticipatory anxiety using this tip, you’ll benefit by getting into your mind zone (suggested in tip 4) where you can calm your mind and slow down the pace of your thoughts. You can then use your imagination to visualise stepping out of your anxious thoughts, leaving them behind and appreciating the freedom it gives you to choose where you want to take them. Feel empowered when you access a deeper relaxation, confidence or self-belief. All of these can be your liberation from anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 6: Get enough sleep
Just as anxiety can keep you up all night, aiming to get enough sleep can help you to cope with anticipatory anxietymore effectively. The two simply have such a strong relationship, and that relationship is bi-directional. This means that if you want to treat one, you also need to treat the other. When it comes to sleep, however, the key is to get 7 to 8 hours a night and establish good sleep hygiene practices. This will help improve your morning mood and levels of irritability. To improve the quality of your sleep, you need to slowly eliminate activities that stimulate your mind before bedtime. This may include reducing caffeine intake, limiting your screen time, and tailoring your environment to make it more conducive for sleeping. Learning how to guide your mind to sleep can also be helpful.
Tip 7: Face the problem head on
The motivational phrase “face your fear” may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s actually an excellent way to cope with anticipatory anxiety. For the pragmatist, it’s the antidote to being left “in-waiting” for the situation to arrive with nothing to do, which typifies anticipatory anxiety. You may be ready to “flood” your experience and jump into the deep end by tackling the situation head on. Many would prefer a graduated or controlled exposure dealing with smaller parts of the situation to build confidence. If you have a fear of public speaking for example, then consider how you can start in “safe mode” developing public speaking skills whilst gradually increasing the size of your audience, the authority of your audience and the importance of the presentation task. These are common issues that when controlled, can help you develop your public speaking confidence.
Tip 8: Seek support
Whether from family or friends, it’s crucial that you have someone to support you in order for you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. When you think that you’re the only one who has anticipatory anxiety, it makes you feel more embarrassed and self-critical. It helps to have someone close whom you can share your thoughts with, and someone who can offer his or her support when you’re overwhelmed.
Finally, it’s critical that you seek professional help from a therapist or hypnotherapist. This is especially true when you are suffering from chronic anticipatory anxiety or panic disorder. With hypnotherapy, so many of the tips offered in this article can be suggested to your mind without conscious interference. You will also benefit from a huge reduction of anxiety when you are in hypnosis.
For further information on how hypnotherapy can help you cope with anticipatory anxiety, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Making hypnotherapy goals work for you
Stating your hypnotherapy goals or what you want as the outcome of the treatment is an important part of any therapy, not just in hypnotherapy. If the initial contact (by email, phone or face to face) has not already established this, a trained hypnotherapist will ask you directly about the nature of your goal (or presenting condition). They will then (re) confirm the goal during your consultation and may give some mention about the treatment methods used to help achieve it.
Sometimes the goal is clear and the treatment can proceed with both parties sharing the same understanding about the direction of the therapy e.g. “I want to stop smoking”. On occasions, the nature of the goal needs further clarification to ensure that it is attainable since you may be confused about your own condition, how it continues to affect you and what could be a potential solution e.g. when you have suffered abuse in the past.
The following points can clarify the nature of your hypnotherapy goals:
That the goal can be (reasonably) defined
Some hypnotherapy goals are unrealistic and may expect far too much from a short course of treatment. Wanting to be completely “free of anxiety forever” (implying a cure) is an example of an unrealistic goal in hypnotherapy. Stating the goal more specifically can help you to establish the goal or progressive goals in your treatment program. For example:
- With a fear of flying, your goal could be stated as “to be more relaxed during your next flight”.
- With weight loss, your goal could be stated as “to eliminate unhealthy snacking in between meals”
- With social anxiety, your goal could be “to learn how to relax when socialising.”
Stating it as a positive goal helps to engage your imagination and resources into the goal situation. Some clients commonly arrive with negative goals as an illustration of how they are dominated by their negative state. When asked about their goal, they reply “I don’t want to panic in my next flight”. The positive nature of the goal can be re-evaluated by asking “so what do you want (rather than not want) in your next flight?”
How you will know that the goal is being (or has been) achieved
Sometimes identifying that the goal is being or has been achieved is obvious and is connected to the defined goal (explained above). The treatment thus ends and it is mutually acknowledged as being achieved. In some cases where several issues affect the achievement of a goal, intermediate goals may need to be set to show that progress is being made e.g. when weight management goals are being treated, but weight gain through comfort eating is found to be related to anxiety and low self esteem. The latter may need to be treated concurrently, adding anxiety management and self esteem building goals to ensure that the healthy eating patterns are long-term.
Additionally, the arrival of (what is initially considered to be the achievement of) “the goal” may still require continued treatment to secure its conclusion e.g. when a smoker has just stopped smoking during the early stages of the treatment but still feels vulnerable about lapsing into smoking again. They have indicated that previous lapses have occurred due to stress. Stress management goals would also be necessary to help secure the goal of stopping smoking for a sufficient period after initially stopping smoking.
Imagining the arrival of your goal as a future goal-achievement “lifestyle scene” is a useful strategy in goal setting. It can create an open pathway for your mind to explore what happens when the goal is achieved in its entirety. The scene can be accessed by asking the questions “Imagine that you have gone through a successful process of change, how would you know that you have arrived? What would you be sensing, feeling, communicating and doing in the new situation X when this change has taken place?” These questions can almost create a momentary hypnosis. When you immerse yourself into that scene, it can project you into the experience of your goal and can demolish some established negative “anchors” (or connected internal responses that are inhibiting you from achieving it). In addition to asking the question, the client can benefit by visualising it when they are in hypnosis to intensify the desired state.
That the goal can be achieved in a realistic timeframe
This can involve a discussion about the estimated number of sessions required to achieve your goal. It can also give some indication of the duration of the course of treatment (estimated number of weeks and potential frequency of visits to treat the condition). You can expect these figures to be estimates since every client brings a different background to their treatment, but it’s worth asking these questions to gauge your treatment plan.
Stating when you want to achieve your goal by can help set up a schedule of treatment consultations (number of possible sessions before a deadline e.g. the date that you are giving a presentation). It will also help to identify the time available to work on any proposed homework tasks.
Some hypnotherapy goals have continuous targets e.g. when you have a fear of public speaking and you are giving a series of presentations at regular intervals. Treatment progressions can be revised based on the feedback that you give in the subsequent session following each of your presentations.
Unrealistic timeframes usually involve last minute bookings with a demand for a cure of your condition. An example can include wanting one of those “I’ve done nothing about this until the last moment, but am still hopeful for a cure” treatment for your fear of flying, when you are flying tomorrow! Even though some clients can respond quickly to hypnosis, it’s more realistic to expect help to “control” some of your fear symptoms at this short notice, rather than outright cures.
That the goal can be achieved in view of (or in spite of) any personal history, medical issues or situational factors that might affect its accomplishment
When your goal is not “blocked” by background traumas and conflicting beliefs, you can usually set a realistic goal and achieve it independently; the process does not need therapy (external help) to accomplish it. The impact of past doubts and internal conflicts however can harm your ability to achieve your goal. Therapy then becomes an option to objectively deal with your internal conflicts, reframing these negatives and maximising the focus into your goal so that you can see a clear pathway into its achievement.
A professional hypnotherapist will discuss your medical history, background of the condition and lifestyle issues in the earlier part of your treatment, usually in the initial stage of the first consultation. These details can help indicate the extent to which the presenting condition or goal is being “weighed down” by other core issues. Sometimes when a client is highly suggestible to hypnosis, the goal can be treated in isolation of these core background issues and rapid change can take place. (You can assess your level of suggestibility here.) However, it is more common for these deeper background issues to need reframing to help you feel that the goal is detached from your negative history and can then be freely accessed.
To illustrate this, consider the following example. You suffer with panic attacks (this is your presenting condition) and you want to be able to control them (this is your goal). Hypnotic techniques are used to treat the panic attacks but are only partially helpful. Further enquiries into your background reveal post traumatic stress disorder and childhood abuse (cause of your conflicts). The emotions related to the abuse are reframed in your treatment and the panic attacks are subsequently eased (your goal is achieved).
Discussing the hypnotherapy goals is an essential part of the treatment process. Openly examining the nature of your goal can have several benefits including:
- Establishing a direction for the treatment.
- Clarifying if the initial expectations are realistic.
- Helping you set up an early positive “anchor” with the goal so that it can then be accessed and reinforced in the hypnotic treatment.
- Identifying a timescale to achieve the goal.
- Reframing what conflicts are stopping you from achieving your goal.
- Building rapport between you and the hypnotherapist
Are you ready to achieve your hypnotherapy goals?
(Further reading: When you are struggling to achieve your general goals, the SMART approach can be a useful strategy.)
For further information on achieving your hypnotherapy goals, contact Richard J D’Souza, senior hypnotherapist at Clinical Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
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?