17 Common Reasons For Drinking Alcohol
People have various reasons for drinking alcohol without their drinking patterns being a cause for concern. An alcoholic drink or two can be part of an occasional celebration or to complement a special meal. Other people may avoid alcohol altogether if they don’t like to taste, fear being out of control, or associate alcohol with past distress.
In the early stages of drinking, you may not enjoy the taste. However, the situation surrounding your drinking behaviour e.g. feeling intimidated by peer pressure, will motivate you to push through your negative taste reaction until you accept it.
After some persistence, you find out that alcohol produces many gratifying effects on your mind and body. If you perceive this effect as rewarding, then your habits will draw you in to establish a level of alcohol dependence, however small. The associations you make with your drinking experiences will shape your values and expectations to continue drinking. But the effects of alcohol on the mind and body are so deceiving that people persevere with drinking alcohol compulsively even after it becomes a problem.
The reasons for drinking alcohol listed here include a further analysis of that reason. When you want to reduce your alcohol consumption, examining your underlying motivation or reason for drinking can help you re-evaluate your perceived reward. This can start a process of change in which you can then find better emotional and behavioural alternatives that are aligned with your new drinking goals.
Reasons for drinking alcohol: two broad categories
There are generally two broad categories that define the common reasons for drinking alcohol. One category uses alcohol as a coping mechanism to ease discomfort (or for negative reinforcement). The other category involves using alcohol to be cheerful and lively at social situations (for positive reinforcement). Both categories are vulnerable to habitual and binge drinking behaviour depending on the situation and individual beliefs. Situations can involve a mix of both categories e.g. when someone’s mood is jovial with moderate alcohol consumption, but after heavy drinking their mood becomes hostile causing them to release repressed anger from childhood experiences.
What are some common reasons for drinking alcohol?
You drink alcohol to relieve stress – Alcohol has anxiety reducing (or anxiolytic properties) and diminishes the feelings of stress. This is often acknowledged in the early stages of drinking, but as the dependency grips you, drinking continues even when the stress-relieving benefits have faded. The memory of the past benefit pushes the misconception that the feeling of relief will arrive after another drink. Ironically, for those with a high alcohol dependency, the increased alcohol consumption intensifies the feeling of stress that you were hoping to escape in the first place.
You are influenced by peer pressure (social norms) – The UK has an established drinking culture and following these social drinking norms and rituals is one of the main reasons for drinking alcohol, regardless of age. Drinking influences can come from your peers, your family, the media, the occasion etc.
In a social situation, you may not want to drink, but the fear of offending someone or standing out from the crowd if you don’t “keep up” can trigger feelings of isolation, a fear of being criticised or fear of being rejected from the social group (or activity). These fears can pressurise people into drinking because it’s socially expected particularly when it is connected to occasions like weddings and large parties.
For some people and social groups, drinking is the activity and the term “drinking buddy” can be used to form a relationship in which heavy drinking is normalised. Ironically, those with a high alcohol dependency will frequently drink alone with minimal social interaction in a social setting. Peer pressure can then be used as the hidden excuse for yet another occasion to believe you are drinking and having fun with friends.
You drink alcohol to feel grown up – Teenagers are highly curious and suggestible when they see adults doing something that they don’t do. With adulthood approaching fast, their impatience can encourage them to imitate adult behaviour. Tell your teenage children not to do something when you are doing it yourself and it’s likely to fire their curiosity when you are not around and see what all of the fuss is about. For teenagers, acting like an adult is one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol. Ironically, when drinking excessively, it’s an excuse for many adults to act like young children!
You drink as an act of rebellion – If you are a teenager who is surrounded by rules and is constantly being told not to do things, being defiant about breaking the rules can be exciting. And when the members of your peer group haven’t “found” alcohol yet, it can seem very cool to do something excessively that they don’t do. The need to stand out as a non-conformist can continue into adulthood however, justifying the drinking behaviour as the definition of your individuality. Being the adult rebel with a high alcohol dependency, others will probably pity your behaviour rather than admire it, thinking that you have somehow lost your direction and now hide behind the “glamour” of your rebellious drinking.
You drink alcohol to take back control – If you have experienced control, manipulation or abuse from a parent or partner, you may use alcohol to “take back control” or even take revenge on your oppressor, particularly if they don’t like you drinking alcohol. Or maybe you are struggling to control a part of your life e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder, and having something that gives your mind moments of “release” can feel like you have momentarily escaped your torture and can “control” something. Drinking alcohol to cope with the despair of abuse and to take back control and is one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol heavily. Even when you have battled your way out of your situation, the subtle reminders of your previous loss of control can be a strong trigger to drink again. It’s a long path back to heal the damage of your situation, but alcohol never really gave you the emotional resources to conquer it.
You drink alcohol to lower your inhibitions – Social phobia or (social anxiety) is a common phobia in which the individual fears embarrassment and attention. Alcohol is often used as “liquid courage” to take the edge off shyness particularly when coping with situations like a first date or a large party filled with strangers. You can feel anxious and drink alcohol to cope in anticipation of the actual event.
As your intolerance increases with a hectic social life, those spontaneous moments of awkwardness can trigger the need for another drink. Ironically, when you then become a binge drinker, your lack of inhibition can create situations that are often embarrassing, aggressive or attention-seeking. This is something that you can obviously blame on alcohol and “shrug off” the next day to hide your blushes, rather than developing skills like using affirmations, breathing techniques to control your anxiety, self hypnosis and meditation.
You drink alcohol to improve your sleep quality – When you are going through major lifestyle changes or work-related stress, your sleep quality can be affected. Introducing alcohol as a sedative to break the sleep-worry cycle can have a short term benefit, but when the effects of alcohol wear off, you are likely to wake up in the middle of the night. As your intolerance to alcohol increases, it means that you will need more alcohol to have the same sedating effect though the night. If the stressful conditions continue, those benefits can fool you into believing that alcohol is helping your long term sleeping habits. Since alcohol is a depressant, it reduces the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) necessary for quality sleep. So when you have drunk alcohol, you tend to wake up feeling fatigued with poor concentration levels. Learning how to regain your natural sleep quality will help you break the sleep-worry cycle.
You drink alcohol to manage pain – It’s common to manage chronic pain with alcohol, but in order to be effective, you will need to binge drink over long periods to achieve some level of benefit. As you build up a tolerance for the quantity of alcohol, you will need more to achieve the same pain-relieving effect. There are further dangers of causing harm to other organs when mixing alcohol with painkillers.
Drinking alcohol helps you to feel better – Another term for using a substance like alcohol to feel better is called self medication. This is a broad category within the reasons for drinking alcohol that includes gaining any perceived benefit whether it’s shared by others or just personal to you.
Common reasons to self medicate (other than reasons already listed in this article) include feeling angry, lonely, depressed, bereft, worthless, frustrated, guilty, ashamed, bored etc. Using alcohol becomes the crutch to help you avoid, escape, divert, deny, suppress, repress, relieve, replace, numb, punish, block, hide, erase, stall, mask, forget etc. actively confronting or dealing with the discomfort associated with another situation.
In so many of those situations, the underlying problem doesn’t go away after you have finished drinking. Drinking alcohol just gives you a momentary release that is more bearable until you have accessed (if ever) a better way of coping with the alternative. If, for example, you drink to block feelings of guilt about something that you did wrong, your attention can be temporarily diverted from that guilty feeling that connects to the situation.
Some problems become more complex with time and latch onto additional situations causing the sufferer to feel more guilt and increase your dependency on alcohol. You don’t find an active solution to their problems; instead, drinking alcohol becomes the solution. Forming new good habits without alcohol takes time; prepare for a long road ahead.
You enjoy the taste of alcohol – Tasting ethanol for the first time as a child is rarely a pleasant experience. Evolution has hard-wired humans to dislike bitterness. But the taste can be “acquired” when it is suggested to you to “give it time” or you attach other reasons to persist with the bitter taste until you accept it e.g. because you want to fit in with your peer group.
Adding sugar to disguise the bitterness will help that acquired “liking” for you alcoholic drink and this addition also takes care of the other half of what evolution has programmed us to do (like sweetness). Flavour it with a whole range of mixers in enjoyable surrounds and your perceptions quickly convert it to the acquired taste that you enjoy.
And despite many people having drunk excessively to the point of vomiting to indicate that your body doesn’t like this, it only serves as a temporary aversion when your peers boost your drinking and vomiting achievement as “cool”.
You really want a drink – When you already perceive pleasure from something, the neurotransmitter that controls the reward centre in the brain called dopamine is playing a major part in motivating your behaviour. Drinking alcohol has an effect of increasing the release of the dopamine giving some people this temporary euphoria of enjoyment. Then add to that physiological process numerous pleasurable experiences like parties and celebrations to set up habits and your “want” and expectation to want more will be amplified.
Unfortunately, with continued alcohol use, the brain adapts to the dopamine overload by producing less of the neurotransmitter and lowering your mood. To regain your euphoria, the brain is tricked into thinking that you have to keep drinking to stay happy, meaning that you may need more alcohol to have the same effect. At this stage of alcohol dependency, your want is bordering on a “need” to feel good again. If you maintain a high level of alcohol consumption, you are on the early pathway to alcohol dependency.
You drink alcohol to warm you up – Drinking alcohol can temporarily feel warming by the receptor nerves in your skin detecting a rise in skin temperature caused by vasodilation. But this effect actually lowers the body’s core temperature as the thermoregulatory system would normally perform this function to cool your core temperature down. Natural ways to warm up include moving around and putting on warmer clothes and wrapping your hands around a hot cup of tea if your hands are cold.
You drink alcohol to quench your thirst – Drinking alcohol has a diuretic effect, helping you to eliminate water from your body by increasing the production of urine, hence you tend to feel thirsty in the night or morning after a drinking session. It’s likely that when you are thirsty and you consume one alcoholic drink, you believe that the next drink will taste better because of the false belief that it is thirst quenching. If you are thirsty, there are many non-alcoholic drinks that will quench your thirst.
You drink alcohol to improve the taste of your food – Pairing your food with alcohol can seem like a sophisticated ritual that is built into fine dining culture. Excessive alcohol consumption however can damage your sense of taste.
Moderate drinking activates the taste and smell receptors connected to the brain to generate a chemo-sensory perceptive experience along the lines of “ah, plenty of berry fruits…etc.” This response makes it an ingenious marketing opportunity to mark up the cost of a bottle of wine in a restaurant. When you then buy your “deliciously” described steak from the menu (another way to build expectation about having something better than it is), you are fully buying into the illusory benefits of wine pairing.
You drink alcohol to feel powerful – Power can mean several things to different people. It can mean feeling confident, self-assured, authentic, courageous, being assertive, funny, sexy, beautiful, sociable, impulsive, flirtatious, important or liberated as an ideal version of your “self”. For some people, it can mean an excessive “high” feeling of arrogance or aggression that can be admired by one’s peers (social confidence) and would not come to the surface without using an elixir to immortalise you in some way. The reason that you might feel powerful is again connected to the brain’s flooding of dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter) that can have the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions. Then there’s the placebo effect – believe that that an amount of alcohol “caused” you to have a good outcome last time and you will drink alcohol again to “create” the same effect.
If you have low self belief and low self confidence, and fear being exposed as dull, unintelligent, ugly etc., you are probably using alcohol to fill your void of insecurities. You remain convinced that alcohol will give you “power” or another emotional boost and guess what, it will probably will!
You drink alcohol to improve sexual performance – Drinking alcohol to improve the quality of your sex can have variable benefits. Depending on your gender, people may drink alcohol to increase your desire to be intimate, be less “fussy” with your choice of partner, lower the level of performance anxiety, increase or decrease arousal levels depending on your underlying negative issue (e.g. premature ejaculation), sustain an erection and delay orgasm. But there is an optimal amount of alcohol to achieve the desired result. Excessive alcohol can have a detrimental effect on the quality of your sex, decreasing sensitivity (common with erectile dysfunction), reducing arousal and your ability to achieve orgasm. As with using any substance excessively, achieving natural sexual satisfaction can become more difficult to achieve as you drink heavily. Many people who binge drink often regret their sexual experiences whilst being drunk.
You drink to get drunk – Drinking with the intention of getting drunk can be motivated by a number of underlying reasons. People usually get drunk to cope with negative experiences, to be more sociable, to conform to ritualised behaviour and to feel more excitable. The physical effects of alcohol include reducing stress by acting like a common tranquilliser in parts of the brain, dimming your judgement abilities so that you “don’t care”, releasing dopamine to increase pleasure and releasing endorphins (opiates) to help you “feel good”. With alcohol being legal, it’s not surprising that people want to get drunk in the short term with all of these physiological effects. Continue to binge drink over an extensive period of time and the changes in your brain chemistry steer you towards high alcohol dependency.
Common reasons for drinking alcohol: Summary
The reasons for drinking alcohol are numerous and personal but can be generalised into drinking for positive and negative reinforcement. Any behaviour associated with a substance can become habit-forming. A behaviour that is part of cultural norms and values can quickly accumulate positive beliefs as you multiply those experiences.
If you are seeking to reduce your alcohol consumption, interacting with your underlying needs will help you to focus on positive changes.
- Relying on any substance like alcohol to cope deceives you that you are really dealing with it.
- The perceived rewards can become a habitual.
- Your initial rewards can be redundant, but you continue to believe that you are still benefitting even though your lifestyle has changed.
- You can be convinced that things would be worse if you didn’t drink.
- As your tolerance to alcohol increases, you need more alcohol to have the same effect.
- When you drink heavily, the rewiring of your brain chemistry makes it harder to cope with those situations naturally.
- Heavy drinking patterns can creep up on you.
- You increase the number of health risks as your drink heavily, including risking alcoholism.
Reasons for drinking alcohol: for more information on hypnotherapy to lower your alcohol consumption contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Break a bad habit with Hypnotherapy
Do you want to break a bad habit? Well, here’s a new notes on habits first to help you understand how you have arrived here…
Break a bad habit: What is a habit?
A habit is an automated mental and behavioural activity that enables you to shape aspects of your daily life. Habits give you structure, stability and security so that you can focus on the more important tasks. Without habits, you would need to regenerate creative and complex thinking into every part of your day. Compare the current effort needed to type on your “qwerty” keyboard with typing on one that has been randomly rearranged. Typing up a project on the latter would be a frustrating process until you have learned the new keyboard format and formed the new habits needed to type proficiently again.
Habit formation is a mind-management tool. When you form a habit, it enables you to save mental energy and to take short cuts on certain activities. Automated behaviour demands less effort from you than activities that demand your complex and creative thinking. Habits thus act as one of the brain’s power-saving mechanisms, “chunking” the routine behaviours to free up energy for those other “essential” tasks.
Habits are important to understand because they contain specific aspects of your thinking, your emotions and your beliefs, which in turn, can also become automated. In many ways, a habit is a reflection of your direction, who you are, and what you believe. When you achieve your goals, it is a result of your well-nurtured habits.
Habits are also important to understand because when a habit has been formed, it creates a huge influence in how you expect to behave, think and feel. This can be ideal if the habit is serving a good purpose. If the habit is (or has become) a bad habit however, then it can have a negative impact on many aspects of your life, how you feel about yourself and your confidence. Ingrained bad habits will conflict with what you want to do, displacing your rationality and what you might consider to be your “free will”.
Habits are more challenging to adjust when you are experiencing a number of major lifestyle changes e.g. a change of job, a relationship break-up, a bereavement etc. When you are under pressure, letting go of the old habits and establishing new ones can be frustrating. It can seem easier to continue with the bad habit particularly when you are under stress, even though you can appreciate that it’s not working for you and that it’s conflicting with underlying beliefs (cognitive dissonance).
If you want to break a bad habit, layers of repetition that you have formed in one direction will now need to be undone and replaced with a new positive process. If this habit has taken many years to develop, it can be particularly challenging to work against the tide of expectation, break down the bad habit and install a new self-affirming behaviour. When you want to break a bad habit it’s not surprising that you get stuck in a recurrent loop.
Have you reached a dead end with your bad habit? Then maybe professional help would benefit you.
Break a bad habit: how are habits formed?
Approximately 40% of your daily behaviour is determined, not by conscious decisions, but by habit. Have you ever tried to be conscious of some of your basic routines? Take your morning routine for example. It can be exhausting analysing every action, the methods available, the pros and cons, assessing and evaluating if the behaviour was good enough etc. Like most people, you slip into subconscious mode and prepare for your day ahead.
Let’s consider one part in that morning routine, like brushing your teeth. For many of you, rewinding back to the day when it all started will have connections with your parents or relevant authority figures. The cue (or trigger for the behaviour) will have originated from a suggestion, demonstration or assistance from them. The reward or perceived benefit is the reason for your brain to store the pattern of behaviour. This may have come from your parent’s praise, your own reward for “looking very grown up” imitating what they did, enjoying the feel of the toothbrush on your gums or taste of the toothpaste etc. With the repetition of daily teeth brushing, the routine or habit was created.
Now let’s consider another habit that is not so fundamental for the general population, but is essential to those who do it – the habit of nail biting (onychophagia). Again, the cue for nail biting can derive from observation and imitation of an authority figure or a peer. For some, having the irritation of an uneven nail that was torn or split was the cue. Biting off the torn nail reduced the irritation and became the reward. And with the repetition of biting more nails, the habit was formed.
As a nail biting habit becomes ingrained over a period of years, it integrates additional needs (emotions and beliefs) and incorporates more rewards. This intensifies its effect on the individual, as if it’s part of your identity. By now, the nail biting habit has numerous triggers and is taking over many situations in your lifestyle. You may even be biting your nails in your sleep.
Some of the underlying needs that can develop over the years for nail biting can include personal grooming, perfectionism, problem-solving, achievement, emotional comfort (from stress, anxiety etc.), alleviation of boredom, control, self punishment, time-efficiency (using your teeth is easier than fetching nail clippers), defiance, loneliness, a thumb-sucking replacement, hunger satisfaction, appetite suppression etc.
With such a complicated needs-reward pathway, wanting to break a bad habit like nail biting as an adult can be a challenging process.
Habits, compulsions and addictions
What are the similarities and differences between habits, compulsions and addictions?
As discussed, habits (whether good or bad) are routine behaviours that are consolidated through repetition. You may or may not notice that you are performing the behaviour, but when it is brought to your conscious attention, you can usually temporarily stop the behaviour. With time, the original reward that integrated the good habit during formation can separate from the current behaviour. Hence you can be in possession of habits that are no longer useful. If it conflicts with current needs, the good habit has become a bad habit.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviours driven by anxiety and are often defined within obsessive compulsive disorder. There is hope of a reward, but once the compulsion is performed, there is no relief from the underlying anxiety connected to it.
Whilst there is pressure to act with both habits and compulsions, the pressure to perform the compulsion is usually more intense than with habits, and will continue even if consciously noticed. The “good habit” of washing your hands before eating has a definite sense of completion. With compulsive hand washing however, the ritual can have a specific sequence, is time-consuming and anxiety continues even after completion of the hand washing routine.
Addictions involve biological connections with substances that are consumed or used, such as drugs, alcohol and nicotine. There are many compulsions that are considered to be addictions, where no substances are consumed or used e.g. when gambling or shopping as a “shopaholic”. Addictive behaviour is characterised by intense cravings, loss of control and behavioural persistence often to the neglect on one’s health, relationships and work. An addiction can be referred to as a disease with many triggers because of the brain’s involvement in the development of the condition.
Addictions start as habits but the behaviour can remain as habits e.g. when habitually drinking alcohol every evening. As the habitual patterns intensify however, they can become compulsive and addictive. What defines it can depend on the individual and your motivation, your negative emotions connected to the behaviour (e.g. to manage anxiety) and its affect that these patterns are having on your neurology. All behavioural patterns can be difficult to stop.
Generally, an OCD compulsion has does not have any pleasurable attachments; it originates from a need to relieve an obsessive urge. Addictive behaviour starts with the desire for pleasure, but there is usually a point where enjoyment is lost and you are just seeking relief from the urge to continue the behaviour. This is intensified during withdrawal and can look like an OCD compulsion at this stage because the pleasure has ceased.
Another major distinction is related to the awareness of reality. Those with an OCD compulsion are aware that the obsession is not real and you are distressed by the need to carry out the irrational compulsion. People with addictions however are in a state of denial and are disconnected from the long term consequences of your actions. Instead you are in pursuit of short term gratification, ignoring how your behaviour might be linked to an underlying problem.
Why is this distinction between habits, compulsions and addictions important? From the above discussion, it is evident that these types of repetitive behaviour can overlap in one person, yet can remain distinct in another person. Consider an example like exercising every day. Is this someone who is passionate about their hobby, health and fitness, and wants to maintain a good exercise habit? Or has the exercise routine become more of a bad habit or a compulsion, masking an underlying health anxiety or insecurity about their physique? If the individual is spending hours each evening at the gym and neglecting family relationships, does this mean that it has become an addiction? It would need a closer analysis to define it accurately.
When you want to break a bad habit, understanding the category of your automated behaviour (habit, compulsion or addiction) can help you appreciate what may be necessary in your treatment plan. Treatment to quit smoking for example can involve treatment for the addiction and habit to convert the smoker into a non-smoker.
Has your repetitive behaviour been diagnosed? Many clients arrive with deeply entrenched bad habits that have become compulsions. It’s often necessary to treat the connecting beliefs and emotions to release the subconscious mind’s need to maintain the bad habit.
Break a bad habit: Most common bad habits
Bad habits come in all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of severity. Placing them into “categories” inevitably involves a degree of overlap depending on how you view the habit e.g. is watching too much television a bad health habit, or a procrastination habit, or both? Certain bad habits can also vary in the specific situation e.g. procrastination can be determined by what distractions are available at the time such as access to television, your phone, snacks etc. and whether you are at home or at work.
And not all bad habits are behavioural; some bad habits can be identified as cognitive and emotional e.g. when dwelling on lost opportunities or worrying about the future.
Bad habits that increase your weight
It’s not just identifying where the calories exist; it’s important to make the connection with how you approach your eating and drinking patterns. Bad habits that increase your weight can include:
- Overeating, binge eating
- Drinking high calorie drinks
- Emotional eating (aka comfort eating)
- Snacking late in the evening
- Eating a diet that is high in salt, sugar and fat
- Eating too quickly
- Always needing to finish everything on your plate
- Not eating consciously (snacking whilst watching television),
- Not planning your meals
Bad habits that can harm your health
Ignore some of these bad habits and they can apparently take years off your life. Bad habits that can harm your health include:
- Many of the habits that increase your weight (see above)
- Drinking too much caffeine
- Being inactive (lack of exercise)
- Slouching, crossing your legs
- Not having enough or quality sleep
- Habitual drinking and binge drinking (alcohol)
- Using phones and other devices late at night
- Taking drugs
- Overmedicating (pain killers, sedatives etc.)
- Ignoring how stress is affecting you
- Skipping medical appointments
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not flossing
- Wearing high heels
- Skipping meals
- Ignoring the value of your health
- Living beyond your financial means
Bad habits that damage your productivity
Being productive can involve a number of issues including effective time management skills and balancing obligations with work and home life. Activities that can be defined as “time out” or escapism to some can be a time-wasting activity (procrastination) to others. In the balance of managing stress however, it is important to have some relaxation time; too much “chill” time and it can add to your stress. Bad habits that can damage your productivity include:
- Watching too much television
- Overusing your phone
- Playing video games
- Over-using social media
- Saying yes to everything
- Lack of delegation
- Being indecisive
- Not having breaks
- Poor punctuality
- Watching too much porn
- Sleeping in
- Leaving keys/wallet/purse in random places
- Leaving things until last minute
Bad habits that hurt your finances
Some people say that money isn’t everything, but it’s important to achieve a level of financial comfort where you don’t have a daily financial struggle just to survive. Ignore poor financial management habits and it can lead to health problems. Bad habits that can hurt your finances include:
- Emotional impulsive shopping
- Ignoring credit card limits
- Not economising/budgeting
- Stealing (kleptomania)
- Not saving money
- Neglecting your bills/expenses
- Not saving towards a pension
- Spending to compete with others
- Hoping to get lucky
Personal bad habits
Personal grooming patterns can become destructive habits, even though they start with the intention of comforting the individual. Some of these behaviours can annoy, offend and disgust others when done in public. Personal bad habits can include:
- Nail biting or biting/chewing on other objects
- Thumb sucking
- Twiddling hair
- Hair pulling (Trichotillomania)
- Biting your lips, biting the inside of your cheeks
- Picking your skin, scabs or spots
- Clearing your throat excessively
- Grinding your teeth (bruxism), clenching your jaw
- Not washing your hands
- Picking you nose
- Cracking knuckles
- Excessive scratching
- Over grooming
- Using your phone when driving
Bad habits that harm your relationships
Communication, trust and respect are just some of the common relationship goals. Certain bad habits can hinder those goals from flourishing. Bad habits that can harm your relationship include:
- Trying to change your partner
- Provoking jealous reactions from your partner
- Being too critical
- Staying in toxic relationships
- Being abusive
- Not standing up to abuse
- Being aggressive
- Not acknowledging your partner
- Not actively listening
- Competing with your partner
- Keeping score
- Failing to respect each other’s space
- Engaging in passive-aggression
- Avoiding conflict
Bad habits that harm your emotional wellbeing
It can be a slow process, but giving daily attention to some of the behavioural patterns that are contributing to your low mood can gradually pull you out of your unhappiness. Bad habits that can harm you emotional well-being include:
- Being self critical
- Associating with negative people
- Being unassertiveness
- Fearing failure
- Struggling to take criticism or praise
- Failing to take responsibility
- Isolating yourself from others
- Comparing yourself to others
- Worrying excessively
- Not making time for yourself
- Self hatred
- Not practising meditation/mindfulness/self hypnosis
- Obsessing about things out of your control
- Undervaluing self awareness
- Not using correct breathing techniques
- Failing to use affirmations
- Dwelling on your negative past
- Not wanting to break a bad habit
The impact of ignoring bad habits in a certain category can obviously have a direct impact on that part of your life e.g. obesity can be the result of ignoring bad habits that contribute to weight gain.
Other negative effects include anxiety, depression, stress, sleep problems, panic attacks, fatigue etc. Long terms bad habits can also contribute to family problems, dental problems, social problems and unemployment.
How are bad habits justified?
Bad habits start as “good” habits. At the time of their formation, you make the connection with a perceived benefit (or reward) regardless of how negative it may seem to others. What you connect with can be based on the resources that are conveniently available at that time.
Young children can develop habits such as twiddling hair, nail biting, thumb sucking and skin picking to manage stress, to comfort insecurity and loneliness, and calm anxiety. When there is a lack of activity for children, the bad habit can combine with the management of these negative emotions to become a new daydreaming “activity” to feel comforted and ease boredom.
Depending on your family situation and your interaction with adult authority figures, the developing bad habits can be reinforced to balance emotions from negative conditioning e.g. where there is control, manipulation, abuse or neglect from adults (or other school children). By employing the habit, the child will seek to gain attention or regain a level of emotional control. Some habits can be used as self-punishment (self-harm) to divert feelings of guilt, shame or worthlessness.
Whilst the bad habit of comfort eating can develop from young childhood, teenage curiosity can be a period where bad habits are connected to other substances. Alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs are common ways that young people self-medicate to escape problems and manage stress and social anxiety.
Beyond the use of substances, emotional and behavioural bad habits can also become ritualised at this young age to manage anxiety, a fear of failure, guilt and shame. Negative self-talk, obsessive compulsive behaviour (e.g. gaming or gambling) and procrastination (e.g. watching television, using social media) are common bad habits that leak into adulthood, often damaging efficiency, self confidence and self esteem.
The needs that justify bad habits can be complex. They start as a functional good habit. With repetition, changing needs and new situations, they evolve and attach new rewards that can make the original need for performing the habit redundant. When you are struggling to break a bad habit, you are attempting to confront theses conflicts in your emotional history.
How can hypnotherapy help you to break a bad habit?
Stubborn bad habits leave a deep imprint in how you manage your life. Bad habits can persist despite them being detrimental to your health, harmful to your relationships and a contributor to your stress. A desire to change isn’t always enough to break a bad habit cycle.
When you are battling to break a bad habit and you have reached a dead end, hypnotherapy can give you the tools that you need to eliminate it. That’s why many people seek professional help from a hypnotherapist. How can hypnotherapy help you break a bad habit?
Hypnotherapy can identify and remove the cause of your bad habit
Many habits were installed within a particular belief system or state of mind that met your needs at that time. You have now moved on from these needs but the cause of the habit is still influencing you to continue the behaviour. Regression techniques can be used to take you back to when you set up the behaviour and reframe the needs-habit (causal) pathway. The emotional roots can then be disconnected freeing to access new habitual patterns that suit your current lifestyle.
Hypnotherapy can break the triggers that surround your bad habit
Bad habits start as a conscious process and with repetition they become unconscious. You may not even notice that you are performing your bad habit in certain situations until a negative trigger prompts you e.g. your bitten nail is sore, or there are no more biscuits in the pack, or the bottle of wine is now empty, or your skin is bleeding, or you have just “lost” another 2 hours to procrastination etc.
Throughout your treatment, you will become more mindful of your bad habit, helping you to identify “where” and “when” the triggers are intense. Suggestions can then be used to remove the negative patterns that are associated with these triggers.
Hypnotherapy can reprogram your negative thought patterns
Your bad habit is paired with negative thoughts, beliefs and emotions that justify its continuity in a part of the mind called the ‘critical factor’. Negative thoughts like…
- “I can’t do that assignment” (so you procrastinate with a few more round of Candy Crush).
- “I’ve lapsed so many times now; I may as well keep smoking” (so you light up another cigarette!)
- “I can’t win with this diet” (so you grab a few biscuits in frustration).
…help maintain the bad habit.
In hypnosis, the critical factor is overridden enabling you to absorb positive suggestions or affirmations that have a more profound effect on your old bad habits. It’s as if your mind is given accelerated conditioning experiences to optimise and embed new positive thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviour that are aligned to your treatment goals.
Hypnotherapy can replace your bad habit with new positive habit
How many times have you heard people tell you to “just stop” doing your bad habit? How many times have you said that to yourself in vain? Ingrained bad habits rarely respond to suggestions “to stop” when they ignore deeper unmet needs. This is because your mind’s system becomes unbalanced, registers that something is “missing” and demands that the need is met (usually with what it expects to have, based on past behaviour).
The main therapeutic aim when you want to break a bad habit is to give your mind a brand new habit that is functionally more acceptable than the bad habit, and then install the new habit with repetition. If the underlying needs (e.g. stress and anxiety) are stable during the transitional period, the connection with the good habit can be achieved relatively easily. This approach is effective with “simple” bad habits.
Intense repetition is important for conditioned learning; to create the switch from the old bad habit to the new good habit. When the repetition is too slow and it lacks emotional intensity however, your mind can revert back to using the old bad habit. This is where hypnotherapy can step in and be so beneficial with visualisation techniques.
Visualisation in hypnosis can give your mind the positive experiences with emotion intensity, as if you have actually had those experiences in reality. This treatment approach accelerates the conditioning process. Visualisation can serve useful when it’s difficult to continuously simulate the emotions and behaviour in a particular situation e.g. when installing a performance skill in open field sports situations.
Hypnotherapy can treat the underlying needs of the bad habit
When you want to break a bad habit, the above process (i.e. habit replacement) is the most common and direct treatment aim with simple bad habits. The conversion can be relatively quick, particularly with highly suggestible clients. Try this hypnosis test to assess your level of suggestibility.
Some bad habits are more complex and might be defined as compulsive behaviour. This is because there are numerous underlying needs (emotions and beliefs) that have connected to the bad habit over a long period of time. This causes the structure between your needs and the bad habit to become very rigid.
Your goal in therapy remains: to break a bad habit. In this situation however, the underlying needs (or core issues) are very strong and demand treatment in the context of your bad habit. If the bad habit is eliminated without dealing with the underlying needs, the exposed needs will draw you back into the bad habit. Regression techniques may be used to identify and treat the cause, and reappraise any issues that were impacting on the habit during its formation.
Let’s take for example someone who wants to quit the habit of smoking cigarettes. You have tried and failed several times using “willpower”. Direct suggestions in hypnotherapy are only having a partial effect and you relapse in certain situations. The background to the habit of smoking is identified and reappraised using regression hypnotherapy. As a teenager, the origin of the habit of smoking was connected to control and manipulation from an abusive father. Smoking was used as defiance, to “take back control” from your abuser (i.e. your reward). Smoking was something that your father despised and was unable to control in your absence. As the adult, you now live independently from your abusive father, but he criticises you each time that you have a telephone conversation with him. After the conversation you feel tense and worthless and this is a recurring trigger for you to smoke. Your “abuse-tension-worthlessness-smoking” connection (or your underlying need) is treated and this helps you to quit smoking completely. Your treatment helps you install new, more functional habits and deal with the stress of your father’s criticism of you in a positive and constructive way.
Hypnotherapy can teach you self hypnosis for future habit maintenance
Habit formation is an ongoing process; as your needs change habits need adjustment to be effective. Developing good habits that can be adapted to your changing needs and situations in the future is a skill that can help you manage your lifestyle independently. Having achieved your goal in my hypnotherapy treatment, you will take with you some of the skills of breathing techniques and self hypnosis to maintain the independent “mind-work” that can be so useful for future habit management.
For more information on hypnotherapy treatment to break a bad habit contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Agoraphobia Treatment in Cardiff
Agoraphobia treatment: Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder and complex phobia in which the sufferer fears being in various situations that are considered difficult to leave. Having a panic attack in a situation and feeling trapped, embarrassed or isolated from help starts a sequence of fearful reactions that exacerbates the condition.
Agoraphobia can also develop when you have experienced a trauma usually away from your home. You now live in fear of experiencing another trauma when you leave your home.
With mild agoraphobia, you may be able to travel short distances to deal with “essential” matters. In the extreme progression of agoraphobia, you will struggle to leave your home.
Agoraphobia treatment: What situation does an agoraphobic fear?
Someone suffering with agoraphobia will fear returning to any situations where you have previously experienced a panic attack or a trauma, typically open spaces and public places. This can include:
- Being in open spaces where help may not be readily available such as in open fields and countryside, around and at the top of hilly and mountainous landscapes.
- Being away from home in extreme weather conditions.
- Travelling in vehicles or on public transport where you are unable to control the journey e.g. when travelling on a train, bus, coach, ship, underground tube, airplane and even a taxi. Or travelling in a car with unfamiliar people whom you fear would be unsupportive if you had a panic attack.
- Social situations or crowded locations where you cannot see your “exit” or where your help may not be able to find you easily.
- Being in confined spaces that are difficult to escape or where the location has limited access points such as in forests, on bridges, in tunnels, walking amongst tall buildings and being stuck in traffic jams. It can also include inaccessible situations at a relative height or altitude e.g. being in a lift at the top of a multi-storey building, parking at the top of a multi-storey car park or using a cable car to travel between locations.
- Visiting a large shop or supermarket that has: narrow aisles, is very crowded, has queues at the service tills, has electronically operated doors or where the shop is so enormous that you may not be able to vacate it easily.
- Being left alone and feeling isolated (either at home or away from home), particularly from those whom you trust or whom you believe can help you.
- Travelling over or being close to other potential areas of danger such as bridges, heights, deep water etc.
- Progressively being further away from your safe place, (this is usually your home) and being away from people who are important to you.
- Having driving anxiety (or fear of losing control and having a panic attack whilst driving) and endangering yourself, your passengers, other drivers, pedestrians and damaging the vehicle. This can be experienced in numerous situations detailed in this section. For example when driving over bridges (heights) and deep water. The feeling of anxiety is also intensified with certain road types such as motorways with increased speed, motion, shorter reaction time, relative open/closed spaces, exposure to sudden gusts of wind, distance away from home, being stranded if the vehicle broke down etc.
- Having experienced a previous trauma or near-trauma, you believe that you may experience an actual trauma or another trauma when you leave your home. Traumas can include being attacked, doing something that may cause extreme humiliation such as having a severe attack of IBS or being (re) infected by a serious illness. Fear of contracting a serious illness is also known as health anxiety.
You can appreciate from the above information that when you fear more situations, it increases the complexity of your agoraphobia with the likelihood that you could encounter any one of these “panic stricken” situations when you leave home.
Some locations will include several of these feared situations in one area and are likely to cause high anxiety if obligated to confront it without help e.g. when using the motorway to drive over a national boundary bridge (like the Severn bridge that spans the River Severn between England and Wales).
Agoraphobia treatment: What causes agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is caused by a number of biological and psychological factors, more notably as a complication of panic disorder. Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by panic attacks that are assumed to be spontaneous and a possible symptom of a more serious condition e.g. a heart attack.
During the early development of panic attacks, you are in a state of high alert trying to look for causes of and solutions to your distress. You ignore the importance of your internal beliefs and the physiological meaning of these panic symptoms i.e. you are in a fearful state, but at this time, you just don’t know how you can end up feeling this way are why you feel this way.
You (mistakenly) focus externally on your situation, location or activity and (incorrectly) give excessive importance to when these symptoms are alleviated (i.e. when you escape the situation and arrive home). The situation you were in when you felt anxious becomes the “cause” of your distress and your rapid escape home becomes the solution.
Then, in order to control the frequency of panic attacks, you will avoid these situations in the future. The combination of your rapid retreat and avoidance convinces you that you are dealing with the situation in an effective way to minimise your immediate discomfort. However, these avoidant solutions are quick-fixes that make the long term situation worse as there are a diminishing number of situations in which you can feel safe from panic attacks.
In addition to this, your hasty escape becomes automated and a “necessary” method of coping even when you anticipate feeling anxious. Progressively, as the condition grips you, you feel high anxiety when you are at home just imagining confronting the outside situations.
Experiencing panic attacks in your “safe place” causes confusion as your remedial escape plan is now meaningless. Effectively, you are running away from your “own mind” and have exhausted your options to comfort it. At this advanced stage of the agoraphobia, you are probably housebound and experiencing a higher frequency of panic attacks.
Other causes of agoraphobia can include:
- Experiencing trauma (e.g. violence) whilst away from your home. You live in fear of experiencing another similar trauma if you were to leave your home.
- Suffering major lifestyle traumas like bereavement, divorce and unemployment. These external events can cause a significant loss of confidence, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, embarrassment and shame. Some people feel vulnerable and exposed to judgement from others when you go through a major lifestyle event and are exposed to social situations.
- Having other anxiety disorders and phobias such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia and claustrophobia.
- Suffering a history of abuse and control.
- Conditioned responses from a family background of agoraphobia. In some cases the background can include a “dependency culture” that stifles self-confidence.
- Problems with substance abuse.
- You have certain medical conditions such as suffering problems with balance (vertigo) and spatial awareness distortion issues. This affects how you perceive the proximity of people and objects. You feel disoriented and vertiginous when environmental features “look busy”, are too close, too far away or have a “descending” perspective when viewed from a height.
Click this link for more information on the general causes of a phobia.
Agoraphobia treatment: What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?
Physical symptoms: Since avoidance is the common strategy to minimise discomfort, the agoraphobic will rarely confront those situations that cause distress. When it is necessary to confront those situations however, the anxiety symptoms experienced are common to those when having a panic attack. Symptoms will include hyperventilation, rapid heartbeat, nausea, excessive sweating etc.
Cognitive symptoms: The cognitive symptoms reflect the underlying belief system. For example, the agoraphobic with health anxiety will be convinced that your physical symptoms are connected to a serious illness. Whereas the agoraphobic with social anxiety will be believe that appearing out of control with a panic attack will draw attention and will feel humiliating. In addition to this, the agoraphobic with claustrophobia will judge that you will not be able to escape the situation particularly when experiencing a panic attack.
Behavioural symptoms: The behavioural symptoms have been detailed in the section above entitled “Agoraphobia treatment: What situation does an agoraphobic fear?” and includes being in open spaces where help may not be readily available.
How is agoraphobia diagnosed?
Agoraphobia is usually diagnosed by your doctor who will ask questions about your signs and symptoms, and your medical and family history. It is common to do some blood tests to dismiss any physical causes for your condition e.g. hyperthyroidism.
How is agoraphobia treated?
Agoraphobia treatment can involve a specific or a combination of different interventions including:
- Self help techniques that help you understand agoraphobia and panic attacks. When you learn about these conditions, it may help you have more control over your symptoms. Lifestyle changes such as taking up regular exercise (initially performed in your home) can help you reduce symptoms of everyday-anxiety.
- Prescribed medication from your doctor such as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can relieve some of your agoraphobia or panic attack symptoms.
- Therapy such as psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and Exposure therapy can be used to discuss your fears, change your thoughts and progressively challenge your behavioural symptoms.
How can hypnotherapy treat your agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is considered to be a complex phobia since it can integrate various anxiety disorders e.g. panic disorder, and a number of advanced individual fears and phobias that now dominate the sufferer’s self-limiting experience. Unless the symptoms are being caused by a specific issue, agoraphobia treatment is rarely a quick-fix since many of the symptoms have developed over an extended period of time. But when the agoraphobia treatment allows for a structured approach, it can be invaluable in returning the sufferer to emotional wellbeing and lifestyle confidence.
Is hypnotherapy a viable treatment for agoraphobia then? There is some case study research to demonstrate hypnotherapy’s effectiveness. For example, hypnotherapy has been used when treating IBS-induced agoraphobia and in another case study where the application of hypnotherapy was psychodynamic in its approach. Hypnotherapy has the advantage over other treatment modes since it can utilise the subconscious mind with some impressive outcomes.
Furthermore, studies from Stanford University state that phobia sufferers “tend to score high on hypnotic susceptibility scales and… respond favourably to hypnotic intervention.” You can assess your level of suggestibility using this hypnosis test.
To be successful in agoraphobia treatment however, hypnotherapy still needs to incorporate other tried and tested methods. My agoraphobia treatment approach includes various treatment strategies using these tried and tested methods.
This is how you can benefit from hypnotherapy:
Your core issues will be identified and treated
When you live inside your agoraphobia symptoms, you will be responding to a negative programme that is now established and automated. Your behavioural reactions are not the problem, but act as a further symptom of your condition. In the early stages of your treatment your agoraphobia “map” will be traced to identify core issues that may have been forgotten and repressed. In many cases an issue like a height phobia is not being confronted, yet is still playing an active part in the avoidance programme. When these issues have been identified, either through discussion or using hypnotic techniques, your treatment goal will become clearer and can be broken down into progressive stages.
Hypnotherapy will help reduce your anxiety
Advanced anxiety states benefit from an interruption from the pathways that maintain it. By introducing relaxation into these pathways, it allows you to see out of the habitual patterns of avoidance and prepare to accept new patterns. My hypnotherapy incorporates anxiety reduction as part of the induction, a process that may not be included in other therapies. This is helpful in your goal to overcome your agoraphobia, but it is not the complete treatment. The post-hypnotic suggestions that are targeting aspects of your agoraphobia are the main part of the treatment and will accelerate you towards therapeutic change.
Hypnotherapy can help you control your panic attacks
The ability to use breathing techniques to control your anxiety is an essential part of feeling in control of your internal state. You may have previously tried breathing techniques, struggled to benefit from them and then dismissed them as being helpful following another panic attack. Your treatment will revise these techniques and anchor them in hypnosis so that they become a natural effective intervention in your anxiety management.
Hypnotherapy suggestions can target your agoraphobia symptoms
In a hypnotic state, you are more receptive to positive suggestions. Hypnotic suggestions can target your physical, cognitive and behavioural symptoms interrupting the current pathways that are overwhelming you. When you have intense positive visualisations without conscious interference, it can transform your current negative state into your desired state. The suggested visualisations act as positive rehearsals for your practises enabling you to confront the situations that you are avoiding. As you embrace these new patterns of behaviour, essential feature that maintains your agoraphobia like your automated “escape” reaction will be modified.
Hypnotherapy can reframe your past emotional traumas
Regression techniques often get a slating from solution focused hypnotherapists and other therapies that consider “revisiting the past” as a waste of time. Painstakingly combing through every part of your life is the common misconception with age regression techniques, but this is not necessary unless treating deeper issues like extensive abuse. With agoraphobia, reframing the negative emotional learning from past events can be completed in a relatively short period of time. By examining the (i) origin (also known as the “cause” of your condition), (ii) the most emotionally significant past event, and/or (iii) the most recent event is, in many cases, sufficient for emotional release. Regression hypnotherapy adopts the view that it’s your state of mind when you learned your agoraphobia that is continuing to cause you problems, not the reactions that have ensued.
Hypnotherapy can assist your desensitisation programme
Doing the “in vivo” exposure or “mind work” to treat the emotional blocks connected to your agoraphobia in the clinic is an important part of the treatment process. It will prepare you for the “in vitro” or behavioural exposure to confront the “outside of clinic” situations that you are currently avoiding. As you systematically achieve the objectives in stages, it completes the circle of belief that you are building confidence and can overcome your condition.
Can hypnotherapy be combined with desensitisation (or graduated exposure) techniques effectively? Hypnotherapy can be mistakenly identified as a “one trick pony” in which you are “made” to change in one session or the treatment has failed. Would you seek this same expectation from a cognitive behavioural therapy programme? Probably not; you would expect a course of therapy particularly if it includes systematic desensitisation. In the treatment of phobias, research has shown that hypnotherapy can be effective in the application of desensitisation therapy where the treatment is tailor-made to the individual. Hypnotherapy can offer a “rapid and cost-effective form of treatment for these conditions” (p. 107).
Follow this link for more information on general phobia hypnotherapy treatment.
Hypnotherapy: how can you access your agoraphobia treatment?
Agoraphobia treatment at the clinic: If your agoraphobia severity is low to moderate and you can travel short distances or travel accompanied to the practice, then your hypnotherapy treatment can take place at the clinic.
If your agoraphobia is moderate to high then consider:
Agoraphobia treatment at home: Initially, you can be treated in the safety of your own home with hypnotherapy home visit treatments to get your therapy moving. (N.B. an additional travel fee applies.) Or…
Agoraphobia treatment online: You can access your agoraphobia treatment using online hypnotherapy without the need for travel or additional travel fees.
For more information on agoraphobia treatment & hypnotherapy in Cardiff, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Health Anxiety Treatment Cardiff
Health anxiety treatment: Health anxiety is the irrational and excessive preoccupation with having (or developing) a serious mental or physical medical condition. The condition is also known as illness anxiety disorder, (psycho) somatic symptom disorder and illness phobia (nosophobia). Health anxiety can be considered a category of OCD due to the obsessive nature of your health fears and ritualised compulsions to alleviate those fears.
In psychiatry, the terms hypochondria and hypochondriasis are also used to identify health anxiety. Unfortunately these terms have developed negative connotations. Being labelled a “hypochondriac” can be wrongly misconceived as being someone who is always ill or who has a tendency to “moan about everything that is wrong with them”.
In reality, health anxiety is a serious mental health disorder in which you can feel like a prisoner inside your own body. In a UK study, nearly 20% of those in hospital clinics met the criteria for having health anxiety. Accepting health anxiety can involve many challenges in your health anxiety treatment.
Health anxiety treatment: Types of health anxiety
There are two main categories of health anxiety. Each one tries to manage the discomfort of their symptoms. Some sufferers have traits in both categories however.
Health anxiety with avoidance behaviour: This type avoids attention, new information, diagnoses, and anything else that you have (mistakenly) connected as triggers for your symptoms e.g. exercise, drinking caffeine, television dramas, media articles etc. By playing silent or suppressing your thoughts, you believe that “not knowing” is a better way of coping with bad news. You don’t want to have your fears confirmed and go through the agony of major treatment. Instead, you deceive yourself that “it’s probably nothing”, hope that the symptoms will go away and potentially neglect your health for extensive periods. Some avoidant sufferers believe that your condition is (or that you are) not important enough to warrant treatment. You may be convinced that you are beyond help.
Health anxiety with reassurance behaviour: The category of health anxiety seeks attention, new information and diagnoses in order to be reassured, but the depth of reassurance is superficial. You hope that endless searching on the internet will give you the information that you want, but it rarely satisfies your need. Craving a certain kind of reassurance, this health anxiety sufferer is more vocal about signs and symptoms and this can be frustrating for your family members and friends to keep hearing about your ailments. Depending on your level of insecurity, you might complain to people close to you hoping that they can make an emotional connection or even open up to complete strangers in search of that novel reassuring response. They may have little or no medical knowledge, but their lack of medical authority is irrelevant. Those who have medical expertise could give you the release from your health anxiety but only if meets your specific emotional need in that moment. Frequent visits to the doctor complete the circle of help that is available to you. Yet the medical opinion you are offered is not convincing enough to give you long term reassurance, despite the tests showing negative results.
Is Munchausen Syndrome the same as health anxiety?
Munchausen syndrome (also called Factitious disorder) is a rare psychological condition in which the sufferer feigns or causes their illness in order to gain special attention or sympathy. You might impose it on yourself or somebody that you are caring for (also called Munchausen syndrome by proxy). Munchausen syndrome is characterised by manipulation of test results, lying about symptoms, harming yourself to create symptoms and seeing different medical staff who might believe that your symptoms are genuine. Health anxiety is different to Munchausen Syndrome because with health anxiety, you believe that you are ill but you do not manipulate your test results.
What is Malingering?
Malingering is similar to Munchausen syndrome in the way that the symptoms of illness are manipulated. Whereas Munchausen syndrome has no clear cause, malingering is motivated by personal gain. It might be financial gain from insurance claims, time off work, a reduction in work obligations, prescriptions for controlled medication or avoiding military duty and prison time.
Health anxiety treatment: What causes health anxiety?
There is no single cause of health anxiety. A combination of background factors, traumas and coping mechanisms are likely to contribute to developing this condition.
There are some factors that can make you more vulnerable to experience health anxiety. These include:
Genetic factors – Your genes may predispose you to develop generalised anxiety. This can influence the development of certain mental health conditions. This does not mean that you are destined to develop health anxiety however.
Personality factors – You may be a “born worrier” or develop traits to worry from parental conditioning. The tendency to worry or struggle with uncertainty will increase your potential to develop health anxiety.
Life experiences – Many beliefs, attitudes and behaviours are learned from your parents and other significant authority figures. You will learn their values from what they say, how they say it, what they do and how they react to situations, particularly with reference to medical situations. This may then influence how you react to your own (or their) medical experiences.
As a child, these experiences can include:
- Personally being ill or other family members being ill.
- People close to you dying suddenly from an illness. Being made aware of your family member’s illness-signs and symptoms (that was the cause of their death).
- Being overly protected from illness as a child which can then influence you to be more fearful and insecure if you then suffer illness as an adult.
- Developing negative definitions of your personal health and the general wellbeing of your body. This can be formed by the amount of illness you have previously suffered and comparisons that you make to other people’s health.
- The timing of when you have sought medical attention after being concerned about possible signs and symptoms and the outcome of that medical diagnosis. For example, health anxiety can be formed when you have initially suppressed your health concerns, believing your condition to be benign. Then some time after, you are diagnosed with a serious illness and attribute your delay to seek medical help as the cause of your serious illness. As a reaction to this situation, you may then consider the trauma as “proof” that a premonition or physical sensation in the future must be more serious than it actually is.
Adulthood vulnerability factors
As you move into adulthood, your life experiences may involve having a career in which the performance of your body is essential to your success. Musicians, singers, dancers, sportspeople, surgeons etc. are all involved in perfecting skills with the precise functioning of body organs and muscle groups to the level of professional peak performance. Your peak performance state of awareness can be instinctive. But the effect of injury, illness, stress, periods of under-performance and performance anxiety can cause you to become hypervigilant to bodily changes when performances aren’t perfect.
As you work on the solutions to your performance, you can be convinced that psychosomatic sensations or tightness in the body are more serious health conditions and problematic causes of your under-performance. The bodily sensations become the new focus of your attention during your performances. This distracts you even more from the demands of the immediate task and becomes another issue that takes you further away from your peak performance level.
In addition to vulnerability factors listed above, certain triggering events can also reinforce the development of your health anxiety. Again, experiencing further personal illnesses and grieving illness-related deaths to someone close to you are important reinforcing events.
Other triggering events can include external stressful and anxious traumas like a relationship breakup that coincide with periods of illness. During this period of hypervigilance, both of these events can become subconsciously connected so that when there is say a future illness, it generates subconscious anxiety or stress symptoms. Or when you have future period of stress or anxiety, you feel emotionally “unwell” without being able to formally diagnose your illness.
Learning experiences can also act as triggering events in the development of health anxiety. Sensationalised or dramatised portrayal of illness in the media can influence certain viewers to believe that these traumas are factual. Without filtering your understanding of the content, you may be traumatised by the media viewing.
Traumatic learning experiences can also triggered during medical training. When studying medicine, you may not have anticipated the near-fatal consequences of certain signs and symptoms that you have personally experienced (and possibly ignored) before your medical studies.
Health anxiety treatment: What causes health anxiety to persist?
The health anxiety causes already discussed can lay the foundations of a negative belief system that is highly sensitive and receptive to bodily sensations. You are likely to (mis) interpret and (over) react to these bodily signs and symptoms thereby maintaining your health anxiety beliefs.
Some of the negative beliefs that become established and maintain your health anxiety include:
You overreact to your body sensations. This is a continuous cycle in which your hyper attention to your symptoms is amplifying your experience of the symptom. As you keep noticing it and give it more importance, the sensation is intensified.
You obsess over exaggerated health issues. Your health anxiety is now distorting your perception of your signs and symptoms. Your thoughts are illogical and your irrational handling of medical issues extends the uncertainty of a serious illness.
You have developed suppressive coping mechanisms. It’s normal to dismiss some issues that cause feelings of discomfort. Thought suppression is generally ineffective and can backfire with long term issues however. “Burying” important thoughts by trying to forget them can have the opposite effect and make them persist because the emotion pushes the issue back into your awareness. This ends up making the issue more pronounced in your mind when you aren’t busy focusing on anything particular.
You are compulsive in your checking and reassurance seeking. Objectively checking your body for potential problems and health changes can be a useful self help health tool. When you have health anxiety you are desperate to know that what you have is benign however. You will check your body because this method is easily available to you. But this can cause “false positives” with your feedback because you are already convinced that the situation is malevolent. The act of checking can also irritate the area creating sensations that you now believe must be serious. Stuck in this cycle of doubt and insecurity, you then seek external reassurance with a medical opinion, but this tends to only reassure you at the surface level. Checking your body and seeking medical opinion thus acts as a temporary release from your anxiety until the next issue surfaces. The reassurance-seeking process can be more harmful to your health anxiety if you become dependent on the reassurance to function.
You overuse avoidance and safety behaviours, and are convinced that they help you. Avoiding discomfort and finding a suitable “safety” distraction is a common defence mechanism to get you through your day. But these behavioural patterns are a short-term fix to overcoming health anxiety. Some behaviour can be superstitious without ever connecting with your return to good health.
Overusing these avoidance and safety behaviour can reduce your confidence to deal with the “real” anxiety issue in the long term. For example, drinking a moderate amount of coffee is not considered harmful. If you have health anxiety and are convinced that caffeine is the cause of your palpitations, you may avoid caffeine altogether yet still find that the palpitations persist. In this situation, avoiding caffeine is a type of “safety behaviour” because it gives you a feeling of control that you are acting on the issue. The actual issue of confronting the anxiety related to your symptoms still remains however.
Health anxiety treatment: Signs and symptoms of health anxiety
When you have health anxiety you may not have any physical symptoms yet you still worry about becoming seriously ill. Alternatively, you may be convinced that normal bodily sensations or minor physical symptoms (like a “gurgling” stomach, dull aches, a minor rash or feelings of weakness etc.) are signs of a serious medical condition. With or without a formal diagnosis your hyper-attention to these symptoms can persist.
Sometimes the stress and anxiety caused by your excessive worry can create additional sensations in your body e.g. twitching sensations or feelings of fatigue. These sensations can then become the new health anxiety focus as something more serious.
Signs and symptoms of health anxiety can include:
- Worrying that you have or will develop a serious illness.
- Feeling anxious about developing the same medical condition that a member of your family has previously had.
- Being preoccupied with bodily sensations or minor symptoms developing into an acute medical condition.
- Overreacting to anyone’s analysis of your health.
- Struggling to function in your day e.g. to concentrate, relax or sleep because of your health worries. This can then impact negatively on your work, family and social life.
- Being immersed in self-examination for signs of a serious illness.
- Being overly cautious and avoiding certain people, activities or situations due to your fear of illness.
- Seeking reassurance from family and friends by frequently talking about health issues and your fear of developing an illness.
- Frequently consulting with medical professionals for reassurance about a potential illness, or…
- (Ironically), neglecting your own health and avoiding medical consultations and tests in case it confirms your worst fears of having a serious medical illness. You may even avoid medical television dramas since you struggle to separate fact from fiction.
- Giving minimal confidence to a medical diagnosis or being unconvinced about a negative test result in case something was missed. Worrying that a new symptom has developed since the test was taken and that it will need retesting.
- Constantly consulting with Dr Google by researching online for a medical diagnosis and confirming your fearful beliefs that what you have is a serious illness. This condition is known as cyberchondria and compuchondria.
Health anxiety treatment: How is Health anxiety treated?
Following a diagnosis from your doctor, treatment for health anxiety usually involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to explore how your thoughts, beliefs and emotions are affecting your behaviour. In addition to therapy, anti depressant medication may also be prescribed to stabilise your condition.
How can hypnotherapy treat health anxiety?
Hypnotherapy is a viable and effective health anxiety treatment. This is how hypnotherapy can help:
Hypnotherapy can treat the anxiety behind your condition
When your physical sensations seem so real, it can be challenging to accept that this is being caused not from a serious “physical” medical illness, but from how you are worrying about your health. This shift in your perspective is fundamental to your treatment success. “Parts” hypnotherapy is an effective tool that can assist this change of perspective and deal with the subconscious emotional blocks hindering your progression.
Hypnotherapy can help you to confront your avoidance behaviour
Your avoidance behaviour is a temporary fix for your health anxiety. When you avoid something that reminds you of your illness like hospitals or medical television dramas, you feel better in the short-term. Avoidance has the long-term effect of prolonging your health anxiety however. An important part of your treatment is to build the confidence to face these situations. By confronting them, you will appreciate what coping skills are needed in those situations and acknowledge the accuracy of your imagined danger. Hypnotherapy can help you challenge your avoidance behaviour by visualising your confidence in those situations. Hypnotic techniques will enable you to break down the emotional structures that are keeping you in fear.
Hypnotherapy can reduce your reaction to bodily sensations
Your health anxiety is causing you to overreact to psychosomatic sensations. The attention that you are giving these sensations is a source of more distress. These sensations are benign, but the smallest change in feeling causes you to become more anxious about what this could be. Hypnotherapy can help you concentrate your attention into these sensations, changing how you perceive them. During hypnosis, you will appreciate that you have control over these bodily sensations. Visualisation work can be done to calm the alertness from these sensations and fade into the background of your mind.
Hypnotherapy can help you reframe the emotion from past traumas
Using regression techniques selectively, hypnotherapy can help you release the fear learned from the past traumas that are still influencing your negative emotions and behaviour. You will not be constantly dwelling on these past traumas but they act as stored “causes” in your subconscious mind. Contrary to other critiques of this approach, it is not necessary to trudge through every year of your life. Only the most relevant traumas are reframed for you to feel the emotional benefit from this approach.
Hypnotherapy can help you challenge your cognitive distortions
One of the many benefits of using hypnotherapy to treat your health anxiety is that it can be used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help the client recognise and challenge the cognitive distortions that make health anxiety so distressing. They can include catastrophising events, struggling with uncertainty, being inflexible with beliefs and being convinced that your thoughts will cause future actions and situations. CBT hypnotherapy focuses on these cognitive distortions, retraining your mind to appreciate how these unhelpful styles of thinking are perpetuating your condition. Your mind can then embrace calmer and more rational ways of thinking about your health.
Hypnotherapy can help you reframe your beliefs about uncertainty
A major feature of health anxiety is your inability to cope with the uncertainty of your future health. When you believe that you are unable to control it, you adopt checking rituals and seek reassurance from others to alleviate your anxiety. These compulsions only give short-term relief however and rarely help you to tolerate uncertainty. When you can tolerate it, the compulsions can be abandoned. Hypnotherapy can help you increase your tolerance of uncertainty by helping you rehearse resisting your compulsive urges. You can learn to be comfortable “in uncertainty” without trying to excessively control it.
Hypnotherapy can help you to reduce your safety behaviour
Like avoidance behaviour, safety behaviours are (overt or covert) diversions that are carried out in order to prevent feared outcomes. They are useful when connected to an actual danger, but with a perceived danger, safety behaviours tend to prolong the anxiety; you do something else that helps you to feel better in the short term. An example can be casually asking non-medical friends (instead of speaking to a doctor) for their medical diagnosis, knowing that their opinion holds no authority and can be easily dismissed if their opinion causes you anxiety. Hypnotherapy can help you to identify and reduce your safety behaviours so that you can confront the fear behind your health anxiety.
Hypnotherapy can assist your graded exposure to health anxiety
Overcoming your health anxiety ultimately means confronting the fear that you have or will develop a serious health condition. Graded exposure is an approach that involves structured and repeated exposure to your fear. By getting acquainted with your fear you get used to the situations, bodily sensations or worries that are keeping you anxious. In the short term, it’s not unusual for your anxiety to elevate when taking a change in direction and confronting your fear. With persistence, your confidence will grow and you will be more in control of your health anxiety in the long term. Hypnotherapy is an excellent method for using your imagination to confront your worries and alter how you perceive your bodily sensations. Exposure to the situations that you are currently avoiding can be discussed and built into your treatment programme.
For more information on health anxiety treatment contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Accepting Health Anxiety
Accepting health anxiety: You often hear that you should “trust your gut instincts”. It’s probably true for most of the time. But what if those instincts are rooted in fear? Does it then mean that those fearful instincts are distorted and will cause havoc if you follow those gut instincts?
You can appreciate that sending for the emergency fire services each time that someone lights a match because of what might happen to that small isolated fire would be a blatant over-reaction. But when suffer you have excessive fear, your reality is dominated by your emotion; the situation will be catastrophic. With excessive fear, this reaction feels right and the fearful person is unable to “normalise” how less fearful people might dismiss it.
Health anxiety (also known as hypochondriasis) is a condition in which you are preoccupied with the fearful belief that you have or will contract a serious illness. You struggle to enjoy life because you are convinced that all of those bodily “noises” (sensations, feelings and discomforts etc.) that normal healthy people learn to live with is something far more serious. With health anxiety, you are convinced that this small match fire is attached to something highly flammable and needs the fire service to extinguish it. In addition to this, when it has been extinguished, you’re convinced that it will keep relighting and cause another major fire.
Accepting health anxiety: Feared illness or actual illness
The internal systems of the body are constantly making normal “noises” that can affect heart rate, breathing patterns, changes muscle tone etc. Many of those sensations that you feel can alter according to your emotional state. Heart rate slows when relaxed, but increases when you are anxious. Your digestion rate can change with emotions and create many noises along the way! Some of the bodily sensation changes can be uncomfortable, startling and even undesirable, but they are not dangerous. When you are convinced that they are symptoms of a serious illness, your anxiety can exaggerate those sensations, and trigger more of them. When you feel these changes, they are not fabricated. The sensations you feel are real but the fearful beliefs and emotions that underpin them are false. The sensations deceive you because you or people close to you usually have suffered a retrospective medical trauma.
Confronting this internal deception is an important part of your return to health. It means acknowledging that the medical illness you fear is not the medical illness that you have; instead, the fear is the illness.
Accepting health anxiety: From denial to acceptance
Accepting that you have a mental health disorder can be a difficult path. Denial, embarrassment, guilt, shame, frustration, anger and self blame are likely to be just some of your emotional obstacles en route. As you continue your journey, you can then understand what your health anxiety means for you and the options available to cope with it.
Your survival mechanisms can include rituals of exercise, dieting, self care programmes all of which are generally good for your long term health. Some of those rituals can become compulsive and indicate that you are avoiding or struggling to deal with the core issue. This is not your fault as you are driven by your emotions, trying your best to minimise that moment of discomfort.
Your journey of change may initially involve looking back on how it originated. Did you make the retrospective link to childhood values that “taught” you to be fearful of your health? This is not about blaming others, more about understanding your foundation layers of belief. Understanding how you “did it” can relieve some of your mind’s confusion. Some of those learning situations were traumatic and in the same way certain phobias are formed, you were hyper-reactive to the “object” of your fear. Typically, with health anxiety, it involves a close member of your family suddenly falling ill. A massive heart attack can give no warning for you to prepare your grief.
When you are a young child it’s difficult to understand what has happened and how your emotions are affecting you. The mark it leaves on your emotional development won’t show itself for some years to come. It’s likely that authority figures who were coping with their own grief may have shielded you from this trauma without involving you in discussions of your grief. What they may not have realised is that you had already made your own (misplaced and often illogical) associations of health anxiety-learning and this is now taking its hold on you.
So the heart attack trauma and all that you then learn about heart functioning becomes a focus of your attention. Before you understand what stress and anxiety is, you are already convinced that this rapid heartbeat (caused by a panic attack) is a major cause for alarm. Will you also have a heart attack like your close relation? If something does happen to you, will it be your fault if your family go through yet more suffering?
What about other types of family traumas that can exacerbate health anxiety? It is well known that when parents go through acrimonious separations, this creates deep insecurity in children who may struggle with anxiety in the future. This can reinforce the health anxiety “seeds” from a family bereavement or be the start a deep feeling of helplessness when symptoms of anxiety (like a racing heart beat) present themselves. If the excessive attention given to a sick child diverts the family rows, the “emotion gain” can be a trigger for health-related attention-seeking behaviour when the child feels unwell in the future (Munchausen Syndrome).
When you bring health anxiety symptoms into teenage hood, the shift towards a socially-oriented value system brings additional pressure to appear “normal” to one’s peers. Feelings of embarrassment when you get attention are likely to heighten your struggle with excessive anxiety symptoms. You want to remain invisible but the tightness in your chest will surely be noticed and be judged by your peers. You fear looking as if you are having a heart attack and the irreversible damage this will have on your frail social esteem. So you avoid presentations, you suffer panic attacks with exams and your school attendance may suffer as a consequence of your anxiety.
You are still convinced that your palpitations are more than just anxiety. Then there’s the dilemma about admitting these issues to your peers. Will they mock you? Will it make the symptoms worse if they know about it? Afraid to speak out about it, you go through a period of silence, stifling your social confidence and avoiding situations that might trigger your anxiety.
When you are tired of running away from it, you finally speak to your family and they offer their reassurance that it will probably just disappear with time. But how do they know? They aren’t doctors so maybe they’re just trying to distract you. You pluck up the courage to see your doctor who wants to refer you to a cardiologist just to make sure that there is no underlying medical issue. This is helpful that someone has heard you but the appointment is months away. During that period of anticipation, it seems like an eternity. You are convinced that it must be serious to have to see a consultant. Your imagination creates any number of catastrophic scenarios of needing major heart surgery, or that you are untreatable or even worse.
When you finally have your medical consultation, you are told by the consultant that all is clear and it’s probably anxiety. Momentarily, you feel reassured; then you feel betrayed. What if they have missed something? The symptoms are still there and you are not ready to fully accept the diagnosis. “What I am feeling can’t just be anxiety!” The symptoms are too real.
Determined to prove the reality of your chest sensations, you research your symptoms with Dr Google. This is a bit risky because during your research, you are likely to only accept what you already believe. You feel tense during your research and it causes your symptoms to become active just reading about the traumas of heart conditions.
Feeling desperate, you let down your guard and go back to your GP who prescribes some medication for your anxiety. You are not elated about taking medication; you have never had to take medication before. Is it safe to introduce something unnatural into your body? Will it have any side effects? When you research the possible side effects, you read that it could actually cause palpitations. Why was this medication prescribed if it can cause the very problem that you want to resolve?
Feeling betrayed by your doctor, you take matters back into your own hands. The next line of attack is trying untested natural remedies by people who seem to be going through the same situation as you. If it works for them, it could help you too! And when you read the reviews, they are fantastic! You haven’t considered the placebo effect just yet.
Sometimes by coincidence, those natural health remedies help, but the racing heart beat still has its moments. Then, a friend opens up and tells you about their anxiety symptoms. They mention that they have had a similar traumatic background with a relation dying suddenly of a medical condition. You are ready to confide in them and the conversation moves to the topic of health anxiety. In that moment, everything adds up. It takes a while to sink in but when you research “accepting health anxiety”, more of it makes sense.
Now you can get the help that you need. You are not seeking treatment for a medically-based condition; you are seeking treatment for a mental health condition.
Click here for more information on health anxiety treatment.
Accepting health anxiety: For more information on treatment for health anxiety contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Types Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
After defining obsessive compulsive disorder, this article will explore the various types of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. The condition can be firstly characterised by having an obsession in which you have repetitive, unwanted, uncontrollable or intrusive thoughts, images or urges that cause emotional distress.
The obsession may then drive the need to perform certain compulsions which form the second part of the condition. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours, rituals or acts that you perform in order to alleviate the emotional distress caused by the obsession. The benefit is usually temporary however.
Sometimes the compulsion remains as a “pure obsession”, where the individual uses an additional internal thought-based ritual to alleviate the emotional distress of the primary obsession e.g. you silently repeat a word ten times to “close” the cycle of anxiety. The additional connected “safety” thought is not usually observable by another person.
Common Types Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Common obsessions include (1) fear of contamination; (2) arranging; (3) fear of harm; and (4) forbidden thoughts.
Common compulsions include (1) decontamination; (2) rearranging and repeating; (3) checking; and (4) cleansing and reassuring.
Whilst there is a common connected compulsion that alleviates the distress of a specific obsession, an individual suffering with OCD may incorporate several different compulsions to alleviate the emotional distress depending on your specific history.
Obsessive thoughts can originate from (or be reinforced by) strong emotional experiences or traumas. Common emotions can include disgust, guilt, fear, blame and shame learned from authority figures in childhood or generated by the individual. These emotions can be connected to the following types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
Obsession: Fear of contamination
A fear of contamination can focus on how your own acts or omissions can contaminate you or how your acts can affect other people. They can also include how other’s acts or omissions can contaminate you.
The most common form of contamination is by direct physical contact. But contamination can also be spread through your senses e.g. how it looks, smells, sounds, tastes and feels. The memory trace of something contaminating can persist for some time after, demanding specific rituals to alleviate the distress of the obsession.
The list of objects that you fear as contaminants can be specific and quite extensive, more than what is commonly considered as a preoccupation with germs, dirt, illness and viruses. For example, contact with animals, bodily fluids and excretions, chemicals and spoiled food may also be feared as a potential source of contamination.
But the fear of contamination can also involve a type of mental contamination where there is no direct physical contact with harmful substances. The mind becomes infected by a certain thought, word, image or memory that connects you with something “contaminating” and this causes an internal feeling of dirtiness and can’t be cleansed with a physical compulsion. An example might be seeing a possession adored by a previous abuser. This mental contamination needs a specific thought-based compulsion to cleanse it and lift you out of the association, like an image of being free from your abuser.
Even more disconnected to physical contamination is a type of “magical contamination” in which the individual feels contaminated by an “unclean” word or unlucky number for example and has gradually become associated with contamination. Magical associations make very little sense to another person who does not share the same belief, but are “real” enough for the individual with magical OCD.
Connected compulsion: Decontamination
Common compulsive strategies to alleviate contamination fear distress can include avoidance of the object, person or situation. Avoidance can be constructive in the short term but will cause high anxiety when there is an obligation to interact with the object.
If avoidance is not an option, then other strategies will be used to limit contamination including using protection. Gloves, masks and other protective equipment suitable for the situation or task may ease the level of anxiety of direct contact.
Confidence in the protective equipment may be complemented by excessive washing, cleaning and hygiene rituals. These rituals can be time-consuming and can adopt a specific ordering of the routine to feel decontaminated. If doubt is triggered by any part of the ritual then the ritual will need revising and until it feels cleansed.
Sometimes the confidence in the ritual is not enough and someone believes that the contamination has developed a new medical condition. This then needs external verification by a doctor or a medical test to reassure the contamination fears.
Someone who uses internal thought-based compulsions and magical thinking may try to cleanse the contamination by repeating “clean” words or counting to a “clean” number to alleviate the distress of contamination.
Obsession: Arranging, organising and sequencing
People with an orderliness, symmetry, completeness or “just right” OCD have an obsession with the way that objects or the features of something are arranged and how they feel. Based on specific criteria, there is extreme discomfort and tension when there is a perceived misalignment and something “does not fit”. The perceived misalignment can be registered through any of your senses; how it looks, sounds, smells, tastes or feels when the object is being touched. Common situations can include attending to features of your own appearance such as how you dress, wear make-up or set your hair, the precise position of furniture, the alignment of personal items, the sound of a note being played on an instrument or the way that written content has been completed.
Arrangement obsessions can also combine with the other types of obsessive compulsive disorder where it necessary to structure the sequence of a cleaning ritual (with contamination OCD) or maintain the exact routine of checking securely (with checking OCD discussed below) for the distress to be alleviated.
Magical OCD associations can indirectly connect the perceived misalignment of an object with the fear of harm to someone or the fear of a catastrophic event.
Connected compulsion: Rearranging, reorganising and repeating
Doubting that the arrangement is “just right” drives the compulsion to rearrange and repeat the ritual as many times as it is needed to achieve a deeper feeling of comfort. The process can be time-consuming, often with nocturnal hours being spent on the ritual. The result is usually mental and physical exhaustion.
It is not uncommon to arrive late or miss deadlines for appointments as doubts creep in with “just not right”-thoughts. Without getting it right, it would disturb the next situation like being able to concentrate on an important meeting. Or it can cause high anxiety with fear of failure if say an academic assignment has been submitted with errors.
This type of OCD, like the other types of obsessive compulsive disorder, can impact on relationships with time-consuming rituals being prioritised over quality time with family and friends. Social interaction at the individual’s house may be avoided in case another person disturbs the symmetry of objects. Even outside the home, meeting new people can involve a degree of social anxiety when you fear judgement from others. Will they notice your personal appearance imperfections?
When you feel that something is not right, magical OCD compulsions might be used to break the misalignment anxiety. Irrelevant objects might need to be touched in a certain way or over a certain number of times to feel comforted again.
Obsession: Fear of harm or damage
With a fear of harm or damage OCD, you have an obsession that through your acts or omissions, you could accidentally, unknowingly, negligently or impulsively harm yourself, harm somebody else or cause damage. These thoughts and urges are repetitive, unwanted and often intrusive with no actual intention of harming anyone or causing damage to anything. When having these intrusive thoughts, you fear losing control over your acts or omissions and this loss of control could then result in subsequent physical harm or damage.
OCD harm fears can generate other shameful fears that there is something desperately wrong with you to be having these intrusive thoughts. You may fear being a secret sociopath and that people or the media will confirm your fears and expose you to the world. With this obsessive insecurity and distrust, you seek constant reassurance from other people or the media that these fears are not true. Ironically, if they give you reassurance, you then question their motives for being honest with you and wonder if there is a conspiracy against you.
Even though it is illogical, OCD harm and danger obsessions might connect the “power” of your thought or mental activity to the actual physical cause of harm or a disaster. When someone is harmed or damage has been done, you then feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility that you are the instigator through your thoughts.
Connected compulsion: Checking
Being in fear of harm or damage by losing control pushes your compulsion to ritually check and recheck that all is safe. You may also seek constant reassurance from other people by continuously asking them, texting them or by thoroughly researching if your danger fears are true.
Other reassuring compulsions including hiding objects that could harm people or avoiding situations in which you consider you could lose control and then act on your obsessions.
Checking compulsions aim to ease the distress associated with the uncertainty or doubt that a situation is safe. For example, that you really have locked the doors to prevent an intruder from entering your house or turned off the appliances in case there is an electrical problem that starts a fire.
When going through your checking ritual, doubts can creep into the process and you wonder if you missed something that could then result in harm. As with the other types of obsessive compulsive disorder, these checking rituals develop a sense of being “just right”, but the feeling can be misplaced with general feelings of anxiety. On generally anxious days, the checking ritual can be confusing and exhausting, wondering if your senses are failing you.
Other compulsions can include returning to the location several times to check that nothing harmful has happened. For example, as a driver, you may retrace your last journey to ensure that the road hump you drove over was not a pedestrian. You may want to take numerous photographs or videos of a situation to be confident that no harm was caused. With bigger disasters, you might ritualistically check the newspapers or research on Google that a catastrophe has not happened.
If you fear self harming you may constantly check yourself in case you have inadvertently hurt yourself. These self harming fears can cause psychosomatic sensations in various parts of your body like tingling or tension, as prompting you to believe that you may have harmed that part of your body and not realised it. These false alarms then cause you to feel constantly on edge, disconnected from your body wondering if a sensation is real or not, checking constantly for reassurance that you have not self harmed.
With an obsessive fear of sexual harm, you could fear that your arousal may trigger an impulsive sexual attack on someone. To alleviate this distress you may be concerned about sensations of sexual arousal. But your sexual thoughts could inadvertently influence you to feel sexually aroused when seeing someone that you don’t want to be attracted to. By triggering sexual arousal, you may then fear that your arousal is out of control and must be connected to real sexual desires towards that person. If you cannot control these desires, you may then impulsively act on them and sexually attack them.
With magical OCD checking compulsions, you might use a specific number of times that you need to check for the situation to feel “just right”. Or you may have “unlucky” checking numbers that you avoid because they have been connected to previous disasters. If the unlucky number is presented in any way, internal mental rituals might then need to be used again to neutralise the fear of harm.
Obsession: Forbidden or taboo thoughts
People who don’t have OCD are usually able to dismiss fleeting taboo thoughts that go against your individual nature or your cultural or religious values. Sufferers of OCD however are unable to separate the intensity, frequency and internal judgement of these thoughts or images. Having these forbidden thoughts convinces you that they must be part of your identity.
Forbidden or taboo OCD obsessions include thoughts or images that are physically violent, sexual and/or blasphemous towards people or subjects that are adored or valued.
Intrusive thoughts of violence can include strangling, stabbing and mutilating someone with any variety of dangerous objects. Examples of taboo sexual obsessions include intrusive thoughts about your (or your partner’s) infidelity, paedophilia, rape, incest, bestiality or thoughts against your sexual identity. Forbidden religious obsessions can include thoughts that might question the strength of your religious beliefs or thoughts that break religious laws (also known as scrupulosity). They can also include intrusive thoughts that involve shouting blasphemous words in a religious location or involve intrusive sinful or sexual thoughts about your deity.
As with other types of obsessive compulsive disorder, those with taboo or forbidden obsessions have no intention of acting upon these intrusive thoughts. This is what distinguishes you from more malicious psychological personality disorders. Instead, you worry that in the future you may lose control and then act on your taboo obsessions. You are convinced that by having these thoughts, there must be something wrong with you.
Another important point is that whereas sexual fantasies involve some form of potential pleasure, sexual obsessions are distressing and involve guilt, shame and self hatred. The responsibility you feel for having these thoughts causes you to over-control them, suppress them and seek reassurance from them.
Magical OCD forbidden or taboo obsessions might exaggerate the power of these thoughts being able to actually cause these events to happen. Magical connections may also be made with what you define as “unlucky” events e.g. by attending a funeral it will cause more death, or believing that something bad might happen on a certain day of the week.
Connected compulsion: Cleansing, reassuring, purifying and undoing
Compulsions related to having forbidden or taboo obsessions aim to alleviate the emotional distress of your intrusive thoughts. Your compulsive acts can include many of the other types of obsessive compulsive disorder behaviours. Objects that could be used to inflict harm on someone may be ritually hidden and then repeatedly checked that the object has stayed in its safe place. Avoidance of the associated situations, people or objects is another common short-term strategy.
Reassurance that you are not the bad character that you define yourself to be will be sought from various sources. Those people that you trust, or consider an authority, and are likely to maintain confidentiality over your sensitive issues will be constantly approached like close family members, doctors or clergy members.
Due to the sensitivity of the obsessions, you rarely feel confident enough to talk to other people about your taboo thoughts in case they misunderstand your condition and label you as malicious or as a potential criminal. This suppression maintains the internal suffering of these disturbing thoughts and your desperate need to alleviate your distress. Reassurance may also be repeatedly sought from online sources by checking the content of relevant topics.
Intrusive thoughts can feel internally contaminating and may be comforted by indirect compulsions. For example, washing compulsions may be used to “cleanse and purify” your intrusive thoughts from your body into your mind. Other arranging compulsions may also be used to help you feel “clean” by maintaining order and alignment in your personal life. Internal mental and magical compulsions may be used like repeating “good” words or excessively praying to undo and cancel out the intrusive negativity of your religious intrusive obsessions. Counting may also be used as a strategy to block intrusive thoughts from entering your mind.
Some compulsions can also serve as an outlet to release the potential urges in your intrusive obsessions. Excessive use of porn may be used with intrusive sexual obsessions to manage the build up of your sexual arousal. Drugs that have a sedating effect may also be over-used to reduce the potential urge to be aggressive.
Other Types Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Compulsive hoarding has been previously listed as one of the types of obsessive compulsive disorder. It has been re-classified as a condition in its own right because many hoarders refuse to accept that they have a problem. In some cases however, the individual’s hoarding issues can be related to OCD.
Hoarding disorder is the excessive retention and collection of objects. Your (and other people’s) living space is swamped by these objects causing potential burdens on your day-to-day functioning, your health, finances, work spaces and social ability. Common living and mobility around the home is obstructed and becomes hazardous or potentially hazardous.
Compulsive hoarding is connected to many issues including the exaggerated importance and emotional attachment of material possessions. Hoarders feel guilty and wasteful about throwing items away and so will retain it in case it has a future use. You continue to make excessive purchases of these treasured items in an attempt to increase the collection, often sacrificing other functional spaces like shower cubicles or ovens.
These collectable items can have connections with one’s history and identity and thus you would feel grief if these items were interfered with or thrown away. Items can also develop personalities and can act as replacements for anticipated memory loss; “I’ll keep hold of this just in case I forget…” is the common response.
Hoarders may have lived in poverty during childhood, experienced trauma following a major lifestyle change like a bereavement or house move. There may be other mental health issues too. Hoarders are also known to suffer with perfectionism and behavioural avoidance. You can have problems with decision-making, organisational skills and procrastination.
Rumination is the repetitive and excessive thinking about the same event. It can involve reflecting on issues which is more analytical in nature. Another type of rumination is brooding which is more negative, repetitive and continual. Hours can be spent being self absorbed in deep thought on topics of morality that may not have satisfactory conclusions or on depressive issues in which the individual is unable to create closure.
Trichotillomania (hair pulling)
Sufferers of Trichotillomania have strong urges to pull hair from any part of the body. It is considered an impulse-control problem often in response to certain (often unconscious) emotional cues such as stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness and worthlessness.
Body dysmorphic disorder is the excessive preoccupation with a perceived defect in one’s appearance. The sufferer is usually convinced about the defect’s negative qualities. The condition can relate to issues of low self esteem, anxiety and perfectionism. It can involve numerous repetitive behaviours like, checking in mirrors, skin picking and reassurance seeking.
Other specific obsessions
Other obsessions may not fit precisely into the above types of obsessive compulsive disorder but can still be classified as OCD. Obsessions can include specific superstitious fears like not walking on the cracks on pavement, luck or bad luck related obsessions, inquisitive obsessions (needing to know all the details of something), speech-related obsessions (speaking perfectly) and fears of losing things. Some obsessions can focus on the hyperawareness of bodily functions like blinking or swallowing.
Other specific compulsions
Other compulsions can be specific to each individual and may not fit the common types of obsessive compulsive disorder listed above. They can include list-making in which the sufferer believes that they will forget something important and this will then lead to a catastrophe. People who fear making mistakes can have the compulsive urge to tell people absolutely everything but in doing so can make a minor issue into a bigger problem e.g. telling your partner every time you notice someone else who is attractive, or feeling the need to elaborate on or confess every detail of a specific issue. Other compulsions can include, skin picking (excoriation), nail-biting, ritualised eating patterns, superstitious behaviours, blinking or staring rituals, and specific touch-related compulsions.
Summary of types of obsessive compulsive disorder
OCD is a serious medical condition that can cause significant dysfunction and emotional distress. With any type of therapy treatment, the therapist will initially explore the make-up of your obsessions and compulsions. They can then devise a treatment plan to help to address the specific features of your condition.
Types of obsessive compulsive disorder: for more details on treatment for OCD please contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Understanding Addiction Relapse Triggers
Addiction relapse triggers: Quitting an addiction should always be understood as a process rather than an accomplished goal. If you are an addict who has overcome your addiction, the job is not finished. The effects of a long-held addiction are likely to be deeply attached to many aspects of your life, including your emotional, mental, environmental, and social levels.
One of the causes that can restart your addictive habit is termed as “addiction relapse triggers”. This can be understood as a phenomenon that occurs when an alcoholic, for example, goes back to the habit of drinking again after a period of abstinence. What makes a relapse occur is the influence of a trigger or group of triggers that drive you right back into your addiction.
These addiction relapse triggers can exist in many forms, but they are also varied enough to range from very obvious triggers to subtle triggers that escape your attention. Visiting the location that is associated strongly with habits of gambling or drinking will obviously draw you in emotionally, creating addictive cravings that lead you to try it “just one more time”. Whereas seeing an advert that promotes what you drink in excess might take you by surprise, playing on your mind until you submit to frustration.
The ability to quit an addiction is achievable for most people. It is usually your surrounding emotional issues, conflicting habits and lack of self-management skills that create triggers that are difficult to resist or subdue. This is why many addicts return to their addictions; you are unaware that your life is littered with triggers and problematic situations for which you have not developed a recovery plan.
With the help of a qualified professional, you can work together to treat the many issues that surround your addiction and identify your personal addiction relapse triggers. Through this process, you can then establish which ones you are ready to confront and which ones you should avoid until you have dealt with the background issues that might destabilise you when you are outside of the rehabilitation centre.
Some of the more common addictions include alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, gambling, video Games, sex, pornography, food, Painkillers, benzodiazepines, and tobacco. There is a growing list of obsessions and compulsions related to modern lifestyles. They are commonly, and in many cases, mistakenly referred to as addictions. This list includes eating disorders, work, television (especially celebrity gossip and reality TV), internet, exercise, mobile phone usage, teeth whitening, retail therapy (or shopping addiction/oniomania), tanning (tanorexia), plastic surgery, coffee, chocolate, Facebook, junk food, beauty products, hoarding and checking finances.
Addiction Relapse Triggers
Listed below are some of the most common addiction triggers that are likely to cause a relapse.
Contrary to popular belief, the bad and tragic times associated with your addictions are not the strongest triggers to cause your relapse; it’s the good times that deceive you best and weaken your resistance. Think back to the experiences where you achieved something special and your addictive substance symbolised your celebration. Was this when your self esteem was soaring and you had the best fun with your drinking partners? Or did the achievement inspire the gambling activities which drove your adrenaline and excitement to the highest levels as you played your riskiest bets and won the games, giving you another euphoric “high”?
When you have quit your addiction for months and restricted your sources of pleasure, these “good times” cravings can return to seduce you for one more mood lift like they did in the old days. It’s seducing because it’s during this period that it seems so unlikely that you will to go back to your addiction now.
Then consider how your brain physiology is so susceptible to the imprint of these joyful memories because it formed deep attachments to higher levels of dopamine during the long periods of your addiction. You cannot deprive yourself of good times, but caution needs to given to how you manage your mood variations, finding new ways to celebrate and new ways cope with your emotion lows.
Places can make incredibly strong connections to your memories, whether they are negative or positive. Even people and objects inside these places act as relevant triggers to the emotions that you have experienced there. Just seeing a single picture can create a wave of negative emotions about a tragic loss or past abuse, whilst the location of your friend’s house can be linked to excitement and fun of wild parties. Even though these location-based triggers are below the level of your consciousness, your addictive behaviour can come to the surface and control your decision-making when you step through the door. It doesn’t take long for the addiction tide to pull you in, only to wake in the morning regretting that you have once again binged on several bottles of beer during the previous night, despite your strong motivation to commit to the recovery plan. And when you revisit the location that you associate with past drug use for example, the environmental trigger rapidly unsettles you. This is because the wiring between your reward centre and memory part of your brain has been welded, raising your expectation to use the drug.
For some time to come, your way out is an uncompromising avoidance to all of these places. If you are surrounded by these triggering places and people (e.g. you take drugs in your family home), continuing support with your therapist will help you maintain control until you are ready to confront your location-based addiction relapse triggers again.
Stress is a constant feature of modern living and the way that you manage it is important for you to feel emotionally balanced. When stress is managed poorly, it can lower your mood and influence anxious and depressive thinking. Additional adrenaline in your system caused by stress inhibits the production of dopamine, something that an addict’s brain has been hard-wired to expect and satisfy on demand from your addictive behaviour. Effective stress management is the key to long-term success in your addiction recovery. As your therapist establishes your emotional profile, stress management techniques will be individualised to help you develop new habits to reduce your stress.
Stress is often considered to be having excessive demands, but a lack of demands can also be stressful if you find it hard to cope with boredom. When you are bored for long periods your time becomes meaningless and you will fill it with whatever is easily available in that moment. Boredom is a major trigger for habits and addictions, and needs to be managed with setting and working towards achievable and realistic goals.
H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired)
HALT is an acronym for some of the states that are considered high risk situations and can make you an easy victim to relapse. According to Ego Depletion theory, when hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness reaches an excess, your willpower to confront your addictive urges is weakened and you will seek immediate comfort. If your comforting strategy is not rehearsed, you are more likely to find comfort in your addiction.
Understanding your own ego and when you are vulnerable to its depletion can help you to take charge of these (and other) excess negative states from overwhelming you. Giving attention to the common healthy lifestyle areas (e.g. eating healthily, managing stress, maintaining social interaction, exercising regularly and sleeping well, practising meditation etc.) are key to preventing relapse from a depleted ego.
Negative emotions from the bad times are at the heart of addictive behaviour and impaired dopamine production. You may have to go back further than the first day that your addictive behaviour kicked off to appreciate this connection. Anxiety, neglect, abuse, betrayal, worthlessness and insecurity are just some of your childhood influences that have created a pathway of dependency. When you found your addictive escape, it temporarily numbed the pain. It was easier than challenging authority figures or trawling back through your emotional history to resolve it. Your “high” remains the reactive mechanism to similar emotions that you feel in your life now. When confronted by negative emotions to resolve, you are tempted to reach for the quick fix because the pain still runs deep.
Gradual exposure to these emotions and their solutions are huge strides to make for someone whose “solution history” is marked by addictive retreat. Embracing the other road is effortful but with therapeutic support, it’s a journey that changes your behaviour and the past emotions that connect them.
Over-confidence is one of the most dangerous addiction relapse triggers that betray you into believing that your addiction no longer exists. Just when you think that you are over it and months (or years) have gone by, you become complacent. Over-confidence deceives you that it’s fine to quit your relapse prevention plan and test the “I’m over it” hypothesis. “Just one more time…” can seem like a reward for all of your efforts and repairs that you have made. And then you realise how foolish you have been and you are back inside your addiction chains again!
Don’t confuse over-confidence with self confidence. With self confidence, you accept that your addiction is a chronic disease and your recovery is a life-long process; you choose never to want “just one” ever again. With self confidence, you embrace your commitment to this choice.
The attention from a new relationship can be hard to resist, but new relationships can come loaded with emotional rebounds that are likely to jeopardise your recovery plan. Rehabilitation programs are very aware of these risks and advise staying clear of new relationships for at least a year during recovery.
So why would rehabilitation programs advise this? Any recovery plan demands commitment and your commitment to it can waiver when the honeymoon period of a relationship is in full swing and the excitement of it can be so seducing. Moreover, this relationship phase is so euphoric that it can deceive you into believing that your new partner’s special attention is a sign of your addiction treatment cure. It’s as if your addiction high has been replaced with a relationship high, without the necessary time to naturally balance these changes.
After a few months, when this honeymoon phase settles down, all of those normal things like arguing and temporary break-ups generate mood changes that need open communication to fix them. If your partner isn’t ready to communicate a solution, then anger, resentment, jealousy, loneliness and abandonment fears can drive your stability downwards. During those emotional lows, you will seek immediate relief from your addiction.
There are many individual and social addiction relapse triggers that can compromise your “clean” intentions. A social situation where your addictive substance is the main event is undoubtedly a risk to your recovery and needs to be avoided in the early stages due to the pressure of social compliance.
When you look back on your addictive pathway, peer pressure may have been the factor to start your addiction and it continues to be your vulnerability when you fear offending a close friend’s offer of another “hit”. Even without an offer from a friend, just being surrounded by your peers who are under the influence (when you are not participating) can cause you to feel lonely and alienated from the surrounding social mood and force your relapse.
And social unease can still be your weakness even when you are with acquaintances, colleagues or strangers who are not addicts. You may struggle to blend in with them and then feel the pressure to look as if you are having a good time. A quick hit can momentarily take the edge off your social anxiety.
If you are convinced that your addiction is the source of your “better self” or your social confidence, you may believe that you need it to be “the life and soul of the party” and without your substance, you are inadequate, dull and a “nobody”.
How you believe that your addiction defines your self esteem and social esteem is an essential part of your recovery treatment. When you have worked through these issues, a return to your social life is no longer a threat to your recovery.
Reminiscing Times of Addiction
The reason that your addiction gained power over you is because at some level you gave it a reward. It convinced you that it numbed the pain of abuse or control, gave you an escape from depression or anxiety, or relieved the stress from work. You persisted with it until the need for it became automated. Then the balance changed. It took over and became the problem that controls you. It destroyed the relationships and situations that are important to you.
In your mind it needs to stay loathed with all memory traces of the addiction’s glory completely eliminated. Only then can you be free from it. But there’s an internal danger to its security; it’s called reminiscing. Reminiscing is also known as replaying the “good old times” where you glamorise your addictive past, boasting about how much more you could “use” compared to your peers and of the power it gave you.
When your mood is low and you are searching for a way out of a problem, the frustration can put you into a daze. You are doing what is natural though, delving into the depths of your subconscious mind to access a solution. You are entering a reflective state of “self-talk” that some would call self hypnosis. When your resolve is strong, your internal voice will reject your romantic past with your substance. When you are down, reminiscing the times of addiction can seem like an attractive activity. Without developing assertive thinking however, it will be a trigger to a relapse.
Learning to stay firm with your intentions is an essential part of your treatment. When you can access an assertive and positive thinking attitude, it takes charge of how you handle those situations. It also guides your mental rehearsals and reflections when you are away from the situations. Learning to take control of your mind will help you eliminate fondly thinking about your past addiction as a glorious period in your life. You will reframe your addiction’s past as a betrayal that it deserves.
Many of the social pressures that can cause your addiction to relapse are listed above in “social settings”. On the opposite end of the continuum is social isolation. Having your own space is important but the mix needs to be applied effectively to avoid loneliness, as this can be another one of the many addiction relapse triggers. Shy introverts are justified to argue a case for avoiding some social interaction, with the degree of social anxiety that you experience, but consider if your addiction has really become your substitute best friend.
Developing self confidence and self worth is an important part of your recovery and this pursuit needs to be placed in the context of welcoming enough external help to support your recovery. During times of social isolation, you can reinforce your negative state of mind. Strong feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, blame, depression and embarrassment then drive you back into your cycle with no positive disruption from others to pull you out of it. Developing a close network of trustful friends can offer you this help, regardless of how much you might view the support of others as a reminder of controlling behaviour from previous authority figures.
Another source of loneliness assistance outside of this friendship circle is the help from your addiction support group. It allows you the opportunity to share experiences and manage situations with those who have similar backgrounds, but in a non-judgemental framework. You can also gain valuable insights into the destruction that other addicts have suffered in their journey, helping you to place your own experiences into a social context. As another benefit of support meetings, it’s natural to form acquaintances and friendships from these support meetings too.
You may personally prefer to avoid group meetings or think that you have exhausted all of the benefits from attending previous addiction support meetings. Individual therapy can still help you to challenge your own negative self limiting beliefs and moderate some feelings of social isolation.
Returning to the situations where you have previously accessed your substance should be avoided during the early stages of your treatment. In these early stages, the trigger is often too strong and complex, and is likely to cause your relapse.
As your therapy progresses, your therapist will help you deal with the surrounding issues and set up a controlled exposure plan to confront those situations again. So if social situations are your vulnerability, treating your self confidence and social confidence is fundamental to the re-exposure of social situations. Your treatment will prepare you to engage with social situations in controlled stages, dealing with craving control and specific relapse issues that are contained in the situation.
Avoidance of these situations can last for a period of months because even though you may believe that you are ready, there’s usually more therapeutic and developmental work to be done before you can confidently confront those situations without feeling vulnerable.
Addiction Relapse Triggers: Summary
In summary, the achievement of quitting an addiction is already a great milestone, but it doesn’t end there. Being aware of and treating the issues that surround your addiction are important stages of your continued recovery. It takes time to dissociate these triggers with the reward of using your substance and reconnect it with the new reward of abstinence.
As you embrace your therapy plan, understand that these triggers are not only diverse and complicated, but also very unique to your specific physical, mental, emotional disposition and life experiences. Your commitment to your therapy will help you identify key techniques and management tools to prevent a relapse.
There are many therapeutic approaches. Hypnotherapy can help you disconnect the triggers to your addiction and anchor new and positive responses to these triggers. Hypnotherapy can also treat the surrounding psychological issues which influence a relapse.
For more information on how to treat your Addiction Relapse Triggers with hypnotherapy, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
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: Agoraphobia 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.