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.
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: This is commonly associated with the fear of open spaces but can include numerous fears which ultimately leave the sufferer housebound. Before a complex agoraphobia develops, individual phobias and/or a social phobia may combine to gradually affect the sufferer. Other fears that can activate the agoraphobia include a fear of loneliness (monophobia), a fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) which conditions a hurried exit from the situation to a safe place (usually your home), and health anxiety (hyperchondriasis) – the fear of that your anxiety symptom is a more harmful condition. As these fears and avoidance strategies progress, panic disorder can surface where the panic attacks can seem random and unexpected. Your home becomes the “safe place”, but journeys from home can vary from individual to individual depending on the method of travel, distance from home, the activity upon arrival, the situation, time of day, whether you can trust your company during the journey and/or upon arrival. When agoraphobia is untreated, the anticipation of leaving the house can trigger the panic attacks meaning that your home is no longer your safe place.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: What causes a phobia?
There are numerous causes of a phobia ranging from direct trauma, parental influences and genetics. Follow this link more information on the causes of a phobia.
Diagnosis and prognosis of a phobia
Most specific or individual phobias are not formally diagnosed by a doctor. As the condition develops in childhood, you are often told by parents or other authority figures that you have a phobia. As a young child, you live “within” the condition, guided by your parents’ reactions and management of your phobia. Their diagnosis or lack of diagnosis could be influenced by the existence of their own phobias which biases their reaction to you e.g. if they have a social phobia they are more likely to protect you from embarrassment, advising you to avoid a social situations where you could be exposed to “embarrassment” harm.
Following their informal diagnosis and you grow older as a child, you will then research your own condition for confirmation of your behaviour, symptoms and potential coping strategies. Avoidance is the common short-term coping strategy but each retreat only serves to reinforce the power of the phobia over you.
Shock is a common reaction to the diagnosis of a condition as you begin to come to terms with the full meaning of a phobia. As a growing child, avoidance may continue to dominate your behaviour even with your progressive understanding of the phobia. Assessing possible solutions to your phobia can be met with indecision because the commitment necessary to confront it can build anticipatory anxiety when the situation beckons. The accumulation of anticipatory anxiety itself can “flood” your response to the phobic situation, overwhelm you and create yet another traumatic setback in your self help phobia treatment plan; your anticipatory anxiety feelings justify your avoidance instincts.
Fear of embarrassment may play a central role in the prognosis of a simple phobia through teenagehood as your value system shifts towards the approval of your peers. Again with a social phobia you can rationally understand how it is affecting you, yet still feel helpless to deal with the negative attention that it can generate.
Between teenagehood and adulthood, some phobia sufferers can react with denial or shame until you are able to fully accept how the condition is affecting you. To admit that you have anxiety might be considered a weakness by your peers and be a target for bullying. This adds more anxiety in those situations where your panic reaction could be visible to your peers e.g. when speaking in public.
A fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is a demanding situation for many people. When you add social anxiety, it can expose the common social phobia symptoms like blushing and shaking to your peer audience. It can also affect the control of your speech with tension felt in the diaphragm and vocal chords, leaving you breathless when you are desperately trying to sound confident. The effort to suppress these symptoms becomes a distraction to the skills needed to speak in public, but are considered the priority for the social phobia sufferer.
A fear of public speaking is a phobic situation that can span school, undergraduate study and your adult career. Public speaking traumas from school can leave avoidance footprints throughout this period, influencing you to avoid undergraduate presentation tasks, or job applications (or promotions) that specify public speaking in the new role. Where there is the opportunity to delegate, you will justify it as being good development for the subordinate staff.
If the growing need to confront your phobia hasn’t sabotaged your career opportunities, the damage that it can do to your relationships may serve as a “wake up call” to treat certain phobias. In a new relation, the early motivation of the “honeymoon period” can easily mask a deeper social phobia, with shyness appearing as an endearing quality. During this stage of relationship bliss, the anxiety is temporarily “transferred” to your partner as you both push emotional boundaries and are being supported by the other partner to be your “best” person. As the honeymoon period fades, the social anxiety “returns” to its original owner with the declining desire to socialise if the social phobia has not been overcome. The social phobic partner hopes that their gregarious partner is accepting of these changing relationship dynamics or the relationship can be strained with a diminishing desire to socialise together.
Even a flying phobia can impact on a couple’s holiday arrangements and be a source of relationship break down for intolerant partners. Indeed, there are solutions to enjoy holidays together without the need for flying, but the pressure to overcome a phobia is again brought into the limelight with a new family. Parents are aware of how young children can easily learn and imitate phobic behaviour. In an attempt to avoid guilt and shame, this can be a time to motivate the phobic parent to confront the phobia. A phobia held for many years is still treatable, but the treatment now has a long history of conditioned avoidance to work through. The treatment also has to take into consideration the time pressures of working and a family lifestyle that limit the time necessary for graduated exposure to the phobia and its benefits to alleviate it.
During adulthood, the consolidation of personality traits and other mental health conditions can reinforce the affects of a phobia e.g. anger may be communicated as a defence strategy to mask the embarrassment of the phobia or some OCD issues can attach themselves to the phobia forming deeper ritualised patterns of avoidance.
But despite the potential restrictions that a phobia can cause you, your family and your lifestyle, the growing awareness and tolerance of a phobia as a mental health issue can mean that your phobia can still be supported. As you learn to live with your phobia and justify your avoidance, those people close to you can, where possible, change their lives so that you are protected from the distress of your panic attack.
What are the major common symptoms of a phobia?
A panic attack is the acute anxiety condition common with all phobias. You can feel specific symptoms whenever you encounter the object or situation of your phobia. In some cases, you can also experience milder symptoms just by thinking about that object or situation. The severity of your individual anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person.
Psychological anxiety symptoms can include:
- Extreme feelings of fear: these will be intensified as you get closer to your specific phobia object or situation.
- Irrational thoughts: you can appreciate that what you fear does not affect other people in the same way; and that the likelihood that the feared experience is going to actually happen is very remote; and that your fearful reaction is usually disproportionate to the degree of actual harm that you are in, yet this still does not alleviate the severity of your response.
- Hopelessness, frustration and confusion: the conflict of these emotions tearing away at your mind can leave you feeling helpless, anxious and embarrassed.
Physical anxiety symptoms can include:
- Dizziness, light headedness, and nausea when facing your phobia.
- Excessive sweating and an increase in heart rate/palpitations.
- Shortness of breath and shaking.
- An upset stomach (nervous diarrhoea) or IBS is also a common.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Common Phobia Treatments
For many people the common self help phobia treatment is avoidance. If the phobic object or situation rarely affects your life then avoiding it (in the short term) will give you a feeling of control. Connected to avoidance is delegation with certain specific phobias. Getting someone else to remove a spider with a spider phobia (in the short term) is an effective way of minimising anxiety. Changing your lifestyle to minimise exposure can seem drastic to non-phobia sufferers but would only be done out of necessity to reduce long term suffering.
After avoidance, delegation and lifestyle changes to minimise exposure, the next level of treatment approach can include a combination of attending self-help groups and self-initiated exposure therapy. With simple phobias, creating a hierarchy of graduated exposure situations can take time to work through but with the effective use of relaxed breathing techniques or mindfulness, it can prevent the “flooding” of intense anxiety. Flooding (when the participant is not prepared) can cause traumatising setbacks in the alleviation of a phobia.
Complex phobias and agoraphobia are usually more difficult for the sufferer to objectively confront and work through by yourself, unless you understand your belief system and can stage graduated exposure situations that don’t generate internal conflicts. This is where certain talking therapies like counselling or CBT can be helpful, creating an understanding of your beliefs and conflicts so that you can then progressively confront your phobia.
Medication such as tranquilisers is not usually helpful for phobias but they can reduce the short term effect of a recent traumatic exposure of anxiety. Beta-blockers can reduce the effect of panic when you know that you are about to confront a phobic situation e.g. when public speaking. Antidepressants are more beneficial with certain long terms situations found with complex phobias and agoraphobia. The use of any medication should be done in consultation with your GP.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: Treating phobias using Hypnotherapy
You may tell yourself that the source of your phobia does not pose an actual threat, however, your mind and body will still react with fear because your phobic reaction exists at the subconscious level. Hypnotherapy is a technique that allows you to understand and disconnect the cause of your phobia. It can help you communicate with your subconscious mind to change how you feel towards the phobia. Under hypnosis, you will feel extremely relaxed while still being in control allowing you to confront your fears without actual exposure trauma. Follow this link for more information on how you can treat your phobia and fear with hypnotherapy.
Phobia and fear treatment Cardiff: for more information contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff
Affirmations – Unveiling the power of words
What are affirmations? Words have extreme power. When you communicate, your words can not only influence others, but can also transform your internal state on a deep and profound level.
Affirmations are powerful, positive statements that aim to direct your conscious and subconscious mind, challenging previously held unhealthy and negative thinking patterns. When they are spoken with conviction, they can alter your thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviour. When used intentionally to create change, they can help project you into your achievements.
What are the benefits of using affirmations?
Affirmations have helped thousands of people make important changes in their lives. They work because they have the ability to program your mind into accessing and believing the repeated statements and concepts. There’s more on why and how they work (or don’t work) later.
There are several benefits of using positive affirmations, which include their ability to:
- Motivate you to act. And when you action your goals, it further boosts your desire to continue your actions.
- Concentrate on your goals. Goal achievement is helped by persistently keeping your mind focused in the “goal zone”.
- Change your negative thought patterns into positive ones.
- Influence your subconscious mind to access new beliefs.
- Help you feel positive about yourself and boost your self confidence.
How do you create affirmations?
The most common practise of creating affirmations consists of using these five stages.
Stage one: List your negative features
Make a list of what you consider to be the negative features or qualities about
- You as a person, or
- How you cope with life, or
- The situation you are in (home life, work life, relationships).
Your list could be made from your own conclusions or from external criticism (past or present). You may have held onto some of these past comments especially if they were made from authority figures when you were young. At this stage of the process, you don’t have to judge the accuracy of what people have said to you; just formulate a list.
As you make the list, note any general traits such as “I tend to dwell on or be sensitive to what people have said about me” (relating to possible low self esteem and social anxiety issues).
Then, as you identify any common themes, focus your attention on any part of the body that feels tense. For example, it could be a feeling of tension in your diaphragm or in your shoulders. This connection between your negative feature and location in your body is discussed below in stage four.
Stage two: Rephrase your negative features as a positive affirmation
This stage involves identifying and expressing the (positive) opposite, or antonym of your negative feature. You can use a thesaurus to assist you in this stage of the process. Using the example above, a tendency to hold on to criticism could be rephrased as the following affirmation: “I am feeling empowered and more confident as I release external criticism”.
When identifying the new positive words, note the words that resonate with you as suitable and believable replacements to the negative feature. Some words will be moderately positive and some extremely positive. Ranking them can help decide if you are ready for a small or profound change of beliefs.
There is more information on how to write effective affirmations (also known as suggestions in self hypnosis) in the following article, in the section entitled “Creating suggestions”.
Stage three: Repeat your affirmation regularly
Speak your affirmation (silently or verbally) for five minutes, at least three times a day. You can say your affirmation whilst doing something repetitive like putting on make-up or shaving. This has the visual benefit of seeing your facial expression and adding emphasis in front of a mirror.
You could also repeat your affirmation whilst in a relaxed state as a “suggestion” when you practise self hypnosis. Even writing or typing your affirmation can help engage your mind and body (as kinaesthetic learning) into your affirmation.
Make the process of repeating affirmations a regular habit to integrate the desirable state that you seek.
Stage four: Anchor the affirmation into your body
Place your hand onto the area that caused your discomfort when you made your negative features list. As you say your positive affirmation, breathe with your hand on the area of discomfort, as if your combined exhalation and hand placement is soothing or releasing the physical tension in that part of your body.
Stage five: Receive your affirmation from an external source
If you feel uncomfortable about asking someone else to repeat the affirmation to you, make a recording of your own voice saying the affirmation. Then play the audio recording back to yourself. There is nothing wrong in being your own coach at times!
Examples of affirmations
Affirmations are positive statements that many people use to boost their confidence or feel in control of a situation. They may be used for achievements, general happiness, health, motivation in work, or even improving relationships. Here are some example suggestions to help get you started:
- In order to feel more confident about achieving success in your life, you can phrase your affirmation as follows: “Achieving success is a simple process, and I am committed and empowered to be successful in my life.”
- Affirmations like, “I am passionate about my job and committed to fulfilling my ambitions” can be used for inspiration towards your job.
- To motivate yourself to adopt a new habit or stay away from a negative one, you can use affirmations like: “I am focused on achieving my ideal weight of X kg by following a healthier lifestyle.” Or “Each day I am finding it easier to quit smoking as I find new healthier habits to replace my old unhealthy ones.”
- Affirmations to improve relationships with partners can be phrased as follows: “I love who I am, and I am openly attracting positive relationships into my life.” Or to improve your relationship with your children, you could use: “I am guiding my children to be the best version of themselves.”
Affirmations: common question and answers
Are affirmations best said every day?
You do not have to follow a hard and fast rule about frequency and timing of self-affirmations. However, psychotherapist Dr. Ronald Alexander of Open Mind Training Institute believes that repeating affirmations 3 to 5 times daily can significantly help reinforce positive beliefs.
Can they help someone with anxiety or depression?
Whilst affirmations are not designed as cures for anxiety and depression, they do help to engrave feelings of calm and hope as part of a total self care programme.
Can sleep be improved with affirmations?
Are affirmations just another name for positive Mantras?
Affirmations are “belief phrases” that instil feelings of positivity and happiness, while helping to change thoughts and attitudes. Mantras are spiritual or religious sounds or phrases that apparently have no verbal meaning. Mantras act as vehicles to help you access heightened states of awareness.
Why don’t affirmations work for some people?
Some people often state that affirmations do not work for them. There are two fundamental reasons for this. Firstly, positive affirmations are coming into deep conflict with your own internal negative feelings.
A study by the University of Waterloo addressed this issue by stating that whilst positive affirmations may benefit people with high self-esteem, they may actually be harmful and backfire in “negative” individuals who probably need them the most. This group included those with severe low self esteem, anxiety, self doubt or depression.
In the study, when the negative individuals used affirmations, they felt that the positive statements were in deep conflict with their prior negative belief system. In the short term, the affirmations actually made them feel worse about themselves. Ironically, these negative individuals felt better when they were allowed to “speak” badly about themselves, because the statements were compatible with their already-negative belief system.
In order to gain the benefits of affirmations without harming your mental health, it is suggested that you start by going neutral instead of starting with “very positive” affirmations. By introducing reality-based neutral statements, your brain will not trigger bad feelings or reject the status quo. Adopting neutral statements like “I am learning to accept myself as I am” or “Today I am feeling OK about myself” will give you a fighting chance to generate real change and appreciate the benefits of affirmations in progressive stages.
The second reason that affirmations don’t work for you is because your affirmation practise and structure is wrong.
Making use of positive affirmations at times when you are not feeling good about yourself or about something will again make your brain come into conflict with what it feels and what you’re saying in your affirmation. The solution is to repeat affirmations in your Alpha State (a state of mind that is more open to accepting suggestions). By accessing your Alpha State, it will help you to embrace a belief with greater power and efficiency. The best ways to attain an Alpha State are by using breathing techniques, meditation and self hypnosis prior to repeating your affirmations. You can also use recorded or self-recorded audios containing your affirmations to enhance their internalisation.
Finally, it is important to make sure that you format your affirmations correctly. For example, aim to focus on what you want to achieve rather than what you are trying to move away from (or don’t want). There is more helpful information on writing effective affirmations (also known as suggestions in self hypnosis) in the section of this article entitled “Creating suggestions”.
Affirmations are powerful self-help tools to influence changes in your moods, feelings, thoughts and habits. They require practise to be effective. If you are struggling to make affirmations work for you however, consider consulting with a professional hypnotherapist who can help you to create and structure your affirmations. They can also use hypnosis to help internalise your affirmations as believable suggestions. You can then continue your self-help programme independently, developing your affirmations/suggestions to transform different aspects of your life.
For further information on how to benefit by using affirmations, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
How To Practise Self Hypnosis
Practise self hypnosis: Are you ready to help yourself?
Modern living generally prescribes that if you have a health issue then you should visit a doctor. Similarly, if you are going through a period of stress or anxiety, then you need to see a therapist. These professionals will suggest the best medication and therapeutic solution to your problems.
There is a general misconception however that in order to get well and tackle your problems properly, you have to receive help from someone else, someone who is professionally qualified to deal with your issues. Seeking assistance from a professional gives you the feeling that you getting something that is more beneficial than if you took some remedial steps yourself.
In certain circumstances seeking professional help is a sensible solution, but for most of the population, it is simply unnecessary to spend huge amounts on therapy sessions or on prescribed medication. In many cases you can heal your own symptoms without receiving help from anyone else. All you need is determination, and a bit of self discipline (yes, you already have that!) The rest will follow naturally as you experience the benefits from your input.
This article will offer you some of the ways that you can become your own therapist. All you have to do is to learn to practise self-hypnosis.
What is self hypnosis?
Self hypnosis can be defined as a self-initiated process to deliberately induce a state of concentrated, heightened suggestibility. The process can initially involve changes in your breathing and postural tension to enable a deeper feeling of relaxation. You can then employ suggestions (affirmations), your imagination and visualisation techniques to access a future desirable state (your goal). You may also practise self hypnosis to alter the meaning of past experiences.
Practise self hypnosis: Common misconceptions
Some of the common misconceptions about your ability to practise self hypnosis usually relate to the general misconceptions about externally guided hypnosis (i.e. when the hypnotic induction is being externally guided by another person such as a hypnotist or hypnotherapist).
These misconceptions of hypnosis tend to be portrayed in the media and convince the audience that:
- You will not wake up from a hypnotic trance: Everyone “wakes up” from a hypnotic trance. Self hypnosis is a natural, relaxed state; if you do fall asleep, you will wake up when you are ready.
- You will lose control of your mind and reality: The “power” of hypnosis is in the subject not the person doing the hypnosis. In the case of self hypnosis you are guiding your own thoughts. You are controlling the whole experience.
- You will weaken your mind and become more suggestible to adverts after hypnosis: There is no evidence that hypnosis makes you more susceptible to general advertising. With self hypnosis, you decide which suggestions that you want to follow.
In the practise of self hypnosis, you are inducing your own hypnotic state and can decide when to exit your hypnosis. During your hypnosis you will be aware of and in control of your actions. You are choosing your suggestions and thus choose the direction of your goal.
Practise self hypnosis: What can it treat?
Self hypnosis can be used to change your thinking patterns, emotions and behaviour in a variety of issues. You can practise self hypnosis to deal with everyday problems such as the inability to relax, releasing stress, poor concentration, prioritising, general problem-solving, confidence rehearsal to master skills, and reducing emotions like anger.
You can also practise self hypnosis to achieve medium to long-term goals. These can include dealing with low self esteem, anxiety, depression, breaking bad habits, addictions such as managing craving when stopping smoking, chronic pain, performance anxiety, sports performance, sleep problems and changing negative eating patterns.
Approaching self hypnosis
A common ambition when you first practise self hypnosis is to try and fix deeper long term problems in one session. The bigger problems take dedication and persistence to resolve and a thorough understanding of your core values. Self hypnosis is not a wand waving exercise! Instead, aim to be realistic about your goal. Practise in small steps, achieving small goals rather than miracle cures. First focus your practises on altering day to day issues where you can observe a measurable change. This could be rehearsing some points that you want to present at a meeting, visualising confidence in an upcoming awkward social interaction or problem-solving a hectic schedule to ensure it runs smoothly the following day.
By setting small goals in the early stages, you can learn to appreciate your heightened state of awareness that accompanies self hypnosis. This will involve just developing breathing techniques and lowering levels of physical tension. When you can achieve this state, you can then use it for rehearsing something that might be causing you a low level of anxiety or stress e.g. planning what to take on an important trip. It’s incredible what the subconscious mind will present to you in self hypnosis when you have taken a step back from a taxing situation ahead. You can then add these ideas gained from your self hypnosis into your active note list.
The next stage involves using hypnotic suggestions to direct your mind towards your goal. Suggestions can be similar to affirmations, but when used is a hypnotic state, the affirmation can bypass the conscious mind without interference. The affirmation then becomes a suggestion that can be more readily accepted by the unconscious mind.
Previously, if you have tried consciously repeating affirmations and found little benefit from the process, the hypnotic state can be what gives the affirmation the “power” to transform it into a “believable” belief.
You can use hypnotic suggestions for a whole variety of short-term and long-term goals. You may want to conquer public speaking, build confidence in certain situations like driving or sports performance, build your self esteem, or break a habit like smoking, nail biting or overeating.
When creating suggestions, there are certain “mind” rules that your unconscious mind will accept. These are commonly taught in hypnosis and hypnotherapy courses. These “mind” rules will help focus you towards your goal (rather than away from it). When you create suggestions incorrectly, your unconscious mind will simply reject them.
Here are some suggestions for your suggestions (!)
- The subconscious mind processes positive thoughts; negative statements will direct your mind further towards the negative state. Try not thinking of an orange! Exactly! Don’t tell your mind what you don’t want; instead tell it what you do want. Saying that “I am not stressed. I was never anxious. I will never feel tense again” will be interpreted as “…stressed…tense…anxious”. Instead, make the suggestion positive e.g. “I am relaxing and feel peaceful. My body is calm and still. I feel empowered and strong”.
- Start the suggestion with “I am…” to give it power and affirm what follows on from it. Statements stating with “I want…” will affirm the “wanting” without always having what follows it.
- Phrase your suggestion in the present tense rather than in the future tense. Instead of saying, “I will be more confident”, say, “I am feeling more confident each day”. In response to a future tense structured suggestion, the subconscious mind will reply with “When will it happen? Tomorrow? Next month?”
- Include at least one action word or verb (ending with “ing” e.g. “I am striving…”) in your suggestion to affirm that you are the one taking action towards this positive change. After you take action, it will inspire you to continue your journey and adapt your suggestions.
- Include at least one feeling word or dynamic emotion e.g. calm, secure, liberated, inspired etc. E.g. “I am achieving calmness as I practise self hypnosis”. Select the most relevant emotion that resonates with you. Emotions add energy into your affirmation and can act as a catalyst to change beliefs.
- Create realistic suggestions that complement your existing beliefs. If for example you currently believe that you are at the negative end of the continuum of beauty, then your unconscious mind is likely to reject suggestions that attempt to place you immediately on the positive end of the beauty continuum e.g. “I am the best looking person in the world!” When you start to practise self hypnosis, pitch the suggestions a few steps ahead of you so that you can warm to them. Suggestions can be modified as your belief grows.
- Focus on one goal at a time. Decide your priority and persist with it. Adjust the content of your suggestion as you make progress with your goal. If your goal seems to be hitting a block, use a problem-solving self hypnosis session to understand what may be causing it. Do this by visualising taking a step out of your problem/goal situation and calmly observing the issue objectively from a short distance. Look into the problem noticing a variety of possible solutions. It’s amazing what can be solved in your self hypnotic state.
Ready to practise self hypnosis
Now let’s consider the specific technique of how to practice self hypnosis. You are ready when you have identified a realistic hypnotic suggestion. Here is the self hypnosis procedure:
- Find a relaxing and comfortable location
Find a place without noise or any other disturbance, especially during your initial sessions. Once you get into your practice routine, you can perform it anywhere. Allow extra time e.g. 15-30 minutes so that your mind is not thinking about what you have to do next. Be seated in a relaxed posture, preferably with a head support like when sitting in a recliner chair. Lying down may influence you to fall asleep. This is not the main purpose of your self hypnosis, even though you might benefit from a power nap!
- Change your style of breathing
The breathing technique involves movement of the abdomen when you inhale. This encourages the release of tension in your diaphragm. Follow this link for more information on how to breathe to relax.
- Eye focus or eye closure
The choice is yours whether you keep your eyes open or closed. With eyes open, you can focus on a specific spot, either on the wall in front of you or on a distant object. Staring at an object can cause your eyes to become naturally heavy so that they will close with little effort, but closing your eyes is not essential.
I personally prefer to have the eyes closed to be more observant of how your imagination can interact with your own thoughts. Without any visual distraction, it can also help you appreciate the subtle changes in physical tension throughout your body too (stage 4). Close your eyes at any time that it feels natural to you.
- Relax your body
The release of muscle tension can be combined with each exhale as if breathing out any internal tension that you can feel. When inhaling, breathe in a pleasant feeling of heaviness. Progressively move through the muscles in your body, first starting with the release of tension in your shoulders, gradually moving down to your fingers. Then continue this release from the top of your head, moving down through your body to your toes. If you prefer working up the body from toes upwards, then use that technique. Not that the neck and jaw are common areas that can accumulate tension.
Progressive muscles relaxation (PMR) is an alternative way to release muscle tension. It involves gently tensing groups of muscles (with or without movement) in a specific area before actively relaxing these tense muscles. Move through the whole body using this “tense and release” method to appreciate where you feel tension from top to toe.
By tensing the muscles first when using PMR, it helps you to become more aware of your muscular system, particularly with tension felt in postural muscles. But if you exercise regularly by toning muscles in your body at a gym or anywhere else however, you will probably have this kinaesthetic awareness already. When you can relate to your body in this way then use the simple tension-release method (without first tensing the muscles first) as described above.
- Keep the focus on your suggestions
When you decide to practice self hypnosis, it is the use of suggestions to direct your mind to a specific goal that distinguishes self hypnosis from meditation and mindfulness.
Suggestions can be repeated out loud or silently. Repeating them coldly will have little effect on your goal attainment. So, as you repeat them, vary the emphasis that you give to certain words, engaging your emotions and imagination into each repetition. Alter the speed at which you repeat your suggestions, sometimes dwelling on a certain word to extract a different meaning. Visualise being inside the affirmation, acting out the positivity contained in the suggestion as if it is happening right now!
It can also be useful anchoring the affirmation in the part of your body that felt discomfort when you first began working on the negative situation that you want to change. The diaphragm is a common area of tension with almost any negative emotion. Lightly place your hand at the top of your abdomen (or anywhere else) to comfort the area. As you inhale, “breathe into this area”. Relax the area with each repetition of your suggestion. Release the tension with the next exhale. This process can help move you away from just going through the motions of repeating a “simple cold statement” into a deeper emotional and physical experience where you positively embody the goal that you seek.
- Exit point
When you feel satisfied with the self hypnosis session, you can gently exit your hypnotic state. Gradually count up from one to ten, feeling progressively more alert and activated with each number until you reach ten. You can open your eyes if they were closed, or move your eyes away from the point that you were focusing on. Your self hypnosis session is now complete.
Practise self hypnosis: common questions
Is self hypnosis a skill?
Yes, I consider self hypnosis to be a skill that you develop and make permanent. As with most skills, you need to practise them to master them. Some people have better visualisation abilities than others and may be more reflective in their learning style. Having these traits can mean that self hypnosis can seem like a “natural” activity for you.
But for others who don’t have these traits, it doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from self hypnosis; it may just take a little bit longer for you to benefit. Your belief and persistence will certainly help you achieve your goals when you are ready to practise self hypnosis.
How often and for how long should you practise self hypnosis?
You could start to practise self hypnosis once per day, maybe after work to create a mental partition between your work stress and relaxation at home. Initially, focus on the breathing and physical relaxation stages of self hypnosis for about 5 minutes.
As you progress with this stage, integrate suggestions that help you to lower levels of work-related tension. “I am learning to access a deeper state of calmness using breathing techniques to separate my work and my home life” could be your starting suggestion.
As a guide, the duration of your self hypnosis practise session (with suggestions) should be about 10-20 minutes, with the suggestion stage forming about half of the self hypnosis time.
Make good use of quieter periods in your day, like during work breaks or lunchtime to practise your breathing and help keep some of these techniques accessible for your use later in your day. The part of your day when you don’t have time for these techniques is probably the time that you need it most!
Remember that the quality of your practise is more important than the time that you spend in your practise. Mastering the breathing technique stage is fundamental to your progress and your ability to then integrate your suggestions. With effective breathing, your competence will increase, meaning that less time will be needed in your practise session to be benefit.
Is recording suggestions more effective than repeating them to yourself?
When you are guiding your own (self) hypnosis, a part of your mind still needs to be conscious to direct the experience. This can reduce your ability to readily accept the suggestions during the early stages. It takes a lot of practise to master your self hypnosis with minimal conscious interference.
An alternative method of self hypnosis is to write a script of the various stages above, and then make an audio recording of your script. You can then listen and follow your own voice without “consciously” having to direct it. This has the benefit of first being “the driver” by writing your own suggestions, and then switching seats to become the passenger without having to concentrate on “steering” your mind through your self hypnosis session.
How effective is self hypnosis compared to hypnotherapy?
Self hypnosis is a skill that you develop to help you achieve your goals. As already stated, it is not a quick fix for your problems; it takes time and commitment to master it and benefit from it.
There are various processes that are involved in the success of a hypnotherapy course of treatment. This can include your expectation of hypnotherapy, the skills and training of the hypnotherapist, your goals, your commitment to the treatment process, the interaction of all of these factors etc. Hypnotherapy can achieve rapid results, but for the majority of clients, it is not a quick fix; effective change can take time.
You would certainly expect a course of hypnotherapy to have more impact than a similar time spent in a course of self hypnosis. This is because you are hiring a professional to guide you to achieve your goal. By hiring a professional, you are also making a statement about your commitment to a process that you may not give when it just involves you and your own free time. The hypnotherapist is also objective in the process to establish any of your self-limiting beliefs and how these beliefs might sabotage your ability to achieve your goal. This is an important point within goal achievement because you function through the “lens” of your own beliefs. You can potentially limit how far you go in your journey because you may not fully know yourself or know what you don’t know!
If you are someone who is keen to take charge of your wellbeing by learning self hypnosis and you are struggling to get the process moving by yourself however, you may want to consider a short course of hypnotherapy to kick-start your self hypnosis practise. You can then use this insightful experience to continue your own journey of self learning. In my view, the better hypnotherapists aim to promote this approach in your treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask your hypnotherapist to teach you how to practise self hypnosis.
Practise self hypnosis: Conclusion
In order to practice self-hypnosis successfully, persistence and conviction are key requisites. Without these, your practise may not create a deep enough change in your unconscious mind. Use, develop and experiment with the processes and techniques described above to help immerse you into a calmer lifestyle and one in which you can access your own positive change.
For further information on how to practise self hypnosis, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
What are the differences between Self Hypnosis, Meditation and Mindfulness?
Self hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness are growing in popularity. It’s not surprising when these self-help disciplines can be used to reduce stress and anxiety, and even help you achieve your goals. When you have mastered one or all of them, you can be in charge of easing the symptoms of some serious underlying health issues.
When teaching self hypnosis to my hypnotherapy clients, I have often been asked if there is a difference between self hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness. Purists may not agree, but I believe that each discipline can take similar paths but they do have some distinct differences too.
If you want to take “de-stressing” matters into your own hands, which one should you develop? Let’s compare and contrast each discipline so that you can decide which one to take on your self-help journey.
Let’s discuss hypnosis first
It is a fairly common misconception that “hypnosis” is something that can only occur with the help of some external or professional guidance using a hypnotic induction. It may be hard to believe, but you cannot be hypnotised unless you want to be hypnotised, even though it might look like mind control in those hypnosis films. You ultimately choose which suggestions to accept or reject; the “power” exists within you and not the person hypnotising you. Externally guided hypnosis happens then, because you allow someone else to guide your “self hypnosis”. And during a state of hypnosis you are more receptive to a hypnotherapist’s suggestions that you have agreed are part of your treatment goals.
Hypnosis, in its broadest definition (no, not the one used by authoritarian styles), is a state of altered awareness and you are constantly drifting in and out of hypnosis throughout your day. It happens nearly always by accident, when a person is doing some routine and repetitive task, such as doing the dishes or walking the dog. One moment you’ll be at the park with your dog, and next you’ll be at front of your house door without having any conscious recollection of how you got there. Your mind decided to take a stroll down memory lane while your legs carried you home.
This is an example of hypnosis when your mind is “zoning out”; it goes into subspace and retreats into some peaceful place within itself. This state of awareness is similar to daydreaming. Everyone has done this as some time in their lives. Can you remember doing this in school?
Depending on your priorities, your subconscious mind may want to put aside a calming daydream and solve a problem or anxiety, something that is open-ended and needs to be closed for you to then feel relaxed again. You might do this on the commuting to work, preparing and prioritising your working day ahead of you.
The process of altered awareness can also happen when you “zone in” and concentrate on something so intensely that you shut out external distractions. An example is when reading a good book; you block out those house noises that you may otherwise hear and disturb you (the ones that irritate you when you are struggling to get to sleep). You can also “zone in” when you attend a live performance of your favourite artist and are so taken by the show that you lose track of time and forget about your worries. In this situation your subconscious mind is prioritising the external situation over other “internal” issues, allowing you to be fully absorbed in the show.
What is self hypnosis?
The situations above describe how hypnotic and self hypnotic states can happen incidentally. In a formal context, self hypnosis can be defined as using a process, usually involving relaxation techniques, to intentionally induce yourself into a state of concentrated, heightened suggestibility. Affirmations, your imagination and visualisation may then be used to access a present or future desirable state. It may also be used to reframe the meaning and the emotions of a past event.
How do you perform Self Hypnosis?
First identify some affirmations that are the positive form of your negative state that you wish to change. For example, if you are anxious about giving a presentation, your affirmation could be “I am feeling more relaxed and confident with my presentation as I rehearse my content”.
- Find a comfortable location away from irritating noises (it takes a well-practised self-hypnotist to work with these!) Find a supportive posture such as sitting down in a comfortable chair or lying down on a bed in a slightly inclined position (so you don’t fall asleep too easily).
- Relax by using breathing techniques and then focus on parts of your body feeling heavy in sequence e.g. from head to toe. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Focus on a few words that assists your mind to drift down into a pleasant state of heaviness e.g. with each out breath let your inner voice say “relax deeper”.
- State and repeat your affirmations (internally/silently or externally out loud). Visualise the positive situation and the positive feelings more intensely with each repeat of the suggestion for a period of time e.g. ten minutes.
- Exit your hypnotic state by counting upwards, feeling more alert with each count until you feel alert. Gradually open your eyes if you closed them. Your session of self hypnosis is complete.
In the simplest terms, meditation can be explained as a participative activity in which you silence your thoughts, tune in to your inner self and find peace and tranquillity. Meditation itself is a wholesome activity in which you induce a mode of consciousness; it is not meant to lead to anything else.
How is meditation done?
There are certain steps that you can follow in order to meditate successfully. In its most basic form, these steps include:
- Finding a nice, quiet place in which to settle down in and feel comfortable.
- Then, you close your eyes and begin a basic breathing exercise that involves slow, full and deep diaphragmatic breathing.
- After this, you focus on nothing but the sound and pattern of your own steady breathing. Cleanse your thoughts and empty your mind of any other thought. You can continue for as long as you like staying focused on your breath.
- When you have achieved this for a period of time, you can open your eyes. Stand and stretch your limbs and then carry on your day as planned.
How is self hypnosis different from meditation?
By following these stages in self hypnosis and meditation, it can be easy to mistake one for the other since the first few steps in each discipline are very similar. You will notice that in order to be able to focus into your affirmation more intensely the first three stages of meditation can be used. Both self hypnosis and meditation also involve an end process or awakening.
Self hypnosis and meditation are clearly not the same disciplines however. There is no phase of ‘directed positive change’ in meditation, unless you consider the shift from an active state to a passive quietened state sufficiently directed. Meditation is an activity with no ulterior purpose other than to find inner peace and tranquillity. Some styles of meditation achieve this by visualisation, contemplation, chanting a mantra or focusing on something external or on an energy point (chakra) during the third stage. Some styles of meditation also incorporate movement such as walking meditation or during the practice of martial arts.
Self hypnosis is different in this regard. During self hypnosis there is a goal in mind; an end purpose of transformation. Hypnosis and self hypnosis is nearly always induced in order to make some sort of change so that the person being hypnotised can achieve something*. The goal can be relaxation, but most self hypnosis usually goes beyond this. For example, one might want to use self hypnosis to break a bad habit, quit smoking, dig up an old half forgotten memory to reframe it, boost self confidence, control pain, lift depression, overcome insomnia, reduce anxiety, and so on.
*I say ”nearly always” because on rare occasions, I have had some clients who just wanted to experience what “directed hypnosis” felt like. I asked them if they wanted to change any aspect of their lives and they said no. The hypnosis session ended up being a relaxation session (sometimes called “relaxatherapy”). Instinctively, I integrated suggestions of confidence and ego boosting into their consultation. At the end of the session they were relaxed and appreciative of the experience. They were able to tell the world that they had been “hypnotised” today! So was this relaxation session a “directed meditation” or “guided visualisation” sometimes used in Yoga? I think that this type of session was common to all of these processes.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be described as a state of non-judgemental, heightened awareness in which you consciously and deliberately pay attention to something in the present. What you pay close attention to can be internal processes like your current thoughts, emotions or sensations in your body. You can also pay close attention to external processes that are occurring in your surrounding environment.
Through the practice of mindfulness and focusing on the present experience, you can access an enhanced state of calmness, concentration and clarity. Mindfulness helps to temporarily create distance from the default functioning of the mind that can be overwhelming. The mind is constantly connecting with the past in order to anticipate the future, but it may not always connect with it in a way that benefits you. It can easily exaggerate the emotional learning of past events, predicting catastrophes that rarely happen. Mindfulness sidelines these distractions, capturing the essence of just being, feeling, thinking, sensing and existing in the present.
As a perceptual style of processing then, mindfulness can be therapeutic. The (physical) past is put to rest from a perspective that it cannot be changed, so why ruminate over it? Whilst anxiety about the future can be threatening and remains uncertain, so why try to control it? The only time to exist is “in the now”. Mindfulness enables you to take heed from this philosophy and channel your attention, your energy and your desires on to what is happening to you “right there and then”.
How is mindfulness done?
Mindfulness can be practised in many situations and during various activities. You can be mindful when walking, gardening, painting, eating, travelling on a bus, whilst sitting in the park observing nature around you etc. You can also practise mindfulness during more passive activities. Here’s one mindfulness activity, focusing on breathing:
- Choose a peaceful place in your house away from any distractions. Get comfortable in a chair with your body supported and your eyes closed.
- Imagine your breath being visible. As you inhale with your abdomen, follow the flow of your breath as it gets inhaled through your nose, past your windpipe and down into your lungs. Notice the changing sensations in your abdomen, diaphragm and ribcage.
- As you pause before exhaling, observe the air resting at the bottom of your lungs, circulating for a few moments. Then as you exhale follow the air being breathed up through your chest and out through your nose. Notice the air circulating just outside of your face as you pause, before inhaling the air again.
- Repeat this process with several breaths.
- Then allow your mind to roam, observing your thoughts at a distance. Accept these thoughts as they fade in and then fade out, being replaced with the flow of your breath once again.
- Your mindfulness session is complete. You can open your eyes to return to your day.
How does mindfulness compare to self hypnosis?
Whilst relaxation may be experienced at some point during or after having practised mindfulness, it is far from being a technique in which you “relax” the mind. Instead, during mindfulness, you are aiming to arouse your senses, being more aware of those subtle processes that mostly tend to happen in the background. In other words, you are “zoning in” to whatever is happening in this moment, such as your tuning in to emotions or feelings. This might involve examining the tension within a part of your body right now and having felt it, you can now readily release it. This is a different approach to pushing something aside, even suppressing it, for it to come knocking at your door at a later time.
So how does mindfulness compare to self hypnosis? In many ways, they complement each other and by developing one technique, you may find that it helps the other one.
They both help you to “zone in”: Mindfulness’s perceptual style of focusing your attention is very similar to the “zoning in” state of altered awareness used in self hypnosis (mentioned above in the description of hypnosis). Zoning in would benefit you in areas if your life such as increasing your concentration levels at work and helping your listening abilities during conversations.
They both improve your mind-body connection: Thoughts and emotions create physical changes in your body and you may not always appreciate at the time of which thought is causing which sensation. Generally speaking, positive thoughts can create relaxed sensations, whilst negative thoughts can create sensations of tension. By zoning into these negative thoughts and emotions, mindfulness can be used as a diagnostic tool to establish which unconscious thought is triggering this physical tension. The tension in your shoulders might relate to you being anxious about giving a presentation next week and is the source of keeping you tense, irritable and awake at night. Having established this, you now have a goal for the self hypnosis. Using self hypnosis you can then create affirmations to help you visualise confidence in your presentation, reducing your anxiety-related tension in your shoulders and helping you to sleep better at night.
How does mindfulness compare to meditation?
When you consider the mindfulness breathing practice above, parts of it could be used as a lead into meditation (and self hypnosis). In this specific context, it has many similarities. Some people advocate that “breathing mindfulness” is a type of meditation activity.
This is perhaps one of the main general differences. Mindfulness is a state of mind or quality of awareness that can be applied anywhere. However, meditation is an activity or action; something that you do whilst sitting, focusing, chanting or walking etc.
Now consider a mindfulness practice when you drink a cup of tea. How you are holding the cup, the weight of the cup, the movement of your arm and hand as you bring the cup closer to your lips, the look of the tea, the steam rising from the tea, the initial smell of the tea as you bring it closer, the increased salivation, the slight inhalation of breath to sip some tea, the feeling of the tea (liquid) in your mouth, sensing the temperature in your mouth, the taste of the tea, where you taste it, the changing smell, the feelings as you swallow the tea, the changing taste and aroma in your mouth after you have swallowed it.
There are lots of sensory experiences to be aware of in this mindfulness activity of tea drinking!
Mindfulness tea drinking would not be considered a formal meditation for the purists however. But some informal styles of meditation state that you can meditate during absolutely anything – if you insist that you are meditating when knitting for example; then you are meditating!
Self hypnosis, Meditation and Mindfulness
In this attempt to explore differences between self hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness, it can be recognised that each discipline has features that overlap with another discipline. The practice of one discipline is likely to benefit the practice of another, if only from the awareness and practise of breathing techniques and postural changes.
The individual experience or benefit derived from each discipline however can be varied. Your definition of each discipline will ultimately determine how you approach and participate in each activity. Societies (whether Eastern or Western, secular or religious) have different cultural and philosophical values that can emphasise how to approach each discipline and the potential gains to be achieved from it.
In hypnotherapy as a treatment, the hypnotherapist can integrate many approaches that can still be classified as hypnotherapy. For example, some hypnotherapists will actively promote that they teach self hypnosis. Or the way that suggestions are formed may teach aspects of meditation or mindfulness whilst in a hypnotic state. There can be many benefits of incorporating a broad treatment approach as this evidence suggests when treating stress and anxiety.
From the discussion, I would summarise the following benefits:
Self Hypnosis: helps you to achieve a change or personal goal through the internalisation of suggestions.
Meditation: helps you to still your mind to bring you inner peace.
Mindfulness: helps you to heighten your senses and makes you more aware of everything inside of you and around you.
For more information on self hypnosis, meditation, and mindfulness techniques contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
The Various Types Of Hypnotherapy
It can be immensely useful being aware of the various types of hypnotherapy, whether you are aspiring to be a hypnotherapist or a potential client wanting treatment. Hypnotherapy is a domain that offers a huge toolbox of treatment techniques. Various approaches can be applied for different clients with different conditions. Each style of hypnotherapy can have its respective benefits when a client presents a specific need.
Understanding the types of hypnotherapy can improve your therapeutic skills as a hypnotherapist. As a client it can help you appreciate what to expect in your hypnotherapy session and be treated in a way that matches your expectations. I have used all hypnotherapeutic approaches in my experience, and am flexible enough to adapt my approach when the situation demands it. My training included all of these various types of hypnotherapy styles even though my qualification has the classification of “Clinical Hypnotherapy”.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Solution Focused Hypnotherapy
As the name suggests, this type of hypnotherapy focuses on achieving solutions to your issues rather than deconstructing past problems. From a solution-focused perspective, delving into the past is considered ineffective.
Solution focused hypnotherapy can generate impressive and tangible results. It is used by a great number of hypnotherapists and can be implemented with just about every client. The approach is employed as soon as you are asked the question “what is your goal?” If you have a ‘fear of public speaking’, then your treatment is aimed at ‘confidence in public speaking’. Your ‘public speaking’ situation is analysed and the treatment is staged in measurable progressive steps, assessing where you are now and how your public speaking confidence can increase.
This is one of the types of hypnotherapy that has a focused interaction where the hypnotherapist helps you tap into your inner resources and capacities. It assumes a level of motivation and commitment on your part, as you are provided with homework tasks that move you towards the achievement of your goal. You will mutually set fixed interim goals and hypnosis will essentially be used to guide you to your destination. Eventually, you will become familiar with your inner strength and solution-seeking abilities to access your psychological wellbeing.
Does it have any shortcomings? Some of the mutually agreed goals in solution focused approaches can overly focus on symptoms. Symptoms can be coping mechanisms of deeper unconscious problems that are ignored until the treatment comes to standstill. The deeper unconscious issues are also known as the causes or “why” you behave as you do. For example, you want help to reduce your weight, but your weight gain is an unconscious defensive reaction to childhood abuse (i.e. you stay overweight to be less attractive to potential abusers; a form of Secondary Gain.) In your solution-focused treatment, you are asked “what is your goal?” and respond to the question appropriately “to lose weight”, because your reason for gaining weight is unconscious. Your treatment can then plateau unless the solution focused hypnotherapist is also trained to uncover past causes using other hypnotherapy techniques. Without this training, the weight loss solution would be temporary. When causes are uncovered, the solution can take a more successful treatment pathway, treating the cause and the symptom together.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Ericksonian Hypnotherapy
This style of hypnotherapy is named after one of the most prominent figures of psychiatry and hypnosis, namely Milton Erickson. He believed hypnosis to be a natural state that we involuntarily encounter several times a day. Erickson’s informal approach to treatment matched his beliefs about hypnosis. He was renowned for using indirect suggestions and storytelling in which his patients may not have known that the treatment had formally started.
Unlike most direct (and authoritative) types of hypnotherapy, the Ericksonian style attempts to access the client’s behavioural, cognitive, or even analytical levels in a way that speaks to the subconscious rather than the conscious. As an approach, it uses symbolism, metaphors, stories, and implicit suggestions that help the client not only collaborate, but also adopt the healing message or command within the suggestions. Many hypnotherapists call themselves Ericksonian, but they may be very far from using the true approach that Milton Erickson devised.
It may be helpful for all types of hypnotherapy to make room for this kind of creativity. The Ericksonian approach requires the hypnotherapist’s inner judge and subtle creative capacities to be employed. They need to be very sensitive to client’s distinct problems and profiles to ensure that the indirect suggestion or story yields the desired effect. For these reasons, clients with excellent visualisation skills and reflective abilities should be encouraged to seek hypnotherapists who employ Ericksonian tools.
Changes within the client can be quite deep and profound when these techniques are used effectively. It can be used to treat (but is not limited to) addiction, OCD, pain management and habit control.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Analytical Hypnotherapy
Analytical Hypnotherapy borrows primarily from the school of psychotherapy. It is also known as hypno-analysis and curative hypnotherapy. It can be used to treat a number of conditions including phobias, negative emotions, depression, psychosomatic symptoms etc.
Being analytical in its approach, this method of hypnotherapy investigates the client’s hidden causes that are creating issues. Fundamentally, it analyses your behaviour, reactions, and beliefs by using probing questions. It asks ‘’why’’ and seeks to identify the root impulses behind the said problem. When the true causes are brought to the surface, you will be guided to think and respond differently to them. As a result, positive and altered behaviours will be the new positive change to your health. Whilst the hypnotherapist works together with you to get to the core of an issue, the object of the session will be to obtain insight and understand the real dynamics that are controlling your life. You will be more self-aware of your psyche and the nature of your behaviour, and therefore will be able to take control and change negative behaviour.
In the treatment of a phobia for example, analytical hypnotherapy aims to discover and treat how your panic response attached itself to the phobic stimulus e.g. a spider. It also validates how the “wrong” childhood association has been carried into adulthood. The adult mind knows that this connection is irrational and unhelpful but is consciously unable to access where these feelings originate. Using Hypnoanalysis, the adult mind can go back and reinterpret the event, releasing the fearful emotion created as a child.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Behavioural Hypnotherapy
Behavioural hypnotherapy is probably the most direct and immediate types of hypnotherapy in its working methods. There are no disguised suggestions or analysis of issues. Instead, behavioural hypnotherapy focuses solely on the behaviours, (present or future ones) that the client demonstrates. In the first session, the hypnotherapist takes note of all the negative behaviours that the client has accumulated. Judged simply as learned behaviours, both the client and hypnotherapist proceed to agree on the appropriate changes and positive behaviours that are desired. Hypnosis is used to integrate these changes until they are firmly established. You are advised to keep practicing self hypnosis even after treatment is over, so that you have personal control over the new behaviours.
Behavioural hypnotherapy is useful for behaviours such as negative habits (nail biting, habitual drinking and smoking). It can also be used to modify the finer details of behaviours such as specific eating habits that are contributing to weight gain.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Cognitive Hypnotherapy
All types of hypnotherapy have a specific focus, but what is “spoken” in the mind is the main focus of this style of hypnotherapy. Whether you are battling with phobias, anxieties, or lack of concentration, cognitive hypnotherapy will help you get rid of the thinking patterns, beliefs, or feelings that you are dominating you. Cognition here is believed to be at the heart of your negative behaviours and psychological harm. In other words, the cognitive hypnotherapist will work with you to replace unhelpful thoughts and bad beliefs about the world so that the subconscious is in tune with a ‘’healthy’’ thinking conscious.
Once identified, common cognitive distortions such as over-generalisation and catastrophic thinking are realigned using hypnosis. The assumptions of this style of hypnotherapy derive from the theories of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And the common process that unites these theories is the change of bad ‘’actionable’’ thoughts in consideration for your goals, values, and needs.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Past Life Regression
This is one of the types of hypnotherapy to have an unconventional view of the client’s problematic behaviours and issues. By using hypnotherapeutic techniques, it addresses a client’s problem with the belief that it is affected by a ‘’previous life’’. So, the causes and logic that are thought to drive any kind of issue are believed to come from “past life” experiences. Clearly, this belief is always implemented with respect to the client’s own beliefs. So, it may be found that some hypnotherapists interpret the past life belief literally, whilst others use it metaphorically. When an issue is at hand, the client and hypnotherapist observe the emotions and behaviours then travel together to a regressed interpretation of it in the past life. The issues will be understood in the context of past memories so that they are given real meaning. The issues are treated using other types of hypnotherapy.
In the end, this type of hypnotherapy can work well with some clients by providing them with insight and understanding into their issues. And this can help the client take back control or cut the ties from harmful past lives’ memories. An example of its application includes the treatment of phantom pain in which the client was convinced was a trauma in a previous life. When the client was regressed to a past life, it is found that they sustained an injury to that limb that was left untreated. The therapy involves “treating” the past life injury so that the current life pain can be released.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Hypno-Psychotherapy
This is a merged type of hypnotherapy where both the contents of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy work together to solve problems. Psychotherapy is, in essence, an analytic approach that tries to trace back psychological problems to a cause. It has views on emotions and psychological impulses that can be given rise either from a traumatic event, childhood attitudes, or some bad parental conditioning. So, with the addition of hypnotherapy, hypnosis and relaxation techniques are used to further the process of psychotherapy in the sessions.
For example, a cause can be attributed to your very first trauma with airplanes which became the root cause for your flying phobia. You may not be aware of it or simply forgot it, but the hypnotherapist will work with you to uncover these causes and tensions that are behind any complication or disorder. Most types of hypnotherapy try to work within the client’s psychological perspective, but this type leans more toward allowing understanding to take place in the client’s way of thinking.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Clinical Hypnotherapy
Clinical hypnotherapy is normally the implementation of hypnotherapy techniques in a clinical environment such as a hospital of GP practice. It gives the impression of being a more “effective” treatment than other types of hypnotherapy, but may include very a similar application of techniques.
Not all clinical hypnotherapists are really “clinical” ones unless they are medically qualified. “Clinical hypnotherapy” became popular as a hypnotherapy qualification during the late eighties and nineties to distinguish it from stage hypnosis, when the boundaries of hypnosis as a “therapy” and artistic stage show were blurred. Thus the term “clinical” emphasised that the hypnosis was therapeutic.
Clinical hypnotherapy can be concerned with treating medical conditions such as stress-related skin issues, chronic pain, IBS, psycho-sexual disorders and psycho-somatic conditions, but is not limited to treating only these conditions. So, while many types of hypnotherapy exist, this type of hypnotherapy can focus on treating those conditions in which traditional medicine approaches has been unable to treat.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Regression Hypnotherapy
The basic premise for this style of hypnotherapy is dissipating a problem issue by regressing back to its initial formation. In the example of treating a phobia, regression is executed by taking the client’s mind to past incidents related to the phobia. The hypnotherapist uses a combination of hypnotic techniques to access negative (or positive) memories related to the client’s goal. By safely re-experiencing the event, the client will understand the self-limiting beliefs and emotions surrounding the event that triggered the phobia. They can then start to reinterpret these beliefs and emotions using the adult mind.
Not all use of regression is helpful or reliable when accessing certain traumatic events, especially if the hypnotherapist has a biased view of the client’s history. For regression hypnotherapy to deal with your past events, it is important to seek a hypnotherapist who is well-versed in using regression hypnotherapy techniques.
Types of hypnotherapy: Other Therapies & Techniques
Hypnotherapy is a vast domain. It is definitely not limited to the various types of hypnotherapy already mentioned here. Generally, the types of hypnotherapy already discussed are more dominant in hypnotherapy sessions given their suitability to client’s problems and needs. But, it is common for hypnotherapists to use other types of therapy, with or without certification.
One such type of therapy is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is a system of communication skills for psycho-therapeutic ends. NLP certified therapists may also take courses in hypnotherapy because they both use mind reprogramming techniques. Their combined knowledge allows them to use these skills that may take longer to treat using traditional counselling methods.
But, it doesn’t end here. Certain hypnotherapists also pursue counselling qualifications and offer both hypnotherapy and counselling. The counselling techniques can be effective in creating rapport and directing the use of suggestions when using hypnosis. Unless the client has specified their treatment style, does it really matter how they get there as long as they ultimately still achieve their goal?
Other therapies such as Time-Line Therapy draw from NLP and are concerned with the treatment of negative emotions and anxiety disorders. It assumes that the unconscious mind is a linear timeline of events. Relaxation techniques including hypnosis are used to help the client to release painful emotions connected to traumatic events. It can be very effective in reducing negative emotions such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
Some hypnotherapy techniques have classifications that aim to distinguish themselves from other types of hypnotherapy. Integration hypnotherapy (also known as Parts Therapy) for example, considers your personality to be composed of various parts. These parts have been formed from good and bad past experiences and now serve specific functions of the inner mind. These parts want what is best for you but can be in conflict when you desire or have to cope with change.
Parts therapy aims to resolve these inner conflicts and desires by allowing the parts of your personality to communicate more freely. Parts therapy can be usefully applied when a client says that “part of me wants to do this, but the other part of me wants to do that!” It can deal with many conditions where anxiety is the restraining emotion and the desire for confidence is the inspiring emotion. It can be used to treat unwanted habits like smoking and weight issues where momentary urges inhibit the achievement of long terms goals.
Integration hypnotherapy approaches can be varied, drawing from other modes of therapy including Ego State Therapy and Gestalt Therapy. How you use these modes of therapy will depend on the situation, the client and experience of the hypnotherapist.
Hypnotherapy has no shortage of new techniques that claim to be more effective than older ones. Some techniques complement a new scientific trend. One such example is Gastric Band Hypnotherapy, which followed the development of gastric band surgery for obesity. With Gastric Band Hypnotherapy it claims that you can lose weight by visualising that you have had the same (Gastric Band) surgical procedure, but without any medical risks involving surgery!
There is a vast domain of specific techniques used in hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy schools teach different ways to hypnotise clients e.g. using “a handshake” method, not just by using voice induction. Then there is an abundance of visualisation techniques that can be used to induce a depth of relaxation or “trance” and rapidly treat certain conditions. Commonly taught visualisations include ‘’The Arrow’’, ‘’The Swan’’, and ‘’The Kinetic Shift’’.
Types of Hypnotherapy: Summary
This article has listed the various types of hypnotherapy. With experience and skill, the hypnotherapist can adapt the specific treatment approach or technique to the individual situation with some excellent outcomes. Hypnotherapy is only limited by the imagination of the hypnotherapist and their skilled ability to apply creative visualisations when it is deemed to be helpful in the session.
For further information on the various types of hypnotherapy and how hypnotherapy can help you, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
The Causes Of A Phobia
What are the causes of a phobia? If you’re unusually terrified of small insects or the idea of using a lift or elevator by yourself, then you’re not alone. Phobias are considered to be a very common psychological condition in both men and women. It is estimated that nearly 10 million people in the UK have a phobia of some kind.
A phobia is defined as an extreme or an irrational fear of a situation, object, location or animal. It typically emerges during childhood and persists into adulthood. Experts offer several explanations for the causes of a phobia, and this includes evolutionary theories and behaviourist theories.
A phobia may also range from mild to severe and can be termed simple and complex, but it’s good to know that whatever terms are used, they are treatable. Some phobic sufferers are highly responsive to hypnotherapy and can respond to treatment very quickly, whilst others require a cognitive behavioural approach to alleviate their phobia. Sometimes the combined approach can be the solution to alleviate your panic attack commonly associated with all phobias.
Genetic Causes of a Phobia
Research by the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta has suggested that the causes of a phobia can be hereditary. The study involved mice that were given a mild electric shock after being exposed to the smell of cherry blossoms, making them associate pain to the smell. The offspring of the mice several generations later were also exposed to the same smell. Surprisingly, the new generation of mice also reacted in fear of the smell of the cherry blossoms, even though no amount of electric shock was applied to them. Since the biological and genetic makeup of mice and humans are similar to each other, the research suggests that phobic memories may also be passed down through the genes of your human ancestors.
Genetic causes substantiate the part that “nature” (as opposed to “nurture”) plays in acquiring say, an emetophobia through the inherited experiences of your family line. This is without the influence of any choices that you might make throughout your life to prevent having the emetophobia in the first place and what you might have learnt from your parents.
When you are old enough to understand your emetophobia and appreciate how it affects you, the avoidance and panic reactions are already dominating your lifestyle. But this does not mean that you can’t choose to have treatment for your emetophobia and change its imprint on your biology. Furthermore, with successful treatment of your own emetophobia, you are less likely to pass it on to your future offspring.
The theory posed from the genetic research suggests that what you pass on to your children can be negative (in the case of passing on the emetophobia). By the same argument, what you pass on could also be positive, in terms of transferring to your children a calmer reaction to sickness (vomit) when the emetophobia has been treated and removed.
Environmental causes of a phobia
Genetics alone though is probably not enough for a phobia to develop in every individual; environmental factors play a significant role too in the causes of a phobia. Directly experiencing a traumatic event creates such a strong future association between the event and an intense feeling of fear. Let’s say that you’ve been attacked by an animal like a dog. Even if the event only happened once, it could influence you to have a strong aversion to animals especially dogs (cynophobia) thereafter, no matter how cute an animal might look to others. And the same progression of events can happen if you have been struck by lightning or frightened (traumatised) by the sound of thunder (astraphobia).
Environmental causes of a phobia have a significant impact through life into adulthood particularly when the traumatic events have been experienced as a child. A fearful event in childhood can leave a deeper and immediate imprint in the highly sensitive and developing young brain than a similar traumatic experience caused in adulthood.
Furthermore, some of the childhood initial sensitising events (ISE) can be easily forgotten by adulthood, causing the growing individual to be confused about the nature of their phobia. For example, a child who has been involved in a car accident in the back seat of a two-door car may subsequently assert the desire to be a passenger in the front of the car. With an obliging parent, the child’s claustrophobia remains hidden and may not become apparent until as a teenager, they are “forced” to ride in the back seat of a teenage friend’s two-door car. The situation creates a panic attack for the teenager.
So can phobias be caused in adulthood? It is very unusual for phobias to be caused in middle adulthood. As explained above, it is more likely that the initial sensitising event (ISE) in childhood has been forgotten. Or the “simple phobia” has progressed and developed into a “complex phobia” involving other fears, social anxiety and panic disorder. This situation can emerge in the following example:
- As a child you have a “simple” spider phobia (arachnophobia).
- Whilst standing on a step ladder, you see a spider and your reaction causes you to fall off the step ladder causing a height phobia (acrophobia).
- The fear of heights progresses into claustrophobia when, as a teenager, you experience intense fear when riding on a rollercoaster (in which you feel trapped and also involves heights).
- Since you were unable to vacate the ride once it started, it causes a panic attack and extreme embarrassment in front of your teenage peers (social phobia).
- Then, in adulthood, a series of stressful events raises your general anxiety. Since many of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety are the same, you feel like you could have a panic attack at any moment and in any location. You are locked in anticipation in fear of having a panic attack and this is enough to trigger your panic attack (panic disorder).
- In order to avoid the social humiliation of having random panic attacks in public places, you stay home to try and cope with your condition. You feel safer being housebound (agoraphobia).
By the time the agoraphobia is dominating your adult life, you have forgotten the early traumatic situations and the avoidance patterns that have contributed to your current desperate “complex” situation.
Indirectly learned causes of a phobia
There are cases when the causes of a phobia are learned from trusted authority figures closely related to the phobic person. For instance, if children see one or both of their parents having an unusual fearful reaction to snakes (ophidiophobia or ophiophobia), they are also likely to imitate the fearful reaction to snakes to keep themselves safe from harm. This trust in “knowing what is safe or harmful” can extend to other people considered as authority figures by a child. It can include respected relatives in the wider family, older siblings, teachers or close friends during teenage hood.
Indirectly learned causes of a phobia can also extend to observation from indirect learning situations. Seeing a live trauma in the television news, reading a convincing story or article, or even watching a recorded documentary can stimulate or reinforce a developing phobia. Even seeing a dramatic film containing convincing fearful reactions to say, an emetophobia can arouse suspicion about the depicted danger of vomit, fear of contamination from another person or the fear of choking on one’s own vomit.
Stress and Phobias
Is long-term stress among the many causes of a phobia? During prolonged periods of stress, it is common to experience anxiety and depression. This generally diminishes your ability to deal with excessive situational demands. It can increase your fear and anxiety of those stressful situations recurring again in the future to near-phobic capacity. Take for example when a mother has a traumatic pregnancy, a traumatic child birth and post-natal health issues for both the developing baby and herself. Depending on the events surrounding these traumas, she could be very fearful of another future birth trauma. Or she may also have lost trust in the medical profession and feel high anxiety when she needs to trust the medical profession again in the future.
In the example above, the constant state of heightened alertness surrounding the stressful birth trauma could be the “cause” of the phobia. Or, depending on the previous trauma history, the stressful events can serve to reinforce previous fearful beliefs created from an earlier health trauma, making the hidden health phobia “conscious” to the mother. Whether as the ISE or reinforcing event, a tokophobia (fear of pregnancy or childbirth) and/or iatrophobia (fear of doctors and the medical profession) is established due to the numerous stressful situations and events.
Psychodynamic Explanations for the causes of a phobia
There are several causes of a phobia, but psychodynamic theorists offer their own explanations for the “cause” of them. They argue that reactions to phobias are the mind’s defence mechanism against repressed feelings of anxiety that have been experienced in childhood. These repressed feelings are considered too painful to consciously deal with and acknowledge later in life, so these feelings are then displaced onto associated situations or objects. The situation or object becomes the phobic stimulus to avoid, thus protecting the individual from having to deal with these painful repressed emotions again.
Or put another way, the situation or object associated with the phobia is not the source of the anxiety; the cause is related more to the product of unresolved conflicts within the various parts of the person’s mind. According to psychodynamic theorists, when the mind’s “conflicts” are centrally treated, the repressed emotions can be safely released, thereby disconnecting the phobia and the associated anxiety.
Causes of a phobia: The impact on your neurology
The combination of these various causes of a phobia (including genetic traits, childhood interactions with your family and your personal direct and indirect life experiences) can ultimately determine how your brain develops and functions when you perceive a threat and cope with your phobia-inducing object or situation.
The part of the brain responsible for controlling fear is called the amygdala. For a phobia sufferer, the right amygdala is considered to be highly sensitised and reactive to phobia-inducing stimuli causing the intense distress (or panic attack) commonly associated with phobic reactions. Where there is long-term trauma, this part of the brain may be generally over-reactive.
Also notable amongst phobia sufferer’s neurology is a higher expectation (anticipatory anxiety) that you will encounter your object or situation of distress. This is termed “expectancy bias” by researchers and is associated with lowered activity of the lateral prefrontal cortex and visual cortex parts of the brain. This under-activity results in an absence of cognitive control to distinguish between “imagined” and “real” threats related to your phobia. Thus with an arachnophobia, you will have a panic attack when you see some black fluff because you are certain that it is a real spider. You are also convinced that, having seen a spider in one location e.g. under the sofa, that it will keep reappearing in that same location, despite that spider being previously removed.
Causes of a phobia in therapy
Ultimately, the goal of a phobia treatment (using self-help or with a therapist) is to be relaxed in your phobic situation/location or relaxed with your phobic object/animal. There are many different ways to achieve this goal. This article has aimed to explore the many causes of a phobia, rather than trying to find ways to treat it. But does knowledge of the causes of a phobia have any practical application in resolving a phobia in therapy? It can be partially helpful, and this would depend on the individual enquiry.
For example, if you are locked into your obsession about knowing why you have a fear of germs (mysophobia), then your obsession can block your access to a treatment solution. Learning that it’s a family trait and not your fault can ease your obsession particularly when you also learn that many of your forgotten childhood experiences involved fearful reactions to germs. With this knowledge, a mysophobic can accept it and “learn to live with it”, even if it does mean being fanatical or compulsive about cleanliness.
Another enquiry might relate to the irrationality and confusion of your complex phobia situation. How can a simple phobia such as a fear of holes (trypophobia) lead to your agoraphobia? Understanding and rationalising how your fears and their reactions have transformed your “simple phobia” into an isolating agoraphobic situation (complex phobia) can be helpful. You can now be realistic about a proposed treatment plan and the time it usually takes to undo complex phobias, rather than hoping for a quick-fix and abandoning therapy prematurely
Some therapy clients have uncontrolled panic attacks (panic disorder), are irresponsive to anxiety control techniques (relaxed breathing) and have forgotten what situation or object is triggering their panic response. By using a psycho-therapeutic approach with hypnosis, it can help you identify the “cause” of your unconscious phobia. Regression hypnotherapy can then be used to create emotional understanding and release the fear contained in those childhood experiences. This is an example of how applying a solution to a client’s past “cause” can benefit a client where a solution-focused approach is struggling to make progress. You could say that it’s still “solution-focused”, but you are regressing back to ISE’s to treat it.
Causes of a phobia: conclusion
Research would indicate that the many causes of a phobia relate to both nature and nurture. Where one cause is evident in a particular phobic person, does this mean that they are more responsive to a certain type of therapy? Perhaps this is another matter for further research.
For further information on the causes of your phobia and how hypnotherapy can treat it, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.
Tips To Help You Cope With Anticipatory Anxiety
Are looking for help to cope with anticipatory anxiety? Anticipatory anxiety is better known as the “fear of fear.” It’s a very appropriate term because unlike normal anxiety, anticipatory anxiety causes you to fear your own anxiety symptoms; you end up chasing your own panic attacks and as a result, you create more panic attacks. In its chronic form, anticipatory anxiety is also known as panic disorder.
For those who are asking whether it’s normal to have this kind of anticipation, the answer is both yes and no. It’s normal to feel anxious about a huge event, such as your first date, a driving test, a job interview, or a speech. It only becomes a problem if it seems to be occurring on a regular basis and on events that you generally wouldn’t consider to be that overwhelming.
So what can you do to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety? There’s no specific formula that works for everybody, since different people will have varying degrees of symptoms. Nevertheless, there are general ways that can help you minimise the impact of worry and fear when they come. Sometimes working with just one anticipatory anxiety tip that resonates with you can be more effective than attacking it with several, particularly since some tips may appear to contradict others! What will help you as an individual can depend on how your fear is progressing and your core beliefs.
Tip 1: Establish the basis of your fear
A common first step to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to start by asking yourself on what are you basing your fear. You may have experienced a trauma in your past that justifies you anticipating that trauma again, but put the trauma into the context of the bigger picture. How many similar events (not involving you) have ended successfully without trauma? It’s important to reach out and expand all of the other experiences (the factual evidence) that you are ignoring at the emotional level. So if you have a fear of flying, visualise yourself in the many millions of flights taking off and landing successfully to reassure your anticipation. Your panic attack will have no connection with the success of your next flight, but it will ruin the enjoyment of your journey should you decide to fly. Take control of your anticipatory anxiety and you can trust your pilot will take care of your flight for you.
Tip 2: Interrupt your fearful thoughts
Another tip to help you cope with anticipatory anxiety is to interrupt your fearful thoughts. Fearful thoughts can spiral out of control and keep you trapped in your anxiety. Your imagination can just keep expanding each anxious thought until your symptoms are distressing you.
Once you notice that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed because of a particular thought, interrupt that thought with a positive one. Let’s say you’re worrying about losing your job. In such a scenario, you will be anticipating feeling worthless and dwelling on the follow-on catastrophes such as losing your house or your partner abandoning you. Your positive thought may relate to identifying why you are good at your job or what skills you can develop (with training) to maintain your employability. More often than not, this change of thought can interrupt your fearful thoughts and help you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. Italso keeps the negative thoughts from taking over your mind and emotions whenever they come back.
Tip 3: Imagine the best-case scenario
It’s interesting that the human brain is designed for protection. When the nervous system is aroused, it gets ready to prepare for the worst. That’s the downside though. Since its priority is safety, the brain automatically surveys for the worst-case scenarios so that it can prepare the body just in case. This is not a problem for the average person. For individuals with anticipatory anxiety, however, this can be a huge predicament. You’ve probably heard and used the phrase “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” It’s a common technique used in cognitive therapy to restructure your catastrophe and can be very useful for certain people in different situations. Do you find that when you imagine the worst case scenario though, your imagination draws you towards the worst-case scenario, as if you are doomed? If it does, then you will probably benefit by imagining the best-case scenario. Yes, be bold with the power of your mind and change your emotional journey! It won’t always give you control over the external situation, but it can give you an immediate feeling of calm by imagining the best outcome. This can be a huge step towards learning to cope with anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 4: Learn to relax
In a busy world like ours, it’s very easy to overlook the fact that our mind and body need relaxation. You are more susceptible to worry and anxiety when your mind is not rested. To cope with anticipatory anxiety, you need to make it a habit of taking a “Time-out” at least once in your day. That doesn’t necessarily mean not doing anything. There are many activities that you can engage in that can help your mind and body rest. Identify what you enjoy most. Gardening, reading, writing, hanging out with friends, yoga, exercising, and yes, even playing a sport! – All of these activities will help keep your mind relaxed and rested, if not during but after the activity. If you are curious about doing “mind work”, then “passive” relaxation can be just as effective. Consider meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques to lower stress and anxiety.
Tip 5: Take a step out of your thoughts
It can be so easy to be convinced by your thoughts when you live inside of them. The potential to be pulled into believing those worst case scenarios (explained in tip 3) can leave you feeling helpless, despite those situations rarely ever materialising. Several authors emphasise the ability to be the observer of your thoughts rather than being your thoughts. This is a way to effectively “hack” the natural anxious thinking process and create distance from its influence. To help you cope with anticipatory anxiety using this tip, you’ll benefit by getting into your mind zone (suggested in tip 4) where you can calm your mind and slow down the pace of your thoughts. You can then use your imagination to visualise stepping out of your anxious thoughts, leaving them behind and appreciating the freedom it gives you to choose where you want to take them. Feel empowered when you access a deeper relaxation, confidence or self-belief. All of these can be your liberation from anticipatory anxiety.
Tip 6: Get enough sleep
Just as anxiety can keep you up all night, aiming to get enough sleep can help you to cope with anticipatory anxietymore effectively. The two simply have such a strong relationship, and that relationship is bi-directional. This means that if you want to treat one, you also need to treat the other. When it comes to sleep, however, the key is to get 7 to 8 hours a night and establish good sleep hygiene practices. This will help improve your morning mood and levels of irritability. To improve the quality of your sleep, you need to slowly eliminate activities that stimulate your mind before bedtime. This may include reducing caffeine intake, limiting your screen time, and tailoring your environment to make it more conducive for sleeping. Learning how to guide your mind to sleep can also be helpful.
Tip 7: Face the problem head on
The motivational phrase “face your fear” may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s actually an excellent way to cope with anticipatory anxiety. For the pragmatist, it’s the antidote to being left “in-waiting” for the situation to arrive with nothing to do, which typifies anticipatory anxiety. You may be ready to “flood” your experience and jump into the deep end by tackling the situation head on. Many would prefer a graduated or controlled exposure dealing with smaller parts of the situation to build confidence. If you have a fear of public speaking for example, then consider how you can start in “safe mode” developing public speaking skills whilst gradually increasing the size of your audience, the authority of your audience and the importance of the presentation task. These are common issues that when controlled, can help you develop your public speaking confidence.
Tip 8: Seek support
Whether from family or friends, it’s crucial that you have someone to support you in order for you to cope with anticipatory anxiety. When you think that you’re the only one who has anticipatory anxiety, it makes you feel more embarrassed and self-critical. It helps to have someone close whom you can share your thoughts with, and someone who can offer his or her support when you’re overwhelmed.
Finally, it’s critical that you seek professional help from a therapist or hypnotherapist. This is especially true when you are suffering from chronic anticipatory anxiety or panic disorder. With hypnotherapy, so many of the tips offered in this article can be suggested to your mind without conscious interference. You will also benefit from a huge reduction of anxiety when you are in hypnosis.
For further information on how hypnotherapy can help you cope with anticipatory anxiety, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff.