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Anxiety and Hypnotherapy. An animal park in your head!

Updated: Aug 13, 2022


The first thing is that when discussing anxiety here I am not talking about day to day anxiety that everyone feels at some point, I am talking about severe anxiety or Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This is the type of anxiety that hypnotherapy deals with highly effectively and forms most of my work with clients. The great news is that low level anxiety is felt by everyone and naturally cycles up and down as a result of life events, changes in chemical balance in the body and hormone levels. Even better news is that this anxiety will go up but will always come down so even though unpleasant at the time it will pass and the body and mind return to a balanced level.


Generalised Anxiety Disorder is different and can mean that the person never really feels relaxed and never feels completely at ease. They can suffer from panic attacks and it affects the quality of their day to day lives. It is when anxiety reaches this level that therapy and hypnotherapy become a successful intervention, acting as a kind of reset for the mind. Someone suffering from anxiety is essentially operating from their primitive brain, or limbic system. When this area of the mind has executive control then there are increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline released which in turn affect the body - heart rate, breathing and perspiration rates foremost among these. One of the reasons that hypnotherapy is so successful is that hypnosis itself focusses the mind and in doing so allows it to quieten and become calm. This is the reset button. Often clients have not experienced this deep calm for years. I often explain that hypnosis quietens the "chattering monkeys" in our brain. The noisy, sometimes intrusive, thoughts that we have from day to day can become a cacophony that tires us out and makes it impossible to focus on the day to day tasks that we need to. One wonderful client recently said that it was not so much "chattering monkeys" but the whole of Longleat in her head. A powerful metaphor for the noise, distraction and discomfort that high levels of anxiety can makes us feel.



Longleat. Fantastic to visit but you don't want it in your head!


The process of hypnotherapy and therapy seeks to move where the executive function of the mind is held. Away from the primitive limbic system and into the "intellectual" mind - the rational, positive area of your brain that will be able to control the negative "noise" originating from that primitive mind. Now, I always tell clients not to berate or mentally "beat themselves up" for these negative thoughts. That in itself can only contribute to the anxiety through setting up inner conflict. Instead, recognise when those anxious negative voices are there and welcome them. That might seem strange and counter intuitive but you have now reduced conflict in your mind and can begin a process of taking command away from your primitive brain. Remember that your primitive brain, the centre of which is our fight and flight part called the amygdala, provides the incredibly important function of keeping you alive! We need it. Can you recall when you reacted to an external threat without even being aware - perhaps just movement in your peripheral vision? That is your amygdala making sure that you survive so the point is that it is entirely necessary to our existence and has been developed as part of evolutionary psychology. If you jumped away from a coiled hosepipe it will be your amygdala recognising the pattern of a snake before your rational mind, the pre frontal cortex, could process what is is and that it is not a threat. That came micro seconds later. So in these ways our primitive brain is absolutely necessary to our individual survival and our survival as a species. The problem comes when this part of the mind has, as I said previously, executive function and is running your day to day life. This part of your mind can only see danger. Of course it can, that is its sole function. So it "reads" the world as a series of danger signals. It is relentlessly negative. Again, that is its job. Its only job. So while we can thank our amygdala for being alive we need to wrest function away from it so we can enjoy a better quality of life that is not reading the world so relentlessly negatively. Here is where hypnotherapy comes in.


The first part of the hypnotherapy approach is to fire the positive neural circuits of the brain in the pre frontal cortex. Thinking about positive things is like a work out for this area of the brain. It grows neural pathways and strengthens existing ones. Please do not think that this is some sort of glib self help style advice. Of course telling someone to "be positive" is not enough. If it was enough then there would be no anxiety. But moving a client to recognising that they really enjoyed that moment in the garden, where they saw the movement of the leaves or the few seconds the Spitfire flew low over their house are the important moments in time that make up our lives. In one sense they are seemingly insignificant but, of course, we know differently. These are the moments in which we live and are invaluable. learning to recognise these takes us away from the chattering monkeys, or Longleat, to moments of calm, stillness and pleasure.


The next part of the process is to start to see your life without anxiety in it. What would it look like? Once your mind starts to see the shape and detail of a future that does not have exhausting anxiety in it there is a break through moment. This may not be the Hollywood style epiphany moment where clouds part, the choir rises in volume and light beams down. No. Something much quieter and more powerful. Your mind has now seen what the future can hold and it is mightily attractive compared to having Longleat stamping through your head and body each day.


The hypnosis part of the session allows your mind to now do the work it needs. Your breathing slows, your heart rate slows and your brainwaves change as your mind can now process the work of the session and cogitate on just how change will happen. In this part of the session you are not actually sleeping, some people confuse hypnosis with sleep. Not surprising as the word hypnosis comes from the Greek word "hypnos" meaning sleep. It looks like sleep in the sense of deep calm but actually your mind is now in the "default mode network". It is using a lot of energy but in a purposeful, focussed and direct way. The release from the noise of the mind is in itself positive and will provide a sense of deep relief.


If you or anyone you know is suffering from anxiety please get them to get in touch. Hypnotherapy provides a powerful and effective intervention and can be provided online worldwide.

beechwoodtherapies@gmail.com

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