By Katina Gleeson
Can hypnotherapy assist people experiencing anxiety? In my experience as a clinical hypnotherapist the answer is yes. I am keen to share some of my observations about how and why hypnotherapy can be a powerful form of treatment.
Let’s first briefly discuss what anxiety is and then take a glimpse at how our brains have evolved:
What is anxiety?
From time to time we all feel stressed or worried. Stress, worry and anxious feelings are a common reaction to a situation where a person feels under pressure or that their safety is threatened.
These uncomfortable feelings usually pass when the stressful situation has passed.
Anxiety is much more than those passing feelings of stress and worry.
Anxiety is when these anxious and uncomfortable feelings don’t abate. Anxiety is when those feelings are ongoing and occur in the absence of real threat, or continue for too long after the danger has passed. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life.
Anxiety can have a combination of physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms including:
- hot and cold flushes
- racing heart
- tightening of the chest
- snowballing worries
- obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior
A little bit about how our brains have evolved
We are born with a brain that has two processing systems:
- conscious processing which is responsible for short term memory, logic, reasoning, analysis, judgement and thinking
- unconscious (for my purposes synonymous with subconscious) processing which is responsible for long term memory, habits and instincts, automatic responses such as breathing, heart rate, hormonal responses and digestion.
When these two systems are operating in harmony we have balance. When they don’t we have discomfort or pain in some aspect of our physical or emotional lives and often a confusing internal conflict. How often I have heard people say to me “I have a great partner, children, job, friends, home … and yet my stomach churns constantly and I can’t sleep.”
I believe that people have a very powerful need for balance – think about the times you have tripped and how you instinctively do everything you can to stop yourself from falling. I’ve sometimes wondered if I would have hurt myself less by falling than going through those instinctive contortions to keep my balance.
Through my clinical experience I have come to see anxiety as a symptom of un-balance at the unconscious level. In considering the metaphor above, I think of anxiety as instinctive contortions of the sympathetic nervous system (which operates at the unconscious level) performed with the best of intentions yet triggering pain.
I will discuss the sympathetic and parasympathic nervous systems in my next article.
A few thoughts about why I believe hypnotherapy can assist
As a clinical hypnotherapist I work with what I believe to be the most powerful part of the mind – the unconscious mind. Our conscious minds, which operate at the level of logic, reasoning, analysis, judgement and thinking, are not equipped to undertake the healing processes required to sooth anxiety.
The unconscious mind is everything that is not part of our present-moment or conscious awareness. All of our thoughts and beliefs which control our emotions, habits and behaviours exist in our unconscious mind.
All real change and learning occurs at the unconscious level. When a person is in the hypnotic state the unconscious mind has increased receptiveness to suggestion and healing.
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