How does hypnotherapy help with pain management?
Pain. It’s something we all experience at some point or another. While pain itself may be inescapable in many ways, how severely we experience it – and how our reactions may increase how we perceive that pain – is something that we might be able to influence, thanks to hypnotherapy.
The basics: hormones and hypnotherapy
The ways in which our bodies have developed over time really are fascinating. Thanks to our survival instincts, when we are feeling stressed or anxious, certain hormones including adrenaline and cortisol are released. As we enter ‘fight or flight’ mode, this causes our bodies to have physical reactions – muscles tensing, breathing speeding up, a heightened sense of awareness. While these responses were great for keeping us safe from physical threats, when we are faced with an event that is particularly stressful or anxiety-inducing today, these hormones can lead to us feeling overwhelmed and on edge.
When we expect to experience something unpleasant due to what we have been told, such as say, going into labour, or developing a fear of needles due to past bad experiences, our bodies can start releasing these hormones in preparation for what we perceive to be an upcoming negative experience.
The good news is that our bodies can also produce calming hormones that can help release any physical tension or stress that may make us more likely to perceive pain in a negative way. “The love hormone” is produced when we laugh, feel calm, relaxed, or loved. Even a simple hug can trigger our bodies to produce this feel-good hormone. However, anxiety, stress, and our ‘fight or flight’ instincts can interfere with the body’s natural production of this, instead, producing adrenalin.
So what can we do to help decrease the influence of stress and anxiety on our pain?
Hypnobirthing can help you feel more relaxed and in control
Brought into the spotlight thanks to its popularity amongst celebrity and royal mums-to-be, hypnobirthing refers to the use of hypnosis during childbirth. In the weeks coming up to your due date, expectant mums can attend one-on-one or group hypnobirthing classes to learn more about self-hypnosis, relaxation, and breathing techniques. But why has it become so popular?
Hypnobirthing aims to give back a sense of control to those giving birth (and those who are supporting them in the delivery room) by equipping them with the tools to feel more relaxed, calm, and happy throughout. By decreasing the parent’s anxiety around their expectations of labour – often, we are surrounded by negative media portrayals that focus on the pain, things going wrong, or the extremes of the event, which can leave everyone involved feeling anxious – the hope is that, whether this is their first child or subsequent labour after a past bad experience, this can help them to regain a sense of control over what and how they are feeling.
Recommended from around 25-30 weeks into the pregnancy, hypnobirthing classes or one-to-one sessions can help you to learn the skills needed to handle anxiety around labour. Many of the tools taught through hypnobirthing can be applied to other kinds of anxiety or worry. These methods can include:
- Using affirmations to help re-focus your mind onto the positives or desired outcomes.
- Focusing on positive language to create a more supportive environment, and avoid allowing your mind to focus on negative thoughts.
- Listening to relaxation scripts or recordings that use visualisation and hypnosis.
- Creating the optimal environment (low lights, calming music, soothing scents).
As hypnotherapist and holistic well-being practitioner, Elizabeth Hollywood explains, simple hypnosis techniques can have a powerful impact.
“By learning some simple hypnobirthing techniques, they can influence their birth in a positive way both physically and mentally. A combination of antenatal education, breathing techniques and reframing birth through positive thoughts, visualisations and hypnosis can help women feel empowered, confident and better prepared for childbirth.”
“One of the most valuable things you will learn in hypnobirthing is how to breathe. Learning how to breathe properly can help women gain control over the way their body reacts.
“By breathing calmly and rhythmically, we can reduce adrenaline and cortisol which is released during times of anxiety and release helpful hormones, endorphins and oxytocin which can help make childbirth more comfortable. Endorphins are found naturally in our bodies and provide relief from physical and emotional pain. It is very reassuring to women when they learn that their body is able to produce its very own natural painkiller.”
Hypnosis can help us unlink past negative experiences with future events
Pain during sex can be a surprisingly common issue – especially for women who have or are experiencing the menopause. Yet due to its sensitive nature, we can feel embarrassed to talk about it and seek help – leading to an increase in stress, unhappiness, and a reluctance to experience sexual intimacy. This can cause us to anticipate pain before it may happen, heightening the sensation when we do feel it, and even cause further physical discomfort, thanks to tense muscles and physical reactions to our stress.
Hypnotherapy can help you to identify your negative feelings or past experiences, working with your subconscious mind and using regression techniques to address past trauma and remove anxiety. They can also introduce you to other methods, such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) which can help remove self-imposed ‘blocks’ and realign your mind.
Hypnosis can help refocus your mind
Rather than trying to convince your brain that you aren’t experiencing pain, hypnosis can help you to manage fear, anxiety, and stress that may be related to your pain. Through promoting relaxation and reducing stress, your nervous system can become less reactive to the pain you may be experiencing.
With the help of a hypnotherapist, once under hypnosis, you can focus on relaxing and letting go of distracting thoughts. In this relaxed state, your hypnotherapist can make suggestions that will encourage pain relief and focus your mind on something more pleasant, using visualisation techniques.
A hypnotherapist can teach you relaxation techniques for pain relief
Relaxation techniques can help us to avoid our bodies tensing up, breaking the cycle of stress, tension, fear and pain. Practising simple techniques such as meditation and mindful breathing can help you not only in hypnotherapy sessions, but also reinforce new habits and ideas between sessions and at home.
By regularly practising deep relaxation techniques, over time you can restore and strengthen your immune system, lower your blood pressure, increase your concentration and energy levels, and even get a more restful night’s sleep. It’s also thought that relaxation can help to lessen chronic pain, tension headaches, migraines, and back pain.
Does hypnotherapy for pain relief really work?
As with all forms of complementary therapy, hypnotherapy can have a positive impact on some people – however, the degree to which it helps can vary from person to person. Approaching hypnosis with an open mind is a vital step towards seeing any benefits.
The good news is that studies have reported seeing positive effects on treating chronic pain with hypnosis. According to a 2009 study that looked into the results of 13 previous studies, it was revealed that hypnosis can consistently help to decrease the pain associated with a number of chronic pain problems, whilst hypnosis and self-hypnosis were revealed to be more effective than other forms of treatment, such as education, attention, and in some cases, even physical therapy.
An earlier meta-analysis of studies looked into the results of 18 previous studies to reveal that 75% of participants had experienced substantial pain relief following the use of hypnotic techniques.
As hypnotherapist Jason Demant explains, research into the effectiveness of hypnotherapy for pain management shows many promising results.
“Studies have demonstrated that hypnotherapy can help some chronic pain sufferers. Even when the physical pain itself was not affected, people felt more able to cope, and their quality of life improved.”
However, it’s important to remember that, whilst hypnotherapy can be a powerful, effective tool, it should never be used as a substitute for seeking appropriate medical care. If you are experiencing pain due to an unknown reason, or symptoms of an existing condition appear to be worsening, it is always important to speak with your GP, consultant, or a medical practitioner.
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