Stress vs Anxiety: How hypnotherapy can help

Stress and anxiety are often discussed in conjunction. They get tangled and knotted together – bandied around as though they are the same thing but they are, in fact, different. One can be linked to another. Anxiety can cause stress or vice versa, but it helps to differentiate them.

For one thing, if they are divided, they are not working as a team, against us. Separated, we can understand them better, manage them better and ultimately overcome them.

What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Simply put, stress is a reaction to a situation where we feel angry, anxious, frustrated or in pain. If drawn, stress would be a line getting wider the more we felt it. Possibly with an offshoot here or there, but it is a clear response to something.

Unlike the stress sketch, anxiety is not a clear line. It is cyclical, knotted, tangled and entwined. It can be the cause and the effect. It can permeate into corners of our life that were solid and clear and turn them murky. Whilst these are simple illustrations of the two conditions, they are anything but simple or straight forward. 

Stress, for instance, has different levels and these levels are formally recognised and treated by professionals in a variety of ways. So, let’s break these down to gain a better understanding. After all, the more we understand something the more we can master it.

‘Eustress’ is a small amount of stress that some folk can actually find useful and positive. It can help to keep us motivated and give us momentum. Most people will experience this in their day to day lives. For example, leaving for the airport, getting to an appointment on time or preparing for a date. All of these instances have a dash of eustress to them, chivvying us along and giving us a sense of purpose. Some people find they work better under a small amount of pressure, such as when a deadline is nearing.

Without this eustress, people can feel relaxed but, after time, a sense of redundancy can set in. This is referred to as ‘hypostress’ – a lack of stress. During this pandemic, many of us have experienced a shortage of motivation or inclination to do things. This could be an indication of hypostress as, for some, our days have been lacking in structure and purpose, leaving us feeling a little empty and lethargic. For others, we have been overwhelmed and may be experiencing acute stress as we find ourselves constantly fighting to stay afloat during these unpredictable times. 

Hypnotherapy can weed out those negative beliefs that our subconscious holds on to. It can get to the root of a problem and help break the cycle.

‘Acute stress’ is the most common type. It can be a more intense and repeated feeling of stress. A physical response to this level of stress could be the body creating areas of tension such as jaw clamping. Sleep disturbance and digestive problems are also common when someone is in this vigilant state of stress. Our behaviours can also change as we may be quick to lose our temper or break down in tears.

These initial three types are seen commonly in people and can be managed positively and easily with the right support. There are then a further three levels of stress that need more involvement from your GP as they can become all-consuming if not treated correctly.

Where does stress come from?

The origins of stress can be linked to the innate human need to survive. These imprinted survival techniques lead us to often react in one of three ways to perceived stress – fight, flight or freeze.

That said, it is thought that we are only born with two innate fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. These can be linked to many other threats. Loud noises can represent danger in the form of aggressive animals or traffic on a road. However, beyond these two triggers, we are not wired to fear things or find them stressful. Stress is often a learnt response.

As we grow up, we are constantly being influenced by our parents’ beliefs, likes, fears and the corresponding chosen responses. This, in turn, can mean that we adopt finding something stressful, as our parents did. Just as we learnt how to show affection from our family, we also learn how to show stress.

Having overly high expectations of ourselves is another common origin of stress. Putting ourselves under pressure to live up to some notion of how our life should be. Comparing ourselves to others and creating overly aspirational goals for ourselves and our loved ones. These ideals become our own guidebook for how we ‘should’ live our lives and we need our loved ones to join us on this journey, otherwise, we won’t succeed. The problem is, they don’t have the guidebook. They have their own version and it can be very different from ours. 

So, how is stress different from anxiety?

Remember those sketches? In some ways, anxiety could be considered cyclical whereas stress is more linear. Stress is a reaction to a feeling whereas anxiety can feed itself and become much more complex than the initial trigger. Anxiety and stress are linked in so much that our anxieties can lead us to become stressed. A stressful situation can spark anxieties that have been tucked away for years. 

Hypnotherapy works exceptionally well for anxiety. Many hypnotherapists find progressive relaxation very useful to help a person go into the trance state. By the time we work on the issue, the person is in a lovely relaxed state. It’s like having a mental massage.

– Hypnotherapist Penny Ling

An example of the cyclical nature of anxiety would be; we go to a social function at work and people are discussing topics we know little about, resulting in us feeling silly and uneducated. Any attempt to join in only makes us feel more inept – we are reminded of experiencing something similar at school and being humiliated amongst our peers.

So, we stop going to work socials. We cut ourselves off and allow the notion that we are not adequate to take control. Our own company is safe and comforting. In time, we build up such strong feelings towards work functions that, if we had to go to one, we’d feel overwhelmed by the fear of saying the wrong thing or embarrassing ourselves.

Our anxiety now prevents us from conversing naturally. We feel agitated and uncomfortable and all we can think about is how we can get home to ‘safety’. 

Hypnotherapy for anxiety

But there is a way to untangle this knot. Hypnotherapists can help break the cycle of anxiety and enable their client to take control: self-managing the physical reactions to their anxieties and stresses.

Hypnotherapy can be hugely effective in supporting someone to manage their anxieties as it communicates directly with the subconscious. This is where a lot of our anxieties are stored. This then leads to our belief system of what is safe and what is a threat. The conscious and subconscious brain can be in disagreement, but the subconscious brain will often win and lead to anxious behaviours. 

Hypnotherapy can weed out those negative beliefs that our subconscious holds on to. It can get to the root of a problem and help break the cycle. If someone has come to a hypnotherapist, it is because their conscious brain knows they are demonstrating an unhealthy cycle. Your conscience wants you to get help but, without support, the subconscious brain will overpower it and win. Nothing will change. 

So, what are you waiting for?

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Written by Jessica Chapman
Jessica Chapman is a therapist and teacher with a passion for the outdoors and being creative. She enjoys assisting others in making positive changes to their lives alongside working on her own aspirations.
Written by Jessica Chapman
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