Can hypnotherapy stop me worrying so much?
Are you the kind of person to worry over things that never seem to happen?
Do you fret over unfolding calamities that never come to bear? Maybe you have found yourself fretting over matters so trivial that other people couldn’t understand what you were so flummoxed about. Have you had loved ones or friends trying to convince you that just because you think something is true, it doesn’t is necessarily mean it is?
Sometimes, a little subjective flexibility in perception is all that is needed to allay some of our negative thinking.
Are you a worrier?
If you are not sure if you have a negative view of things, perhaps answering the following questions may help:
- Do you fret over unfolding calamities that never come to bear?
- Can you lose yourself in a vortex of rumination that blinds you to the positive things in life?
Your answer to this question could indicate whether or not you are carrying around some unnecessary psychological baggage. And, if so, what is the story your unconscious mind has learned and is now telling you to beware of? And what is the price of this excessive worry?
Physical side effects of worry
Worry is not only a mental problem, it affects us physically too. The overload of cortisol (the stress hormone) that floods our panicking brain has been linked to heart disease, weaker immunity, and ageing. In fact, it has been shown that the stress hormones of a pregnant woman can impact the development of her unborn child’s brain, affecting its development and lowering its IQ. It has also been linked to ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
So if excessive worry is exhausting for us both mentally and physically, why is our brain hardwired to forecast negative outcomes to the potential cost of our health? The answer is your negativity bias is trying to save your life…
What is "negativity bias"?
In simple terms, negativity bias is the idea that our brain is more likely to focus on trying to predict negative outcomes over positive ones.
If we look into our past and recall an event that our childhood brain saw as negative, we store that memory away to later act as a siren to alert us of similar dangers in the future. The dog that barked at you when you were playing in the park as a two-year-old will create a chain of associations in your unconscious mind so that it is possible to carry a fear of dogs into your late adulthood. Obviously, dogs aren’t always a danger but if a negative association with them is imprinted in your mind, it can be very difficult to let the fear go.
We build on that negativity through our own pre-conceived expectations, seeking evidence to re-enforce it as we grow, and our unconscious mind will do everything it can to keep us safe from these threats, even if the triggering event would seem laughable now were we to re-experience it with our adult brain.
This isn’t all about scary dogs either; we can develop negative biases around anything: relationships, work, and money, whether or not we are lovable, fear about not belonging, fear of failure, and even fear of success.
“In many ways, intelligence is really just a measure of our capacity for prediction”
– Steven Johnson popular science writer and media theorist.
This is probably quite obvious but what happens if your brain becomes too protective, creating the avoidant behaviours and limiting beliefs that we carry into adulthood?
Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, a professor at Florida State University, co-wrote an article, “Bad Is Stronger than Good”, which appeared in The Review of General Psychology. In it he said:
“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
This is why bad experiences can have a longer-lasting effect than good ones. But this isn’t a malfunction, it is part of the design; being aware of danger protects you!
As annoying as it can sometimes be, this makes good evolutionary sense. Everyone recalls negative memories more strongly than positive ones. From an evolutionary point of view, if you are attuned to the bad things around you, you would have been more likely to survive danger. As the article states:
“Survival requires urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent with regard to good ones.”
In closing the article he concludes, “Even though a bad event may have a stronger impact than a comparable good event, many lives can be happy by virtue of having far more good than bad events”
Sounds simples, right? If you don’t want to worry so much, just have more good experiences! This may sound easier said than done for most of us, but there is some hope for persistent worriers...
85% of what we worry about is imagined
An interesting study at Penn State University asked a small group of people who presented with anxiety to write down everything they worried about for a month. Along with their worries, they were also asked to list the possible consequences should their fears come true.
It turned out that most of their worries do not come true at all. In fact, even when their worries did play out, they never did so with the devastating impact that they had initially feared.
Remarkably, it turned out that 85% of what subjects worried about never actually happened! With the 15% of participants who did feel that a negative event had taken place, 79% of that group found that they could handle the difficulty much better than they expected. Even more encouragingly, they reported that the difficulty had actually taught them a valuable life lesson – further building their future resilience.
When presented with this evidence, many in the research group found that they were better able to manage their anxiety levels long after the study. This indicates that often our attitude to worry determines how we deal with it.
Often fear is a misuse of imagination
So if you were to re-answer the previously posed questions, how could you now answer? What possibilities could make themselves apparent if there is, statistically, nothing to worry much to worry about at all?
How can hypnosis help?
One way of uprooting unconscious worries is the graceful and effective approach offered by hypnotherapy. Dealing primarily with unconscious beliefs, hypnosis can alleviate negative emotions attached to old memories, relieve trauma, and allow you to consciously reframe old experiences, often as important learning experiences that allow you to live with more resilience and less fear.
“There are so many things in human living that we should regard not as traumatic learning but as incomplete learning, unfinished learning.”
- Milton H. Erickson, MD
One lovely lesson in life is that you can turn bad experiences into useful life lessons, and hypnotherapy can create the bridge and conditions that can turn old beliefs into new learnings.
Don't worry, be happy!
Even though bad events have a stronger impact on us, most people manage to live happy, fulfilling lives without feeling the need to hide from constant danger.
But it is estimated that, theoretically, it takes around five good events to overcome one negative one. So it might be an idea to take a moment or two away from the fear of impending danger to try and enjoy some of the nicer things in life. Sometimes those imminent dangers may turn out not to be so bad after all.
Or we can take comfort in the wise words of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne who once playfully mused: "My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
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