Useful approaches for anxiety
During difficult times in our lives, it is quite natural to feel anxious. It is a natural stress response to what the mind perceives as a threat, and to survive as a species we have naturally had to respond to threats. In the range of negative emotional states that we experience it is not useful to avoid them but to be aware of them as sometimes they can reveal something important that is happening to us or may happen. The problems start to begin though when we over-emphasise that threat and attach more significance to it than it merits, then when we do this with greater regularity and for longer durations, it can negatively affect our health.
The stress response or as it is also known “fight or flight” can be characterised by different physical symptoms such as dry mouth, breathing becoming fast or shallow and an urge to go to the toilet, and often in thinking can be characterised by catastrophic thoughts imagining the worst possible outcome for any given situation. The stress response can also be affected by how we are feeling emotionally and physically at the time, as well as previous negative experiences. We are not, as human beings, born anxious, but we can be influenced by other people's anxiety and the potential fears those close to us may have. I feel, as a therapist, it is important to acknowledge that every individual experiences anxiety differently, and to validate their feelings but at the same time, point out that it is all part of their mind and body's coping mechanism and to give the client hope that it can be overcome.
In hypnotherapy appointments, I find it useful to explain to my clients who are anxious that they are in control throughout the appointment. The client may also worry about other things like their concentration and their memory and it's important to assure them that these are all things commonly affected by anxiety instead of additional problems to face. In extreme cases, people may need a lot of reassurance and due to their heightened state of awareness, it may take a while for them to enter a calm enough state to hypnotise. In these scenarios, it can be helpful to use mindfulness and cognitive de-fusion techniques to take the clients anxiety down a notch before fully using hypnotherapy. These are techniques that can be applied by the client at any time and will aid the therapeutic process. In mindfulness, you are encouraged to have non-judgemental awareness of internal and external environments and it is useful in grounding you in the present far away from ruminative thoughts, to make contact with each experience in a neutral and curious way. It is also worth highlighting to any person with anxiety that it may be something that takes practice as their anxious mind will want to be busy, but the more they practise the easier it will be to achieve the desired state. Cognitive de-fusion is a process that encourages people to disentangle themselves from their thoughts and to simply see their thoughts for what they are: thoughts. It is particularly helpful for those anxious people who have ruminative thoughts. For example, if the thought is in relation to social anxiety and for a person attending a social occasion this is a common occurrence, they should be encouraged to observe the thought and name it by saying, “ I'm having that recurring anxious thought again and that is catastrophizing“. This allows you to create some distance between you and your thoughts and stops you being swept up in them.
There are various hypnotic approaches that can be employed which are useful in tackling anxiety. They vary from progressive muscle relaxation which will help calm the stress hormone levels in your body to using metaphors. In hypnotherapy, metaphors can carry deep and powerful meaning. Building a metaphor based on an individual's past experience in overcoming an obstacle or a time when they learned something new can be helpful, in that now they are going to learn to react differently when faced with stress-provoking situations.
The most important aspect of overcoming anxiety I feel is in the relationship between therapist and client, which on the therapist's part, must convey understanding and enable the client to believe that things will change. It is worth mentioning that the client must be allowed to view themselves differently as often people will think or themselves as faulty or feel embarrassed at having the problem and that going forward they must judge themselves less harshly. I often find that if a client feels like this you can ask them how they would react if a friend or family member had this problem - how would they be towards them, and to show that same care to themselves. It is also important to acknowledge that change may not be quick - especially if certain ways of thinking or behaviours have been in place for a long time, but that no state is permanent; every emotional state does eventually change and negative feelings do subside and that as unpleasant as it is, they are suffering from a perfectly fixable problem.
If you would like to work with a hypnotherapist you can search the Hypnotheray Directory website to find a therapist suited to you.
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