Using art and hypnotherapy to reduce health anxiety
Are you experiencing a constant feeling of unease, feeling worried about becoming infected and even dying? You might be suffering from GAD (generalised anxiety disorder).
It is reasonable to go through a short period of anxiety prior to an exam, for example, or during a challenging event such as a job interview. Anxiety is the way of our mind of keeping us alert and telling us, ‘I’ve got this and I am going to protect you.’
However, if we are constantly feeling dizzy, restless or worried to the point of having palpitations, and the fear of going out is taking away the essence of our happiness, it is a good idea to seek help. Anxiety can hinder our daily life and become exhausting, especially now that the media seem to talk mostly about deaths, infection rates and being safe.
While general anxiety can stem from many physical, genetic issues or traumatic experiences, it can also be generated by a constant stream of negative messages that we are not filtering and feels like a tsunami of negativity. It could be the media or a toxic person nearby - the effect is the same: we feel we can’t cope.
The good news is that there is much we can do to lower a perceived threat (with related anxiety) to a decent level and to enjoy life more.
What can you do to reduce anxiety?
A simple way of tackling anxiety is to start some gentle form of exercise, yoga or dance. Just 10-15 minutes a day are shown to improve our breathing and oxygenation, increase our levels of dopamine and generally improve our mood, making us feel more capable of dealing with life and clearing up space in our mind.
A walk in the countryside, gardening and actively play with children also counts as exercise, while bringing us a smile.
Another aspect we could consider is cutting down on alcohol, smoke and caffeine. Not only we will save money but we will have a more stable mood once we find a new mindful habit to replace these ‘gap-filling’ substances.
When anxiety seems to be beyond our control, we can also work with a therapist who will assist us in discerning the origin of the issue and offer us a few sessions to support us.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for example is a well-known talk-therapy that helps us change the way we think and behave by analysing those thoughts that are unrealistic or not helpful. CBT focuses on the present and, thus, is very good if our focus is on that and if our issue stems from a present problem.
However, sometimes our anxiety is deeply seated and is actually stemming from events that have taken place many years ago, even in our childhood. No amount of self-affirmations, exercise, or talking can completely remove those issues because the emotions connected to them have been stored in the subconscious mind without being properly processed (especially trauma).
This is when hypnotherapy comes to rescue.
How does hypnotherapy for anxiety work?
While in hypnosis, the therapist can access our subconscious mind in a gentle way, while we relax and allow those past events to emerge.
During the session, we can gradually discover the connection between what we are feeling now and what we felt during a past event and we can then make sense of it, make peace so to speak, and move on.
Our fear of becoming ill could come from seeing our frail and seriously ill grandmother at the hospital when we were very young, and assume that when we reach the same age we are going to be just as ill.
Some of us live in constant fear of getting cancer or other diseases because some family members have died from it. Our mind builds many beliefs that are based on incorrect conclusions, and it uses them to create a state of fearful wait for such painful events to inflict suffering on us in the future.
During a hypnotherapy session, we safely observe these events as if we were watching a movie, then we get to remove the emotional connection and reaction, restoring a balanced and realistic view of the situation, and thus of our current feeling of anxiety, which is the reaction.
It is normal to feel deeply relaxed and lighter after a hypnotherapy session. To continue this state of relaxation and wellness, and to reinforce the new, healthier belief in our mind, the therapist will normally give the patient a hypnotic recording to listen to.
Our mind learns by repetition and we gradually accept the new way of being and of seeing life. This process is literally regenerating a part of our brain as new synaptic connections are formed and reinforced every time we repeat the concept.
It is reassuring to know that, with expert help, even our wildest fears can be greatly reduced and often eliminated, allowing us to enjoy life to a higher degree.
As our mind learns by repetition, it pays to observe who we are listening to and what we are reading every day because our mind is learning from those words too. We can make a list of the radio and TV program we watch, our books and magazines, the type of news we listen to, and then ask ourselves, ‘How does this program/article make me feel?’ Or, ‘How does this person make me feel?'
You might be surprised at your answers when you actually focus on the feeling you are getting from a specific source. A good idea is to identify how useful that feeling is in your daily life and whether you want to keep it, enhance it or substitute it for a more pleasant one.
I had some clients who had a negative little voice in their mind telling them they were surely going become sick and even die. During the session, it turned out that a well-meaning relative had expressed concern regarding an extreme sport, or even driving, and had shared a horrific experience to a young person, whose mind was profoundly disturbed by the description of the incident.
Other clients believed they were just hopeless and would soon be ill like a sick sibling - ‘It’s in our genes’. But, is it?
'A-ha' moments are common in most sessions and mostly occur when the patient clearly sees the connection between how they felt in the past and how they feel today. It is truly liberating to defeat those negative self-chattering thoughts. It is literally like dropping a heavy nag we have been carrying for too long.
How can art help?
I often suggest complementing the therapy we are doing with a form of art: drama, singing, dancing, visual arts, textile arts, writing, poetry…. anything creative goes under this umbrella.
All the arts allow human expression, focus and relaxation in a gentle, effective manner. Excellence is not a requirement to try out arts - a playful attitude and the desire to just ‘be’ is sufficient.
Although not everyone is a perfectly pitched singer with a wonderful, rich voice, singing brings relaxation, improved breathing and focus within minutes. Have you ever tried to be angry or anxious about your health when you are singing from your heart? It’s impossible!
The same goes for dancing. The fact that we are unable to remember which step goes first in a ballroom dance, or we are a little stiff when we try a Zumba session, doesn’t take away the wonderful effect of movement on our entire system. Not only does it improve our breathing and stamina, but it raises our levels of dopamine and helps us to have a better outlook on life.
When coupled with a good laugh - maybe with a friend on Zoom or in-person when possible - dance is one of the most exhilarating ways of taking our focus off what can go wrong, and just enjoy life.
When we delve into textile arts - embroidery, drawing, sculpting, cake decorating (and eating?) - something special happens in our mind. We are deeply focused, we are playful, we are ‘in the flow’ and we literally forget about everything else - including our fears.
As we learn to connect to those feelings more often, our anxiety levels drop and our stability improves. One quick way to calm down is to start a colouring book hobby. Whether we enjoy colouring train pictures, robots, or cute animals, inspirational images or detailed ones, colouring has the capacity to soothe, calm and refresh the mind.
For a few minutes each day we can give ourselves the gift of self-nourishment and enjoy our hobby, detaching our mind from the constant chattering and fear-mongering around us. We will enjoy a deep connection to ourselves, a sense of gratitude for the small things we notice, and a deeper appreciation for the gift of life.
We always get what we focus on - and the energy goes all there.
What will you do today to gently return to a calm state of mind?