Understanding Anxiety and How Hypnosis Can Help Manage Anxious Feelings
Posted on 13th July 2023 at 12:12
Read below my new article published in Brainz Magazine.
Let’s talk about anxiety, understand what anxiety is, its effects on our brain and body and how hypnosis can help ease and manage anxious feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
“Mantra for Anxiety: This is not you. This is something moving through you. It can leave out of the same door it came in.” - James Clear
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is our body and mind's natural reaction to threat or danger. When you are in a challenging situation, your body releases hormones, such as adrenaline, which cause physical reactions in your body. This is known as the ‘fight or flight response’; it is your body’s way of ensuring we are alert and can respond to danger. At times, feeling high levels of anxiety and the ‘fight or flight response’ is very normal. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam or having a medical test or job interview.
Anxiety is the emotion that we feel when we are worried, tense, or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
Most people feel anxious at times. It is particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life.
The causes of anxiety will vary widely between individuals. Possible triggers include public speaking, a confrontation, illness, work, driving on a motorway, or a high-profile event, such as a wedding. Some people become anxious for no apparent reason, which may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
When does anxiety become a problem?
If you experience severe symptoms over time, you might have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can become a mental health problem when:
- Your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- Your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- Your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- You regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- You find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy
Anxiety can be a problem if you begin to regularly feel anxious when there is no threat present, or your feelings of anxiety are greater than the actual danger of a situation. If you are having extreme feelings of anxiety for a long time or they are stopping you from doing your usual activities, you may be living with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. If your anxiety feels like it is spiralling out of control never be afraid to seek professional help. You are not alone, and help is available.
The most common types of anxiety disorders.
Not all kinds of anxiety or anxiety disorders are the same.
The types of anxiety vary based on symptoms and triggers, but all interfere with and affect daily activities.
Let’s have a closer look at five common anxiety disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People with GAD feel excessive anxiety or worry on most days for at least six straight months. They may feel restless, on edge, or easily tired and may also experience concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep issues.
- Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder experience panic attacks. These are sudden feelings of terror when no real danger is present. Physical symptoms include a fast heartbeat, chest, or stomach pain, and breathing difficulties. People may also feel weakness or dizziness, sweating, chills, or numb hands. It may even feel like having a heart attack. Panic disorder is more common in women than men.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
If you have OCD, you may experience frequent and upsetting obsessions or compulsions. You may feel an overwhelming urge to repeat certain behaviours. Common obsessions include a fear of dirt or germs, a fear of getting hurt, or wanting to arrange things in certain ways. People with OCD often fixate on these obsessions and can have thoughts and rituals that interfere with their daily life.
- Phobia Disorders
A phobia is an intense fear of or aversion to specific objects or situations. This fear is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object. People with a phobia may experience irrational worry and take steps to avoid the object or situation. They may also experience immediate anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation. Common phobias include flying, heights, animals, needles…
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD occurs in people who have lived through or seen a traumatic event. These events may include war, a natural disaster, a serious accident, or any type of abuse. PTSD may cause flashbacks to the event, trouble sleeping or nightmares, lonely feelings, or angry outbursts. People with PTSD may feel worried, guilty, or sad.
How does anxiety affect the brain?
Many of us know what anxiety feels like, but what does anxiety do to your brain? Anxiety happens when a part of the brain, the amygdala, senses trouble. When it senses threat, real or imagined, it surges the body with hormones (including cortisol, the stress hormone) and adrenaline to make the body strong, fast, and powerful. This is the fight or flight response previously mentioned, and it has been keeping us alive for thousands of years. It is what strong, healthy brains are meant to do.
Essentially, two parts of the brain are impacted by anxiety: the amygdala and the hippocampus. As soon as the brain detects anxiety, a series of chemicals are released, which creates the physical reactions we are most familiar with such as a racing heartbeat, feeling of a knot in the stomach, or sweaty palms.
However, because the brain is constantly at work when it comes to detecting and managing anxiety, it is no wonder that its function can be impacted over time.
Persistent distress and severe anxiety can be unhealthy for the brain and the body. Brain research has shown that it can be toxic to brain cells, is linked with anxiety disorders, and that it can alter brain physiology. Brain scans show that the amygdala area of the brain, which processes fear, grows in size, while the hippocampus area of the brain shrinks, harming long-term memory.
This shows that the brain is not exempt from harmful impacts. Recent research suggests that chronic anxiety can cause structural degeneration to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Such damage could make a person more susceptible to developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment.
How does anxiety affect the body?
It has long been understood that prolonged anxiety and stress can have a physical impact on the body. For instance, someone who struggles with anxiety throughout their life may be prone to heart disease or a weakened immune system.
While conversations on anxiety tend to revolve around how a person feels mentally and emotionally, it’s important to consider the physical symptoms, too. For a lot of people struggling with anxiety, it is not always clear how to make the connection between how they are feeling physically and their emotional state.
Living with chronic anxiety can cause physical stress on your body, especially to your nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and respiratory systems.
Everyone has anxiety from time to time, but chronic anxiety can interfere with your quality of life. While perhaps most recognized for behavioural changes, anxiety can also have serious consequences on your physical health.
There is no single set of anxiety symptoms or physical effects that appears universally in every person. It depends on the individual, as well as the specific anxiety disorder they may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias, panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on.
With that said, there are noticeable physical symptoms that tend to appear, on their own or in combination with each other. These usually include:
- Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
- Hyperventilation / shortness of breath / shallow breathing
- Digestive issues / disorders
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
- Restlessness, fidgeting, trembling, and shaking
- Muscle aches and tension
- Feelings of sickness or nausea
These may be apparent at a low level throughout much of your daily routine, or they may show up excessively during times of high stress or emotionally charged situations. These symptoms don’t need to consume your life before you seek treatment. If you think you may suffer from an anxiety disorder, it is strongly recommended to seek a professional diagnosis.
Hypnosis is a very effective modality for anxiety management. Hypnotherapy sessions will help to relax and reprogram an anxious brain.
The method involves a highly trained therapist using therapeutic words, phrases, or techniques to help you enter an altered sate of consciousness.
Hypnosis involves guided relaxation, self-talk, and visualization.
The idea behind hypnosis revolves around altering your brainwaves, allowing you to tap into resources within yourselves that you cannot reach when fully conscious.
What is hypnotherapy?
Contrary to what you have seen in movies, therapeutic and clinical hypnosis involves a lot more than traveling into a trancelike state after looking into someone’s eyes.
During a hypnosis session, you undergo a process that helps you relax and focus your mind. This state is similar to sleep, but your mind will be very focused and more able to respond to suggestion. Hypnosis is a heightened state of awareness.
Hypnotherapy is the application of psychological therapy during a state of hypnosis, to change or modify behaviour patterns.
Hypnotherapy can deal with psychosomatic problems, that is, problems that are rooted in and controlled by the subconscious mind. Hypnotherapy can bypass the conscious mind, allowing positive, life-affirming suggestions for change, to be fed directly to the subconscious mind and acted upon. Hypnotic suggestions have a cumulative effect; over time, there is a buildup of reinforcement in the subconscious that will be acted upon by the conscious mind.
While in this relaxed state, you are more willing to focus on your subconscious mind. This allows you to explore some of the deeper issues you are dealing with.
The practitioner, or therapist, is there to help guide this process. They are not there to control your mind.
What are the benefits of using hypnotherapy to treat anxiety?
Even though hypnotherapy is not as widely known as psychotherapy and medication for treating anxiety, researchers and scientists have been studying the effects it can have on mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression for several years.
In one 2016 study, researchers scanned the brains of people while they were undergoing guided hypnosis sessions. They found that a hypnotized brain experiences changes in the brain that give a person:
- Focused attention
- greater physical and emotional control
- Less self-consciousness
How is hypnotherapy used to treat anxiety?
Let’s say you have a fear of flying. During a hypnotherapy session, the therapist can give you what is known as a “posthypnotic suggestion” while you are in a state of trance.
In this dreamlike state, the mind becomes more open to suggestion. This allows the therapist to suggest to you how easily confident you will be the next time you sit on a plane.
Because of the relaxed state you are in, it can be easier to avoid escalating any anxiety symptoms you may feel, such as:
- A feeling of impending doom
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tension / pain
- Stomach pains / nervous stomach
The hypnotherapy sessions will help you feel calmer, make you feel more serene and at peace. Using hypnosis, we will anchor the feelings of calm and peace and as your subconscious mind is being reprogrammed, it will send a modified signal to your conscious mind and will help break the chain of anxious thoughts.
Hope this gives you a better understanding of what anxiety is, its effects on our brain and body and how hypnosis can help manage anxious feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
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