Everyone has anxiety sometimes. The difference is that some people only have fleeting moments of anxiety, maybe once a year … while others have anxiety feelings almost every day. For many people, living with anxiety is so normal to them that they do not realise that it is quite possible to live life with little or no anxiety.
The big question is: Has your stress and anxiety reached a stage where you want to do something about it? Knowing that you could reduce your anxiety levels and get back in control of yourself, would you actually want to do that? What would your life be like when the anxiety is gone.
This is not a simple question to answer, because if you do want to do something about it, you need to put some effort in – and there are no miracle cures – it doesn’t change overnight. I tell my clients, “You have spent years training your brain to be anxious, and now it is very good at it. It will not change overnight – but in a few weeks you can make significant changes, once you have decided to put the effort in.”
So, if you have decided that you want to lead a less anxiety-filled life, what can you do about it? There are basically three main avenues that you can pursue:
Self-help – there are lots of things that you can do to help yourself, including exercise, mindfulness, taking a positive outlook on life and so on. Medication – if you go to your doctor, you may well be prescribed medication to help reduce the anxiety – although the modern trend seems to be to start with therapy first. Therapy – there are many types of therapy – hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, emotional freedom technique, cuddle therapy and the like.
I help people who want to reduce their anxiety levels using hypnotherapy. In particular, I concentrate on solution-focused hypnotherapy, which looks at what my clients want to achieve rather than digging up their past. I find that typically within 5 to 10 sessions (see note below), my clients have significantly regained control of themselves and are able to live their lives without the symptoms of the anxiety they used to suffer from.
Contact me if you want a chat about your anxiety, and what your want to do. If you want hypnotherapy sessions, I work face-to-face out of my clinic in Fleet, Hampshire, and I also work with clients over Zoom.
I cannot guarantee success in 5 to 10 sessions – some clients take less than 5 and others take more than 10 – but 5 to 10 is about average.
In the days when we had phones fixed to walls with those twisty cables joining the handset to the phone, I used to feel quite uncomfortable when the twisty cable got twisted round itself in a bit of a tangle. My wife used to laugh at me for taking the phone of the hook and untwisting the cable. It’s not that it gave me any pleasure having a nice neat phone cable, its just that I felt uncomfortable when it was twisted round itself.
Now, most people I know have some little obsession like that. I had a neighbour who would obsessively wash his car every week – whether or not it needed it. And I know plenty of people who fell they must check their social media accounts as soon as they get up in the morning. You might start to consider, what little obsessions you have.
As I say to my friends … everyone’s a little bit OCD.
These little habits we have are not really OCD – because they don’t have a significant impact on our lives. And we actually can stop doing them, even if we don’t want to. It’s when it gets so bad that it starts to interfere with our lives – that’s when we need to do something about it.
The OCD Cycle
OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The typical pattern for OCD is called the OCD cycle. It often starts off with some sort of trigger – may be a thought, or something that happens around you. That trigger starts off the OCD cycle.
Something triggers an obsessive thought that goes round and round in your head – usually a worry or very negative thought – this is the obsessive part of the cycle.
The negative thinking creates anxiety; which starts to dominate your brain and re-enforces the negative thinking. The anxiety gradually increases.
You feel compelled to take some specific action. If you think about logically, the compulsion will not resolve the situation, but at this point you are not thinking logically – you just want to get rid of the anxiety. This is the compulsive stage.
The compulsion gives you temporary relief. So just for a short time, the anxiety reduces … until the next time.
A Couple of Examples
OCD can grow so as to completely dominate people’s lives. Here are some examples I have met (with names changed of course) …
John’s OCD was triggered when he was due to leave his flat. He worried obsessively about the house being broken into while he was out. This caused him a huge amount of anxiety that took over his logical thinking patterns. He would compulsively go round each room in his flat checking that the windows were closed and locked – shaking each one vigorously, and then when he had finished he would go round and check them all again, just in case he had missed one. This gave him a temporary relief from the anxiety, but when the OCD really kicked in, he would check a third and fourth time, and eventually stopped leaving his flat altogether.
Jane’s OCD was triggered whenever she ate anything. She worried that the food she ate might have sugar in it and she was certain that any amount of sugar was bad for her. This worry caused her massive anxiety whenever she was about to eat any food. She started checking every label of everything before she ate it – obsessively checking the contents for sugar, and refusing to eat anything that had any sugar – even in trace amounts. Reading all the labels gave here temporary relief from anxiety until she had to eat again. She massively restricted what she would eat, and stopped eating out, or eating anything that anyone else offered her unless she could read the ingredients label first.
How Do You Know If You Have OCD?
Many people with OCD do not recognise that they have a problem – it is so much part of their lives that it has become normal. So ask yourself these questions:
Do you often have worried thoughts going round and round in your head – always worrying about the same thing? Do you have a something you do to prevent the thing that you are worrying about from happening? Do you feel compelled to do it – with an almost irresistible urge? Do other people tell you that what you are doing is over the top? Do you notice other people in the same situation doing something other than what you would do?
What Can You Do About It?
If you have OCD, or recognise OCD traits in one of your family and friends, you can do something about it. Doctors can prescribe medication – usually SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors). These are also prescribed for anxiety and depression. The purpose of the SSRI medication is to break the cycle at the anxiety stage. If you can reduce the anxiety, then you may not feel the compulsion.
The other forms of treatment for OCD are therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will normally gradually increase your tolerance for the trigger, so that the obsessive thoughts become more in control.
Hypnotherapy is all about allowing the unconscious part of our brain (sometimes referred to as the subconscious) to find new patterns of behaviour. When you are in a very relaxed frame of mind in a trance, the unconscious part of your mind can rewire itself, and deal with the build up of stress that has occurred and not yet been dealt with. This can allow the brain to find its own way to break the OCD cycle in a very relaxed and calm way.
Many years ago, I watched the final episode of the TV series MASH (broadcast 1983), where Hawkeye (played by Alan Alda) suffers a severe trauma and as a consequence is taken to a psychiatric hospital. The psychiatrist treats him by forcing him to remember the details of the traumatic event, which he had “suppressed”. Hawkeye recovers from his mental delusions and all is well again.
Of course, this is all rubbish.
There used to be a theory, with its origins in Freudian psychology, that traumatic or bad memories are suppressed. This would lead to psychiatric difficulties, which could be “cured” by resurfacing the suppressed memories. This lead to a lot of therapeutic practices that involved getting the sufferer to re-explore those memories.
In hypnotherapy, “age regression” became the thing to do, whereby a client was asked to go back and relive a time when they were younger, all while under a state of hypnotic trance. Some hypnotherapists even went so far as to do “past life regression”, taking the client back to a memory from a “past life”. Of course, the mind becomes very creative in a hypnotic trance, so it is not surprising when clients create all sorts of experiences that never happened, which they may mistake for memories.
These ideas are all based on the idea that to solve a psychological problem, you need to analyse the problem and understand it – in the same way that you would need to understand why your car doesn’t work before you can fix it. Of course, the brain is far more sophisticated than your car.
Modern hypnotherapy is very different. Finding a solution to psychological problems is much more to do with looking for the way forward. The unconscious part of the brain – the part we are unaware of – is quite capable of reorganising itself, once you consciously start searching for solutions instead of analysing problems.
In a solution-focused hypnotherapy session, you will find yourself talking with the hypnotherapist about what is good in your life, how to get more of it into your life, where you want to go with your life and what positive things you want to achieve. This discussion could be entirely unrelated to the problem you have. The second part of the session will be hypnosis. The hypnotic state gets you nice and relaxed – a relaxed body and a relaxed mind. While this is going on, the unconscious part of the brain – the part we are not aware of – can find time to start reorganising itself along the lines of the positive things that were discussed earlier.
After a few sessions, clients start to realise that their problem is disappearing, and that they are finding a new way forward in life. This is the miracle that I always love to see.
This is a brief description of anxiety and why we have it. I do not cover in any detail what to do about it. I will leave that for other posts.
Signs and Symptoms
When we experience anxiety, we usually notice a number of signs and symptoms in our body and mind. People will typically notice one or more of the following:
An uncomfortable feeling in the chest or stomach
Increased muscle tension
Increased breathing rate
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Increase in adrenaline and cortisol in the body
Inability to stop worrying that something bad will happen (overthinking)
Inability to stop reminding themselves or re-living something bad that happened in the past
Inability to think clearly
Increased jumpiness at sudden noises or movements
Anxiety comes in different degrees – from mild anxiety to full blown panic attacks.
Anxiety and Excitement
The feeling of anxiety is similar to the feeling of excitement. This is why some people get excited when they go on a rollercoaster or one of those scary rides, and others get panicky and scared. The body gets a similar reaction in both cases – a burst of adrenaline and cortisol. Some people love it and others hate it.
What anxiety is for
Anxiety is basically nature’s way of getting you to focus on potential danger. It is getting ready for the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response to danger. Imagine our ancestors who lived day-to-day by hunting and gathering. If they noticed signs of a pack of dangerous animals hunting in the area, they would become anxious as they went about their daily activities. The anxiety made them focus more of their attention on the possibility that they might be attacked by predators. They would be more aware of noises and movement that they might catch out of the corner of their eyes.
Their anxiety would increase if the danger was imminent. The brain would focus more on the potential danger than on gathering food. And as the danger lessened, the brain would focus more on gathering food than on the danger. Getting the balance right is key.
How the brain gets it wrong
In modern society, in most (but not all) parts of the world, we do not experience life-threatening dangers on a regular basis. But the part of the brain that deals with anxiety (the amygdala) is very primitive, and does not understand the modern world. It is the same brain structure that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had many years ago, and now has to deal with a society that has moved on. So the amygdala sometimes gets it wrong. It creates anxiety when there is no life-threatening event happening around us.
And what is more, once it learns a pattern, the amygdala tends to stick with it. So if someone starts to get anxious when going into a crowded supermarket, say, the amygdala will attempt to repeat the pattern of anxiety next time they go into a crowded supermarket. This pattern then becomes reinforced. Sometimes we can recognise the triggers that give rise to anxiety, and sometimes we cannot. In some cases anxiety is a constant presence.
Everyone had moments of anxiety at sometime in their lives. Even the most calm people will feel a twinge of anxiety if they see a car speeding towards them as they start to cross the road. This is normal. But some people suffer from a large amount of anxiety all or most of the time. Their amygdala has somehow learned to become over-sensitive, creating anxiety when it’s not needed.
Classification of anxiety
Doctors will classify anxiety disorders, but they are all variations on the same thing. The main classification of anxiety disorders are
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Doing something about it
There are three main approaches to doing something about anxiety. I am not going to cover these in any detail in this post:
Self-help – there is a lot of advice available to help you help yourself – including such things as mindfulness, breathing techniques, distraction techniques and so on
Therapies – there are many talking and other therapies that can help
Medication – prescribed medication can include anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants (which also help with anxiety)
As a hypnotherapist – of course, I would recommend hypnotherapy. But I know that hypnotherapy is not for everyone. You need to make your own decisions about what is best for you. The first step is to decide whether or not your anxiety impacts your life sufficiently for you to want to do something about it. The next thing is to recognise that there are things you can do about it – you are not stuck with it forever. It is at this point that you can start to turn it round.
Yes – I know its a boring subject, but I thought I ought just to say that I am doing all the right things. I have just done the unpleasant task of sticking a swab up my nose, which I do twice a week to make sure I am not passing Covid on to any of my clients. I have been double jabbed – but I still could be a carrier and not know it – so best make sure.
I always wear a face mask with clients, and insist that they do too – at least until the guidance from the National Council for Hypnotherapy says I don’t need to any more, and they will follow the government guidelines to the letter.
I have to spend time before and after each session cleaning down surfaces – the couch, chairs, in fact any surfaces that someone might have touched, and changing the paper couch roll on the couch to reduce the likelihood of cross contamination.
Such is the life of a hypnotherapist these days. All necessary, but I am looking forward to the day when we can go back to normal.
Twenty years ago, if you had put money on boxer Glenn Catley- the Catman – to become super middleweight champion of the world, you would have made yourself a tidy sum. He was really only a middle weight and was up against Markus Beyer, the reigning super middleweight champion of the world. No one expected him to win.
I am never sure of whether or not I really approve of boxing. Nevertheless, this weekend I sat enthralled listening to Glen as he told his story. It was absorbing, touching and exciting, even though I already knew the denouement.
So why did the Catman turn up one Sunday morning to talk to a bunch of clinical hypnotherapists? The answer is simple. He puts his success down to one thing … hypnotherapy. Although I am sure there was a lot of skill and training that went into it as well.
Hypnotherapy is not only good for helping people with problems of anxiety, depression, phobias etc etc, it can also help to improve sports performance. Beyond all expectations and against all the odds, Glenn used hypnotherapy to improve his performance to the point of becoming world champion.
I don’t usually make recommendations, but today I will make an exception. If you ever get a chance to meet Glenn Catley and hear his story, seize the opportunity – you won’t regret it.
I have just received a wonderful testimonial from a client. I just wanted to share it.
“Working with Tim has really saved me from myself! I’m a mother of three young and very active kids and life can get a bit stressful. His scientific insights and professional knowledge was beyond helpful. Not only did he help me gain a deeper understanding about the complexity and power of the human brain, but he taught me how to use the tools that we all inherently posses to keep our brains healthy and strong, which then helps to foster a healthier and positive experience in everyday living. I know life is hard sometimes, but I realize now that I already have the tools and been taught how to use them to improve and enrich the quality of my life! Tim’s kindness coupled with his professional and skillful approach, he patiently helped me to recognize and acknowledge this, and I will be forever grateful!”