According to mental health statistics, 3 out of 4 people in the UK have, in the past year, experienced stress to such an extent they felt unable to cope. The Mental Health Foundation conducted what is thought to be the largest stress survey in the UK and results indicate that this experience of being overwhelmed or lacking coping resources is slightly more common in women (81%), than men (67%). Interestingly, 83% of 18-24-year olds felt this high level of stress, compared to 65% of older adults (aged 55 and over), who may have developed some coping strategies.
Focusing in more detail on work related stress and anxiety, the Health and Safety Executive refer to a Labour Force Survey showing that stress, anxiety and depression are on the increase, resulting in 12.8 million working days lost in 2018/19. Furthermore, in 2018/2019 these accounted to 44% of all work-related ill-health cases and 54% of all working days lost due to ill-health. Interestingly, those in professional roles are over 3 times more likely to experience stress than those in skilled trades.
So, what is stress?
There are many definitions, although a popular one is where the pressure placed upon a person exceeds their ability to cope. This is a useful definition, as we all have different perceptions of what is stressful and how we cope. For some, a pressing work deadline could be motivational, for others, it could be so problematic it affects their ability to focus, and thus make it more of a problem. In the same way, an upcoming social event could be regarded either as pleasant or something to dread.
Does anxiety differ from stress? In fact, they are often experienced at the same time. Yet someone who is stressed may feel overwhelmed without associated worry or unhelpful beliefs. With anxiety, the cognitive response can be related to threat, often with an overestimation of the threat and an underestimation of our ability to cope.
We each have a threshold for stress and anxiety, that can change according to our mental health, our physical health, and what is going on in our life at the time. Both stress and anxiety can influence our thinking strategies and we can develop distorted ways of thinking. When levels of stress and anxiety start to increase, we can develop unhelpful coping strategies (‘cognitive distortions’) and poor decision-making processes (‘cognitive dissonance’). This can lead to adopting a range of thinking and behavioural responses which can add to, rather than resolve the issue. What unhelpful strategies do you do when you are stressed or anxious? Some common answers include avoidance, over-eating (and never lettuce it seems!), drinking alcohol, smoking (or smoking more) and abuse of recreational drugs or prescribed medication.
However, there are also many positive ways in which people address stress and anxiety. Helpful actions and behavioural include better time management and prioritisation of demands, developing a better lifestyle, taking more (or any) exercise, eating healthily and making time to socialise. Emotions and thoughts (‘cognitions’) can also be addressed with the development of more helpful thoughts and beliefs. This may be by engaging in a talking therapy process, or even on an individual basis using self-hypnosis.
A widely-agreed component of effective stress and anxiety management is good self-care. Relying on others to solve your problems has limitations. They may not know what you need, nor be able to help in a way that is exactly right for you. Self-care allows you to nurture yourself in a way that is right for you, because no-one will ever know you quite as well as you know yourself. Some might regard self-care as an indulgence, particularly when you have so many pressing demands on your time. Yet if you don’t make time to strengthen yourself, you will have less time and resources available to help others or to achieve your own goals. A report on a 2019 Harris Poll in the U.S. found that 96% of physicians considered self-care an essential part of overall health.
Self-hypnosis is a highly flexible and broadly applicable self-care approach that can play an important role in an individual’s stress and anxiety management strategy. How does it help? As well as offering both reactive and proactive applications, it is also an approach that can be engaged with almost anywhere and at any time.
Self-hypnosis for stress and anxiety
From a reactive perspective, self-hypnosis can be a great tool in addressing both physical symptoms and psychological issues as they arise. Hypnotherapy is commonly used to help clients address the symptoms and effects of stress and anxiety, and particularly where there are deeper issues this may be a good first course of action. Self-hypnosis (hypnotising yourself) can then support the work carried out in the hypnotherapy session.
For others, self-hypnosis will be a first choice of approach. Whilst some people like going to a hypnotherapist to be ‘told’ what to do, self-hypnosis makes you both the client and the therapist. You are giving positive suggestions to yourself. Once you know how to deliver those suggestions effectively, this can be incredibly powerful and empowering (and save a whole bunch on therapy bills!). The reason self-hypnosis is so effective, is because you will know, moment by moment, exactly what you want and need, so your self-hypnosis work will be the most accurate and targeted it can possibly be.
When using self-hypnosis, knowing how to deliver suggestions accurately is important. Already, you may be engaged in some informal self-hypnosis with mental rehearsal. Perhaps you repeatedly tell yourself that you cannot do something (e.g. “I cannot remember names”). Or you might be focused on an imaginary ‘movie’ of all that could go wrong when you give that next presentation at work. With these examples, you are mentally rehearsing your responses. By repeatedly engaging with these unhelpful thoughts, you are developing an unhelpful way of responding, so that on the day, your mind will go “Oh I know what to do here, I have practised exactly how my speech will go wrong…”. It is far more helpful to harness the incredible power of your mind to tell yourself what you actually want to happen, rather than what you don’t! By incorporating positive, helpful suggestions into your self-hypnosis process, you will soon begin noticing positive changes in your life and a reduction of stress and anxiety.
As well as the therapeutic suggestions you will give to yourself, there are benefits experienced from simply being in self-hypnosis that can help someone to reduce their stress or anxiety. As you may know, hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) is a focused state where individuals tend to be more receptive to helpful suggestions. This means that engaging in suggestions towards relaxation are more readily accepted. Whilst being in hypnosis does not automatically result in relaxation, many people find that they do relax even without it being suggested. In addition, physical symptoms can be addressed. Such as relieving tension headaches, experienced in an estimated 45% of those experiencing stress, reducing cortisol (stress hormone) which has an impact on chronic pain, helping to boost the immune system (as stress can weaken immunity), rebalancing libido and alleviating digestive issues.
In addition to addressing physical symptoms, the psychological effects of stress and anxiety can be unpleasant. Self-hypnosis can help gain insight and understanding of the issues and emotional responses and work to alleviate depression, irritability, memory and concentration problems, reduced motivation, and distorted ways of thinking and reasoning. This helps people to develop more rational cognitive and emotional ways of responding and reduces the physical impact of stress on the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
A proactive self-hypnosis approach to stress and anxiety management can be used to prevent overload occurring, or to stop the present level increasing or evolving. It can be used develop resources and coping strategies and to boost resilience with ‘ego strengthening’. This means that not only is someone who uses self-hypnosis less likely to get excessively stressed, if they do, they are better able to recover more quickly. In addition, self-hypnosis is a superb way of optimising planning, with ‘mental rehearsal’ or ‘future pacing’. This gives you the opportunity to engage all of your senses (see, hear, feel, smell, taste) in a visualisation of how you would like to respond in a future scenario. Not only can you practice an ideal outcome, you can explore a range of responses and also how to successfully overcome foreseeable challenges.
There are many wider applications for self-hypnosis and many of these are explored in our Learn self-hypnosis online training course which helps you learn how to easily generate self-hypnosis, as well as preparing you for giving yourself effective well-structured suggestions. It also gives you a number of superb tools to use for resource building, addressing behaviours and beliefs, gaining insight and learning how to get the most from mental rehearsal. Check out this short video that explains exactly what is covered, and for more info, click the ‘learn more’ button below to visit the course page.
We are all likely to experience stress and anxiety at some point or other. It can have an unhelpful impact on many aspects of our lives, affecting both the mind and the body. Whether you learn self-hypnosis to address existing stress and anxiety, or in preparation for effectively dealing with it when you notice it, self-hypnosis can empower you and help you develop more control over your life.
We hope that this blog about self-hypnosis for stress and anxiety has been helpful. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks