Anxiety

Firstly, a simple reminder that anxiety is not a disorder.  Anxiety is a normal feeling, rather uncomfortable, but one that we need to be able to experience in order to stay healthy.  Without anxiety, blowing the rent money on restocking your fish tank becomes really easy.  We need to be able to anticipate feeling really bad or injured when assessing certain future scenarios so we can take steps to avoid them.  Anxiety is, after all, entirely future focused.  (If we are anxious about having cheated, it’s really an anxiety about what happens in the future as a natural result.)

So why do we often refer to feelings of anxiety as being bad for us?  Why do we go out of our way to stop those feeling, to repress them, avoid them, drink or drug them out of existence?

In most cases, this comes about when our brains mistakenly learn to treat more and more non-threatening situations as threatening, or to over-emphasise the danger.  This is further exaggerated in people of low self-esteem since their assessment is ‘I don’t have the ability to deal with this situation or these feelings’.  Under these circumstances anxiety becomes a chronic (persistent over time) condition and is worsened by simple day-to-day challenges.  This is when anxiety becomes a disorder, or Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to give it its proper name.

Common experiences that can lead to GAD are earlier traumatic experiences where the person was unable to deal with the situation and became highly emotional and unresourceful.  For instance, being embarrassed in front of a classroom at age 8 can lead to severe anxiety in the office whenever called-upon to present material.  This creates avoidance behaviour, such as calling in sick or not taking promotions which might require speaking to groups.

In this instance the exaggerated response is irrational.  The adult knows the material, knows how to stand and talk at the same time and knows that with a little good humour mistakes are easily tolerated.  The exaggerated emotional response, however, is not governed by logic, the response is triggered automatically when a certain environmental pattern or stimulus is present or anticipated.  Rationally, the adult knows he has the information and skills required and that he knows that no physical injury will result from his failure to recall last quarters sales figures.  Unfortunately, the Limbic system, which manages emotional responses to threats, literally doesn’t listen to reason, it’s not part of the same brain structure and nor does it use the same methods of internal communication.  It’s like two computers with no connection between them, each coming up with a different assessment.  Logical new brain: fine, whatever.  Emotional old brain: you’ll be humiliated again like before, stay home.  The result is always the same, a win for the emotional brain, since this is the part evolved to protect us from urgent threats (spears, tigers, fire).  The logical brain doesn’t even get the information once the fight, flight and flee mechanism is triggered.  It’s left to assess things only after the immediate threat has past.  Evolutionarily, it’s better to over-react to a threat than to not react, certainly when spears, tigers and fire were more of a problem…. it’s less well suited to the Facebook generation who only have to worry about being de-friended.

Catastrophisation is a feature of GAD.  Small problems become huge in the mind of the GAD sufferer.  There also tends to be over-generalisation, so from a small car accident, the GAD sufferer might believe all transport is dangerous and become home-bound.  Or the one-time threat from a large aggressive dog becomes an anxiety towards all animals all of the time.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is one system of treatment that helps sufferers to understand how they mis-assess their surroundings and try to gradually train their emotional mechanism to be more ‘reasonable’.  This process works for most but can be a slow process.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy uses a number of different methods to treat anxiety sufferers, primarily looking to remove the damage done by the initial traumatic memory so that it no longer serves as a base to launch negative emotional assessments.  We also work to reset the brain’s natural filters to ensure that attention is used productively; focusing more on positive environmental activity and less on counter-factual scenarios that can cause irrational fear.

Recent research indicates that Cognitive Hypnotherapy achieves as good or better results than CBT and does it in fewer treatment sessions.

If anxiety is ruining your life and you’re ready to tackle it, book a session with me so we can put it behind you.

 

How To Make Stress Your Friend

Kelly McGonigal talks about how changing your ideas about stress is better for your health than avoiding stress.

The science tells us that viewing stress as challenging rather than harmful eradicates the physiological damage to our health.

Additionally, she reveals more about what the research says about how our ability to be social in times of stress also protects us from damage to our health.

 

Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT, EMDR & EMI)

I’m the first to admit that there are a number of ‘alternative’ or ‘complimentary’ therapies out there that raise eyebrows.  Even hypnosis is a stretch for some sceptics despite clinical evidence.  Some of these therapies rely very heavily on the skills of the therapists to leverage the placebo effect to create a strong and lasting change.  But there are a number of other therapies including EFT, Havening, Acupuncture and Eye Movement Therapy, which seem to utilise some physical mechanism within the body to create change.

I find that using IEMT on these strong emotions creates a ‘clearing-out’ for my clients that gives them their lives back.  They describe it as having a huge weight lifted.

I’m using the term ‘Eye Movement Therapy’ here to refer to several fairly similar brands of treatment that all have the same basic method.  The original therapy was EMDR based on the work of Francine Shapiro and is recognised by the American Psychiatric Association, Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defences and WHO as an effective treatment for PTSD since 2004.

The original version of EMDR was pretty basic.  Later versions of eye movement therapy, such as IEMT and EMI, were created by hypnotists that combine the skilled use of language to create a more effective framework for treatment.  Additionally, hypnotists use eye movement models within their work generally and were able to intelligently expand its use to increase its effectiveness.

The basic EMDR treatment was to have the client think about the traumatic memory and then have them follow a light source that moved back and forth across their visual field.  It doesn’t sound much but the outcome for some people was life saving.  EMDR was used in the treatment of PTSD initially.  The ‘T’ of PTSD is Trauma and it is this ever-present, trauma that the eye movement work helps with.  Rather than being ‘present’, the client/patient is stuck in an over-whelming and emotionally hijacking memory which creates high levels of anxiety and depression.

 

How does Eye Movement Therapy Work?

We don’t know but we can make educated guesses.  If I ask you to access a memory a chain of mental processes kick off.  Typically your eyes defocus and you stop seeing me, you’re eyes will go up and to your left (usually).  At this point the visual information in consciousness is not the room you’re in but the content of the memory; the requested information is identified, the eyes move back towards centre and re-focus and you’re ‘back in the room’.  This was a quick trance and probably lasted 200 milliseconds.  A difficult memory can involve the eyes going all over, left, right, up down, to get the answer.  We see it all the time, it’s called a ‘trans-derivational search’ but most people don’t notice it.

Theorist Andrew T Austin, who invented the IEMT brand of eye movement work, has suggested that the ligaments and muscles that control the eyes are neurotically hard-wired to certain parts of the brain.  Certainly, when eyes go up we know there is a lot more visual processing going on, when they are level, the temporal lobes (voice, sound) are most active.  This has two consequences for hypnotists.  One, that we can easily follow the basic brain strategies that people use to get themselves stuck and this has been utilised by Neuro Linguistic Programmers since Richard Bandler popularised this finding in the 80’s.  The second, more recent, finding is that by forcing people to trace a different pattern with their eyes when thinking of a traumatic memory, you start to create confusion in the replaying of that memory.  Most importantly, if the memory’s not the same, it wont feel the same.

 

What Makes a Movie Scary?

Or how do we scare ourselves?  One of the basic premises of NLP is that the brain encodes similar memories in similar ways.  Scary memories might be experienced as vivid, colour, ‘in your face’.  Pleasant memories might be less focused, softer colours, more panoramic and distant.  Most people aren’t aware of these differences but the information is there with a little introspection.  These differences vary from person to person although there are some factors are quite common, such as distance and brightness.

An NLP treatment for a bad memory might involve trying to change how the scary movie is experienced, perhaps making it fuzzier, further away, less colourful and this works extremely well since the bad feelings just fall away.  The skill is in making the memory stick in the new way.  And this is where the eye movement therapy is particularly good.  Thinking of a traumatic memory and moving your eyes in a different way whilst trying to access the memory makes the usual access of that memory different.  All of a sudden the memory is fuzzier, less focused, further away, oh, and it just doesn’t feel important any more.  I shouldn’t be surprised any more when that happens but it still amazes me when it happens time after time.  The transition can be night and day for most clients and with a little persistence and a little skill, a scary and imposing movie that’s 10/10 becomes a 1/10 boring and old and “I’m done with it.”

 

Wider Application

I use IEMT for at least a part of the session in about a third of the clients I see.  It’s faster than traditional hypnosis treatments and the client knows the issue is done before they leave the room.  Whilst therapists use it primarily for PTSD, I think this misses the point and this is part of the problem of labelling our clients.  The originating cause for many of the clients I see is something traumatic that happened to them that have not properly dealt with.  This comes out in many ways such as avoidance, anger, temper, regret, shame, guilt, worry, panic attacks.  These are the emotions of depression and anxiety (see ‘The Three Pillars of Depression’).  I find that using IEMT on these strong emotions creates a ‘clearing-out’ for my clients that gives them their lives back.  They describe it as having a huge weight lifted.

If you’re troubled by trauma, or strong negative emotions, the likelihood is that these can be treated quickly and easily, without any need to go into your childhood or beat-up furniture.  Book a session now if this sounds like a good idea.

 

Simon Bates
Freedom Hypnosis.