Monday, 11 June 2018

Are Your Thoughts Setting You Up to Fail?

Have you ever worried about how you're going to feel when you do something for the first time, expecting that you can't do it, that you'll mess it up or that you'll be terrified doing it? And then when it comes to actually doing that thing, you were right? You couldn't do it, you messed up or you were terrified? I think we have all experienced this at some point in our lives. Often when we have this experience we feel justified in having the worries leading up to it. But what if those worries actually caused it all to go to pot in the first place?

"Our worries become self fulfilling prophecies, propelling us toward the very disaster they predict"~ Daniel Goleman

A self fulfilling prophecy is defined as a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behaviour.

In the psychology and hypnosis world, this is known as response expectancy, where basically you experience what you expect to experience. 

"I don't believe it." ~ Luke | "That is why you fail." ~ Yoda


If you truly believe in your heart that you cannot do something, then as Yoda said, you will fail. It's the perfect self fulfilling prophecy or dysfunctional response expectancy. 

But it's not just about our expectations or beliefs determining if we succeed or fail at something. The expectations that we have in our lives can be a contributing cause of a number of psychological problems. However, they are also how we can over come them. And that is good news for us!

If you expect to feel anxious when you give a presentation at work, meet someone for the first time, or have a tooth removed, for example, then it is very likely that you will experience symptoms of anxiety to some degree. It also means that the next time these things come up, you might assume that you will have a repeat performance of last time. And that's exactly what happens. And now you're far beyond the point of your bog standard anxiety. Now you're anxious about being anxious. Perhaps you go over all the past experiences where it didn't go according to plan, continue to worry about all the worse case scenarios ahead of the situations, and even start to become fearful of these situations and avoid them if you can. Things get worse. And the cycle repeats. You can really see how a problem can develop, can't you? Dysfunctional response expectancies have been shown to partially cause and maintain anxiety (Reiss & McNally, 1985) and depression (Teasdale, 1985).

Changing these negative expectations are an important part of therapy (Kirsch, 1994) and helping to overcome issues such as anxiety, phobias and depression.

Here are a handful of ways that you can change your expectations so that you can have a different experience, one that is more positive:

1. Build awareness of your thoughts. We get used to what and how we are thinking. When we have no awareness at all, our thoughts can continue unchecked and this can be quite detrimental if our thoughts are negative. Quite often our thoughts can run away with themselves. I often find that just by talking about thoughts with my clients they start to become much more aware of them. I give my clients a postcard with the word “Think” on it for them to put up around their home or at work which acts as a prompt for them to just check in with what is going through their mind at that point. This starts to become a more familiar process to them then.

2. Monitor your thoughts. Each day, write down any negative thoughts. Once you have an awareness of when you are thinking negatively about a situation or yourself you can start to do something about them.
3. Question your thoughts. Where is the thought getting you? Is it contributing to/maintaining a self fulfilling prophecy?
4. Open up to the possibility of another outcome. What if there was another outcome, one which is more positive, calm, and supportive in helping you to feel better about yourself and the situations you find yourself in? Think about whether there is another plausible outcome? How would you like things to be?
5. See the positive outcome as a real possibility. How will focusing on how you would like things to be help you? Can these thoughts create a positive self fulfilling prophecy?
6. Visualise the positive outcome. Spend some time visualising your self, believing that that positive outcome is a real possibility for you, imagine yourself accepting these new positive thoughts 100% and see this reality start to unfold in your mind.
7. Review your positive thoughts/goal daily. Post your new thoughts and positive outcome up on the wall somewhere at home or perhaps on your phone so that you can read them each day to help reinforce this new way of thinking.

Now you have this new positive mindset in place, it's a matter of practice and repetition of thinking and imagining this to be your reality so that you can experience those very positive things you were expecting to happen in reality. Here, a positive cycle is then established. Slowly but surely you overcome that old problem. And you go from strength to strength, feeling calmer, more in control, and with a more positive mindset.

If you would like to find out more about hypnotherapy and how I help you to create positive expectations about your future situations (and you), check out my Bristol Hypnotherapy website.

Related articles:
- Combat Stress; Think Happy Thoughts!
- Creating a Pathway for Positive Thinking

Citations:
- Kirsch, I. (1994) Clinical Hypnosis as a Nondeceptive Placebo: Empirically Derived Techniques. The American journal of clinical hypnosis. 37, 95-106
- Reiss, S. & McNally, R.J. (1985) The expectancy model of fear. In S. Reiss & R.R. Bootzin (Eds.), Theoretical issues in behaviour therapy (pp 107-121)
- Teasdale, J.D. (1985) Psychological treatments for depression: How do they work? Behaviour Researech and Therapy. 23, 157-165

Monday, 4 June 2018

Paced Breathing & Other Breathing Techniques

Breathing is important but I'm sure I didn't need to tell you that. It is automatic. Something that we just do without having to pay attention to it at a conscious level. It just carries on while we go about our day.

When we are calm and happy, our breathing is relaxed, measured and regular and supports us as it should. However, when we are stressed and anxious, it starts to change. It can become shallow, faster, irregular, and sometimes we can even hold our breath. In some people their breathing can become so out of control that they find themselves hyperventilating which can make them feel light headed and weak.

Whilst breathing is typically an automatic behaviour, it is something that we can also take conscious control of and make changes to. Changing our breathing has a physiological effect on the body which in turn can affect how we are feeling and thinking. This is because breathing techniques which involve regulating your breath, slowing it down, and making the breaths deeper trigger a relaxation response within our bodies. This relaxation response reduces the neurotransmitters in the brain which are associated with stress helping you to feel calmer.

Of course people who experience breathing irregularities when they are stressed or anxious will benefit greatly from taking control over their breathing but you don't have to be experiencing noticeable breathing irregularities to benefit from paced breathing or breathing exercises though. Typically, we only breath in a relaxed, measured way when it is safe to do so. So by consciously controlling our breathing, whether it is causing us a problem or not, it sends a nice clear message to our brain (and our body) that we are safe and that it is ok to relax.

I am going to talk about a couple of breathing techniques that I often recommend to my clients.

1) Paced Breathing 
Paced breathing is a slow, deliberate deep breathing exercise which is sustained for a specific period of time. Typically we are aiming to take a total of 6 to 8 breaths per minute. Using paced breathing for 10-15 minutes each day can really have a positive affect on your levels of stress and anxiety. Paced breathing has been researched widely to examine its efficacy and it has been found to be beneficial for a wide variety of issues, both physical and psychological.

There are a number of ratios recommended for paced breathing. The most popular one is 7-11 breathing where you breathe in to the count of 7 and breathe out to the count of 11. Some people find this ratio a little tricky at first and reduce it a little, perhaps to 5-9, until they get used to taking longer breathes. Another popular one is 6-2-6-2 breathing where you breathe in to the count of 6, hold it for 2, breathe out to the count of 6, and hold it for 2. If you are in the habit of holding your breathe, I would recommend that you go for the 7-11 breathing technique as opposed to the 6-2-6-2 as the latter one could potentially reinforce your current habit of holding your breath.

There are lots of great apps out there that can really help guide you through paced breathing. They indicate when to breath in and for how long, when to hold your breath and for how long, and when to breath out and for how long. These apps can be useful when you first start out doing paced breathing so that you have the guidance but once you have become more familiar with it, you will be able to do it without the app which perhaps will make it a more flexible technique for you to use. I use the rather imaginatively named Paced Breathing app but there are many others to choose from. There is also a website called eXHALeR which can guide you through paced breathing.

2) Circular Breathing 
This is a new favourite technique of mine which I learnt at the UK Hypnosis Convention from hypnotist James Tripp. I would recommend closing your eyes to do this if you can as it allows you to focus more on what is happening. Become aware of your breathing. Notice your in breath and out breath. Notice that there is a peak to both breaths, with the in breath, just where it peaks before becoming the out breath and the out breath, just where it peaks before becoming the in breath. Notice those peaks and the sensations you experience at them. Then start to make your breathing circular. A constant flow so that there are no peaks. Soften the transition between breathing in and out so it feels smooth and constant.

3) Heart Breathing 
This is another technique that I learnt at the UK Hypnosis Convention from hypnotherapist Melissa Tiers. Again, I would recommend closing your eyes for this one. Place your hand over your heart area. Focus your attention on where your hand meets your chest. Focus in on your heart. Notice it beating, any movement felt by your hand as it rests there. Then imagine that you can breath in and out through your heart. Take a few nice slow, deep breathes. Allow your breaths to be smooth, unforced and relaxed. Notice what it might look like and what it might feel like if you could breath in and out through your heart. Whilst you connect with that sensation, create a feeling of appreciation, of gratitude to boost your sense of general wellbeing. Think about what you are grateful for, appreciate in life and/or what has been good about your day. I like to do this at the end of the day as it puts me in a nice positive mood ready for bed.

4) Hand Breathing 
This is quite similar to the previous technique in that we are assigning the ability to breath to another part of our body, this time the hands. Close your eyes and imagine that you can breath in through your fingertips. With the air, comes calmness. Imagine it spreading throughout your whole body. Imagine what it might feel like and what it might look like to breath in through your fingertips and have that calmness spread throughout your body. You might include colours and/or sensations to what you're imagining. Then, imagine that you can breath out through your feet. With the air, you breath out any stress or anything else that you wish to get rid of (negativity, fatigue, tension, unwanted habits etc.).

5) Breathe in Calm 
I've already briefly covered this one in the previous technique but this can be done without closing your eyes or the need to visualise anything. Just suggest to yourself that with every breath you breathe in, you breathe in calm and for every breath out, you breathe out any stress, any tension, any anxiety and fatigue. Breathe in calm and breathe out stress. You might also like to tag on an affirmation such as "I feel calm" or "I am relaxing" or perhaps just "breathe in calm, breathe out stress" with each breathe.

These are just a handful of breathing techniques that I use with my clients but there are so many more out there. What's great about breathing techniques is that they are free, simple and everyone can do them. They really do make a difference. Let me know how you get on!

Monday, 21 May 2018

10 Ways to Prepare a Positive Mindset for Flying

It’s starting to feel like summer now and we’re heading in to that time of year when people start to think about their upcoming holidays that they booked in the depths of winter. We seek sun (although as I type this it’s pretty hot and sunny here), adventure and time away from the stresses and strains of every day life.

Typically, once the holiday is booked, most people count down the days, so excited about their upcoming holiday but for others the time between booking that ticket and getting on the plane can be fraught with anxiety, negative thoughts and fear. And for some people just the thought of getting on a plane stops them from booking a holiday in the first place. Is this you?

Fears and phobias of flying are very common and can really take the enjoyment out of holidays. Flying phobias effect people in a number of ways and can range in severity from slight feelings of anxiety and discomfort to a full on panic attack and losing control of the situation. Some people decide not to holiday abroad in order to avoid flying and the anxiety and fear that accompanies it but this only reinforces the problem.

Here are 10 top tips to help you to prepare the right mindset for flying so that you can have a better experience of it:

1. Imaginal exposure. Spend some time imagining taking the flight. Not all the worse case scenarios nor your perfect flight but a more realistic representation of what happens. Imagine it as if you are actually there. It’s important that you are nicely relaxed while you do this. Notice the discomfort that you’re experiencing as you imagine it, how it plateaus and then starts to diminish the more you imagine the scenario.
2. Focus on how you would like things to be. Typically when we are fearful of something, we tend to worry about every possible thing that could go wrong. I am certain that when you think about flying, you are thinking about the worse case scenarios. When we think in this way, we create unnecessary stress for ourselves and the anxiety builds which makes us think more negatively. We get trapped in a cycle of negative thinking. So be aware of the thoughts that you are having. Start thinking about how you would to think, feel and be in the lead up to and during the flight.
3. Share concerns with others. Discuss your fear with your friends and family, especially those you are travelling with. Quite often, people keep their fears to themselves but this can make things a lot worse especially as you can start to worry about how you might appear to everyone around you and being “found out”. When people around you are aware of how you feel, they can support you through it.
4. Looking forward. When you’re scared of flying, everything becomes about the flight. More often than not, the place you are visiting, the things you’re going to do, and all the fun that can ensue, is put aside. Readdress this balance by spending time thinking about where you’re staying, what you are looking forward to seeing and doing, the food and drink you want to sample, discovering things about a place you’ve never been before and learning about the culture.
5. Be prepared. Do everything you can to minimise stress on the day of your flight. Ensure that you have packed your bags and have everything you need ready at least the day before you are due to travel. Have a relaxing bath and do other things to help you relax before getting a good night’s sleep. If you have time in the morning, have breakfast. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport so you don’t have to rush or worry about whether you’ll miss your flight or not. These are all simple things to support you physically and mentally, helping to take the load off for when you travel.
6. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Some people have a few drinks before or during a flight to give them a bit of Dutch courage, to help them through. This is a bad idea. Alcohol is a depressant and can lower your mood, make you more anxious, and reduce your ability to control your thoughts and feelings. Caffeine can make you feel jittery and more anxious so it’s best to avoid it before and during your flights.
7. Occupy your mind. Some people are inclined to just sit and not do anything as they feel that they need to focus all their attention on not falling to pieces. Unfortunately this tends to have the opposite effect than intended. My advice is to do things to occupy your mind in order to reduce the introspection and rumination about the flight. So when you are waiting for your flight at the airport, browse the shops and duty free, go have something to eat or drink, and spend time chatting to the people you are travelling with (or anyone that will listen if you’re travelling alone). Make sure you take a book, magazine, phone and/or tablet with you so that you can entertain yourself during the flight. If you are going on a long haul flight then you will have the inflight entertainment as an option so spend some time browsing what’s on offer. If you have a relaxation audiotrack, make sure you have it loaded on your phone along with earphones so that you can listen to it.
8. Be present. When we are worried about things, we can lose ourselves in our thoughts and all manner of crazy things can come up. By shifting your focus outwards, to your environment, you start to focus on what is actually happening rather than what you think is happening. Focus on your senses, what you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Focus on things that are positive and neutral though.
9. Relax. Spend some time tuning in to your body and releasing any tension that you might have. A favourite technique of mine is tensing the muscles in your feet then relaxing them off, and systematically working your way up through the rest of the body. By tensing the muscles first, it makes it easier to relax the muscles afterwards.
10. Breathe. Breathing techniques help to trigger the relaxation response. Even if your breathing is fine, they are excellent, simple tools that you can use to help you feel more in control. 7/11 breathing is a popular one, whereby you breath in to the count of 7 and out for the count of 11 but there are others too which you might find more suited to you.

These top tips can help you feel more prepared and in control when you fly. Hypnotherapy is also very effective at helping you to change how you think and feel about flying. When I work with flying phobia clients, we delve deeper in to the tips I’ve given above and explore other avenues too. I help you to identify negative thinking errors about the flight, and teach you how to dispute the thoughts and beliefs that you hold about flying and reconstruct them in to something more positive that brings down your anxiety and fear. Imaginal exposure and desensitisation forms a huge part of the work I do with clients. These techniques have been used in clinical practice for over 50 years to help people overcome anxiety and fear and have an incredible evidence base supporting them. I will also teach you methods of relaxing as well as how to control your feelings helping you to reduce those physical feelings typically associated with anxiety and stress such as heart palpitations, rapid breathing, and sweating, among others. Flying phobias vary massively from person to person so I tailor my sessions specifically to you.

Hypnotherapy gives you the necessary tools for you to be able to board that plane, take off, be at altitude, experience turbulence and land in a calmer way where you are in control of how you think, feel and behave. I'm not saying that you will go from having an intense fear of flying to absolutely loving it but hypnotherapy can help you to cope with it effectively so that you can enjoy your holiday more thoroughly.

If you would like to find out more about how hypnotherapy can help a flying phobia, check out my phobias page on my website.

Related Posts:
Creating a Pathway for Positive Thinking

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Research - Part 2

It is IBS Awareness month so I thought it would be an apt time to write a couple blog posts on Irritable Bowel Syndrome and how hypnotherapy can help with it. In the first post I talked about a number of research studies which have been conducted over the years which show the efficacy of hypnotherapy for IBS. I purposely left out the details of the research conducted at Manchester by Dr Whorrel et al. In this post, I will be talking about the approach used within this research. I utilise many of the methods outlined in the research with my clients and they have benefited greatly from it.

The researchers in Manchester have studied gut-directed hypnotherapy for many years now and it has shown some great results. It led to the inclusion of hypnotherapy in the NICE guidelines so that GPs and Consultants can now recommend IBS patients have hypnotherapy to help with their symptoms.

The rationale behind using hypnosis for IBS was to help participants learn mental skills and techniques to develop control over the physiological mechanisms influencing the gut that they are not normally under conscious control of.

In 2009, a German researcher called Karin Meissner gave eighteen healthy volunteers a placebo pill on three occasions together with different verbal suggestions depending on which pill they received. One group were given a placebo pill and were told “This pill is a stimulant to your stomach. You will feel your stomach churning within the next 5 to 10 minutes, and this will reach a peak in about 15–20 minutes, at which time you may feel some heavy stomach contractions. Then it will wear off gradually, and be gone after 30–40 minutes”; the second group were given a placebo pill and told "This pill is a relaxant to your stomach. You will feel your stomach full and heavy within the next 5-10 minutes, and this will reach a peak in about 15-20 minutes, at which time you may feel bloated. Then it will wear off gradually, and be gone after 30–40 minutes“; and the third group were given a pill and told “This pill has no effect. We use it as a control, a mere sugar pill, to see the effects of just taking a pill on stomach activity. You won't feel anything.” The research showed that those who took what they thought to be the “gastric stimulant”, experienced an increase in movement through the gut, while those who took what they were led to believe as the “gastric relaxant”, experienced slower movement through the gut. Although not directly studying hypnotherapy or IBS, this piece of research does illustrate the power of the mind and how it can be used to control the physiological mechanisms involved in digestion and gut motility and therefore help with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

One of the things I love about the Manchester approach is that they emphasise the importance that participants take an active involvement in the process. They are taught a variety of techniques that they develop by practising them daily over the course of the therapy (typically up to 12 sessions over a 3 month period). Gonsalkorale et al state that they “emphasize that the person is becoming in control of the gut. This would seem to be a crucial part of our approach, since so many patients do feel out of control, and it has been shown in general that a sense of self-efficacy and an internal locus of control are vital in the success of any psychological intervention. It is generally our experience that a particularly passive, helpless patient does not do well. We also emphasize the importance of practice in order to develop these hypnotic skills, just as one would have to in learning a musical instrument, for example, and that it is not the therapist doing all the work.”

The sessions that the participants received focused on a number of techniques to help with stress reduction, a known trigger of IBS symptoms, in addition to confidence building so that they felt able to feel in control of their condition. More specific techniques aimed at controlling and normalizing how the gut is functioning were also taught to the participants, such as creating warmth in the hand which can then be used to sooth and comfort the stomach area as well as using imagery to regulate and control the flow of the gut. Participants also spent time mentally rehearsing themselves in situations that in the past they might have feared or avoided due to their IBS symptoms but now with normal gut function. Other aspects were looked at too depending on the individual.

The rate of progress for the participants differed as you would expect, but most reported some initial benefits after a few sessions and of course a more significant improvement throughout the course of therapy.

Participants of the gut-directed hypnosis at Manchester, as well as my own clients, have derived a considerable amount of benefit from learning these techniques. They have experienced improvements in their bowel symptoms of IBS, their mental wellbeing and quality of life. Hypnosis is not a cure for IBS and cannot guarantee that you will never have symptoms again but you can definitely achieve a good reduction in symptoms and gain more control over the condition and life generally.

I have seen a number of clients over the years who come to have hypnotherapy for their IBS thinking that it will miraculously get rid of their symptoms without them having to put any effort in to it at all, just like popping a pill. It doesn’t work like that unfortunately and as you can see above, the patients who benefit most from this approach are those which put in the time and effort to learning and practising the techniques taught to them during the process. Hypnotherapy can be a real game changer for those suffering from IBS if they choose to engage fully in the process.

If you are suffering with IBS in Bristol and would like to find out more about how Hypnotherapy can help you, please visit my dedicated IBS webpage on my website.

Related Posts: Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Research - Part 1
Hypnotherapy Provides Support for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Sufferers

References: - Gonsalkorale, W. M. (2006) Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy: The Manchester Approach for Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54:1, 27-50
- Gonsalkorale, W. M. & Whorwell, P. J. (2005) Hypnotherapy in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 17:15–20
- Gonsalkorale, W. M., Toner, B. B., Whorwell, P. J. (2004) Cognitive change in patients undergoing hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome. J Psychosom Res. Mar;56(3):271-8
- Meissner, K. (2009) Effects of placebo interventions on gastric motility and general autonomic activity. Journal of psychosomatic research 66 (5), 391-398

Monday, 23 April 2018

Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Research - Part 1

It is IBS Awareness month so I thought it would be an apt time to write a couple blog posts on Irritable Bowel Syndrome and how hypnotherapy can help with it. In this first post I am going to talk about some of the research studies which have been conducted over the years showing the efficacy of hypnotherapy for IBS.

Here in the UK in Manchester, Peter Whorrell et al have been carrying out extensive research in to the efficacy of hypnotherapy in treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I have isolated this particular researcher as I feel that his research was a turning point in hypnosis gaining ground in the medical world in modern society and a step closer to it being actually recommended by GPs. The results of Whorrell’s studies enabled hypnotherapy to make it on to the NICE guidelines for treating IBS. The NICE guidelines are evidence based guidelines which all medical professionals must follow when treating patients. So for example, if a patient was to go see their GP about a digestive complaint and they were diagnosed with IBS, then the GP must follow the NICE guidelines as to what treatment to provide, refer or recommend to the patient. Often The Royal Society of Medicine opines that the NHS should make use of hypnotherapy more widely and it is my hope that it will start to features more on the NICE guidelines as a recommended therapy for various mental health issues and dealing with some physical conditions.

Below are just a handful of research studies that stood out for me and highlight how powerful our mind can be at helping with issues relating to our physiology as well as our mental health.

“Symptoms Improved Significantly for Nine in Ten”
Dr Roland Valori, editor of Frontline Gastroenterology and a Gastroenterologist at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, referred some of his patients for hypnotherapy. He said of the first one hundred of his patients treated with hypnotherapy, symptoms improved significantly for nine in ten. Dr Valori studied the first one hundred cases he referred for hypnotherapy and found that the symptoms stopped completely in four in ten cases with typical Irritable Bowel Syndrome. He says in a further five in ten cases patients reported feeling more in control of their symptoms and were therefore much less troubled by them.

“Hypnotherapy Alleviated Symptoms in 40% of Those Affected by IBS”
A recent Swedish paper, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, outlined 138 patients with IBS who received hypnotherapy treatment for one hour a week over twelve weeks. The research showed that hypnotherapy alleviated symptoms in forty per cent of those affected by the digestive condition. One of the researchers, Magnus Simrén, said "The treatment involves the patient learning to control their symptoms through deep relaxation and individually adapted hypnotic suggestions. The idea is for the patient to then use this technique in their everyday life."

“85% of Those Who Had Hypnosis Still Felt Benefits up to Seven Years Later”
Another Swedish paper, published in Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, examined two hundred and eight patients who had previously received hypnotherapy. The research showed that 85 per cent of those who had been helped by hypnosis still felt the benefits of the treatment up to seven years later and that the majority still actively use the self-hypnosis techniques learnt in their everyday lives. The group also showed that the use of the healthcare system as a result of stomach and bowel symptoms had also reduced by seventy percent. The study concluded “gut-directed hypnotherapy in refractory IBS is an effective treatment option with long-lasting effects”.

“Hypnotherapy is Effective in Improving Both Symptoms and Quality of Life”
Impaired quality of life and psychological distress are common in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and may be associated with unhelpful thinking patterns. Hypnotherapy is effective in improving both symptoms and quality of life in patients with IBS, and this study was designed to determine whether this improvement is reflected in cognitive changes. Seventy eight IBS sufferers were assessed in this study. before and after having twelve sessions of hypnotherapy, they completed various questionnaires to assess their levels of anxiety, depression and other cognitive dysfunction. Hypnotherapy resulted in improvement of symptoms, quality of life and a reduction in anxiety and depression. IBS-related thinking also improved, so less negative thoughts about bowel function, symptoms, needing to use/find a bathroom etc.

This is just a few of the more recent research papers published but there are many more which provide further evidence for the efficacy of hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

As a member of the Professional Hypnotherapy Network (PHN), I have access to the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. In this peer reviewed journal, a paper was published on the Manchester Approach (the work of Dr Whorell et al) to treating irritable bowel syndrome with hypnotherapy. I have been following a protocol very similar to this with my IBS clients and they have found it very useful. I have purposely not detailed that research in this post but will talk more about the approach used within the study in more detail in a future post.

If you are suffering with IBS in Bristol and would like to find out more about how Hypnotherapy can help you, please do get in touch. For more information, visit my Hypnotherapy of IBS page on my website.

Related posts:
Hypnotherapy Provide Support for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Sufferers

References:
- Lindfors, P., Unge, P., Arvidsson, P., Nyhlin, H., Björnsson, E., Abrahamsson, H., Simrén, M. (2012) Effects of Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy on IBS in Different Clinical Settings—Results From Two Randomized, Controlled Trials. The American Journal of Gastroenterology 107, 276–285
- Lindfors, P., Unge, P., Nyhlin, H., Ljótsson, B., Björnsson, E.S., Abrahamsson, H., Simrén, M. (2012) Long-term effects of hypnotherapy in patients with refractory irritable bowel syndrome. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 47(4):414-20]

Valori’s information came about as a result of an interview and as such I have not been able to find a paper that details the study he carried out. However, one paper he published does looking at the interactions between brain and gut and how it helps us to understand how hypnosis helps alleviate bowel symptoms. I include the reference to that paper below:
- Valori, R. (1992) Small intestinal motility. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology vol 8, issue 2

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Importance of Self-Hypnosis

When someone wants to get fit, they start exercising and train regularly. They notice an increase in their fitness, they increase their strength, their stamina, and muscle mass. Perhaps they even lose some weight. When they feel they are fit, they don't just stop going running or whatever sport it is they are doing. They keep at it otherwise they will lose the flexibility, strength and fitness that they have developed and worked hard for. Sure, they might not train as regularly perhaps but they do still train. We understand this when it comes to our physical health but quite often we do not apply it to our mental health in the same way.

Self hypnosis is an important part of the hypnotherapy process helping you to get so much more out of the sessions. But it's not just about keeping it going whilst you are seeing a hypnotherapist. Some people, once they have reached where they want to be, stop doing all of the techniques that were helping them as they feel “back to normal”. However, it is important that you keep utilising all that you have learned such as the breathing techniques, the progressive relaxation, the self hypnosis, as well as all the other things that make you feel good because they help to keep you mentally fit!

Self hypnosis doesn't have to just be used for the issue that you came to see me or another hypnotherapist about. The techniques can be adapted for use in all aspects of your life. It can help to prepare you for a driving test, giving a presentation, increasing motivation, improving your performance in sports or music, helping with exam or job interview nerves, and much more. The possibilities are endless.

This last year I have used self hypnosis a lot for myself and I have benefited greatly from it. I have used it to induce analgesia and anaesthesia in my hand which allowed me to have a surgical needle put through it without feeling any pain or discomfort. More recently I used it to help me change my perception of time, boost pharmaceutical anaesthetic and to distract my attention during an hour long root canal treatment. Self hypnosis continues to impress me each and every time I use it to the point where I am a staunch advocate of it now. I feel it is potentially the most important technique that I can offer my clients and is integral to the success of therapy.

Self hypnosis forms a major part of hypnotherapy and has many benefits including:
  • Increasing your ability at hypnosis
  • Reinforcing the work we do together in sessions
  • Speeding up your progress in therapy
  • Building your level of self efficacy

Here I will discuss these benefits in a little more depth.

Self hypnosis increases your ability at hypnosis
We all know that practice makes perfect, that we get better the more we repeat something. This is the same for hypnosis too. It is a skill. One that you can learn, develop and expand upon. I would recommend practicing self hypnosis as often as possible. I always think that little and often is best as it helps you to stay focused and engaged. Interspersing it throughout your day helps to keep you “topped up” and helps to support the changes that you wish to make.

The Carleton Skills Training Programme as well as later hypnosis studies show us that hypnotisability (our ability to go in to hypnosis) increases the more we practice it and even more so when hypnosis has been explained thoroughly to us as well as what we are expected to experience during it. This is good news. As you practice hypnosis for yourself, you get better at it and you will then be able to benefit from both the self hypnosis as well as the sessions with a hypnotherapist so much more.

Self hypnosis reinforces the work we do in sessions
Many of the techniques used within hypnotherapy can benefit greatly from being repeated. Practicing the techniques at home for yourself helps to reinforce the new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that you are working towards.

Self hypnosis speeds up your progress in therapy
Typically you will only attend a hypnotherapy session once a week, sometimes bi-weekly, for just under an hour. There are 165 hours in a week so the other 164 hours of your week are over to you to support yourself in achieving your goals. There are many ways of doing this including being aware of your thoughts, understanding thinking errors and being able to dispute unhelpful, negative thoughts. You might practice some progressive relaxation or breathing techniques or perhaps engage in exercise to help boost the flow of Serotonin, the happy hormone. And of course, self hypnosis is an excellent way to ensure that you progress and help you to achieve your therapy goals.

Self hypnosis builds your self efficacy
At the beginning of this article I mentioned self-efficacy. This is a term which I only recently became aware of but it is one that will remain in my vocabulary forever more. Research has demonstrated the need for self efficacy in a person’s life in order for them to make changes and develop as a whole which makes it particularly important when it comes to therapy. Self-efficacy has been defined as “one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task”. When self efficacy is high, we are more able to tackle challenges and gain new experiences both of which are things that you will have done or are looking to do throughout the course of therapy and beyond. Self hypnosis and other self help techniques help to build self efficacy. When you believe in your ability to go in to hypnosis, you are far more likely to embrace it, increasing your level of collaboration in the process. Starting with the techniques early combined with the increased self efficacy, increases the likelihood that you will establish a good routine with these techniques and continue to use them throughout the course of therapy and thereafter and really develop a skill which can have a massive impact on your life. Not only do I require my clients to believe in their ability at hypnosis, but I want them to believe in their ability to overcome their problem and to make a change. As you know, you make many changes over the course of therapy and self efficacy helps you to do this. Self efficacy increases motivation and allows you to find change more manageable. I want all my clients to believe in their ability to “make it on their own” after they finish sessions with me. If you are equipped with self help tools when you complete your course of sessions with me, you will have greater self efficacy and will be more able to maintain the changes you have made.

So as you can see, there are many reasons why self hypnosis is an important part of therapy and a tool which can help you thereafter in many areas of your life.

If you would like a refresher on self hypnosis or would like to learn it for the first time face to face with a hypnotherapist, please do get in touch.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Beginner’s Mind for a Good Night’s Sleep

Do you think you would sleep better if you approached bedtime without assumptions or preconceptions of how quickly it will take to fall asleep, how much sleep you’ll get or how you’ll feel in the morning? How about if you were to see that night as a new night, in isolation and independent of the day you’ve just had or the previous night’s sleep?

The “beginner’s mind” can help you view bedtime and sleep in a different way, helping to reduce the thoughts, worries and limiting beliefs you might hold about your sleeping ability, break out of unhelpful sleep routines, and allow for the possibility of a better night’s sleep.

Beginner’s mind is used within Mindfulness-Based Therapy and is a concept that comes from Zen Buddhism called Shoshin which means “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

When I first trained as a hypnotherapist, I learnt an approach which was solution focused. I had spent time, energy, effort and money in learning and understanding that approach. I had beliefs, expectations and assumptions about it’s effectiveness and how it could be used with my clients. When I first started attending Continuing Professional Development (CPD) workshops, I remember judging everything that was being discussed by my previous knowledge, experience and training. I found myself closing off to certain aspects of what was being taught and on occasions, instantly dismissing it as not being of any value to me or my clients because it did not fit in with my current approach. This mindset limited my ability to learn, make use of and benefit from the techniques which were being taught. It was detrimental to both my personal and professional development.

If instead, I had gone in to those training workshops with a beginner’s mind, I would have been more open to the teachings, learnt a thing or too and gained more from the experience as a whole. Over the years things changed and I became aware of the concept of beginner’s mind and I have been applying it to all of my trainings since and it really turned the tables on my learning.

You can see how consciously adopting the mindset of a beginner would be useful to someone learning a new subject or skill but not so obvious how it can help an insomniac. When someone has been experiencing insomnia for months or even years, their thoughts become preoccupied during the day about the quality of their previous night’s sleep and what that means for them as they go through their day, and whether they will have a repeat performance the following night. Some people start to become fearful of bedtime. Many spend time searching for ways to “cure” their insomnia. Their thoughts at night might echo those of the day in addition to the usual thoughts that run through their head which made dropping off to sleep a problem in the first place. In addition to these thoughts, people who struggle to sleep often hold a number of limiting beliefs about sleep and their ability to do it, such as the need to have 8 hours, that if they do not sleep sufficiently they will not be able to function effectively the next day and that the longer they are in bed the more chance they have at sleeping. Then we have the behaviours that they fall in to as a result of these thoughts and beliefs. They might remain in bed in the morning after they have woken up if they’ve had a poor night sleep, have a nap in the afternoon, or have an alcoholic drink to help drop off to sleep. The insomniac becomes very good at not sleeping, the master of their problem and can get set in their ways. Their thoughts, beliefs and behaviours surrounding sleep become fixed which reinforces and exacerbates the problem. Their approach to getting a good night sleep is no longer working for them and as such they would benefit from learning a new way of doing things. Applying a beginner’s mind to their problem allows the insomniac to recognise where they might have developed unhelpful thinking and behaviour patterns and be open to trying something different.

“If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” - Jessie Potter

When a person cultivates a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time, they become open to learning new ways of doing things and changing how they think about their sleep problem, how they approach bedtime, how to relax, and they can start to make changes to the quality of their sleep.

We can use hypnotherapy to help with sleeping problems and there is an increasing body of evidence to support this. With hypnotherapy, we look at all aspects of a sleeping problem. During the sessions, we look at how insomnia presents for that person as well as how it affects their life as everyone is different. I teach my clients a wide variety of relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety. We look at the thoughts, ideas and beliefs that they hold about their sleeping pattern, the quality of sleep they get and how much they think they should be getting. I encourage them to be more aware of their thoughts during the day and teach them ways to address any negative thoughts they might have about sleep and life generally so that they do not continue to run through their mind at night. We cover general sleep hygiene to ensure that they are doing everything that they can to encourage an environment that is conducive to sleep and that supports their body in its natural ability to drift off to sleep. We also look at their sleep routine and help them to change any unhelpful aspects that might be causing a problem. In addition to this, I teach my clients self hypnosis among other techniques so that they can help themselves. A beginner's mind and hypnotherapy can help the insomniac sufferer gain better quality sleep. Of course, there are some medical conditions and medication that can affect sleep so it is important to seek advice from a GP to rule out any physical causes for the insomnia.

In addition to being open to new ways of thinking and behaving when it comes to sleep, the principle of beginner’s mind can also be used to approach each night as an independent event. Bringing a beginner’s mind to each night is something that I have found incredibly useful. Each night is a new night and is different to every other night you’ve had and every night you will have in the future. Every night is different. Just because you couldn’t fall asleep easily last night, doesn’t mean you will struggle to fall asleep tonight.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” - Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

We base everything on our previous experience. When we have had a problem with something we find it incredibly difficult to view it with objectivity. We lose perspective on the situation. Let’s use the example of an ex-smoker who hasn’t smoked for the last 10 years. They go out, have a drink and have a cigarette. Because they’ve had a problem with the habit in the past, they instantly assume they’ve failed, that they are now a smoker again and quite often continue to smoke. Whereas if someone who has never smoked goes out, has a drink and a cigarette, they can see it for what it is – they got drunk and had a cigarette. It’s an isolated incident. That one cigarette does not make them a smoker and they think nothing of it. We all have the occasional bad night's sleep but when we do not have a problem generally with sleep, we can see it as a one off and do not become anxious or worried about it.

A poor night sleep last night does not mean a poor night’s sleep tonight. Nor does it mean you are always going to be stuck with this problem. So treat each night as a single entity, an isolated incident. Avoid already “knowing” how you are going to sleep that night. Don’t let past experiences of bad night’s sleep influence your sleep tonight. Let go of those thoughts about how you couldn’t sleep last night and how tonight might compare to then or what it might mean for your day at work tomorrow. The past is the past and you cannot do anything about it. But you can change your experience of sleep tonight and in the future by viewing each night as a one off experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the perfect night’s sleep straight away, but persevere with this way of seeing things and you’ll start to feel the benefit of it. Approaching each evening with curiosity and an open mind allows for the possibility of a good night’s sleep, makes you more comfortable with not knowing what is going to happen (whether you’ll sleep or not and how that will effect you or not), and helps you to be more objective about your ability to sleep and the quality that you get.

Seeing each night in isolation also allows you to avoid the temptation of making changes to your behaviour when it comes to sleep based upon contingencies from the day or previous night. (Ong, 2017) So for example, you might stay in bed in the morning after you’ve woken up after a poor night’s sleep. I know this is something that I have done many times over the years. It is a common strategy that people often employ when they’ve not slept well thinking that they might just be able to drop off and get some more sleep but it very rarely provides good quality sleep if any at all. Carrying out ineffective sleep related contingencies like this just compounds the problem. (Ong, Ulmer & Manber, 2012)

I’m not saying that applying a beginner’s mind to sleep is easy. I know that it is something that I struggled to do at first but it does get easier and you can really start to see things for what they are. I have also found that thinking in this way stops insomnia becoming a thing that you carry around with you, that you own, that becomes part of your identity. If you see each night separately, you’re just a person who has had lots of isolated incidences of not sleeping well but tonight could be different. So go, be open to the possibilities of sleep tonight.

If you are suffering with sleep problems in Bristol and would like to find out more about how Hypnotherapy can help you, please visit my dedicated Insomnia webpage on my website.

References:
Ong, J.C., Ulmer, C.S., & Manber, R. (2012) Improving Sleep with Mindfulness and Acceptance: A Metacognitive Model of Insomnia. Behav. Res. Ther. Nov; 50(11): 651-660
Ong, J.C. (2017) Mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia

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Photo Credit: by el7bara