Everyone is looking for some type of simple way to treat anxiety. For many, that means trying out treatments that are not evidence based.
One example of such a treatment is self-hypnosis. There is little reason to think that self-hypnosis has any effect on anxiety levels, and there is reason to believe it should be avoided. Nevertheless, in this article we explain what self-hypnosis is and what you can do to control it.
Stopping Anxiety Out of Therapy
Even though there may not be evidence for self-hypnosis, there are some very effective ways to treat anxiety. Find out how with my free 7 minute anxiety test.
Introduction to Self Hypnosis for Anxiety
Self-hypnosis is a fascinating idea, but it's highly unlikely it has any effect beyond a placebo. There is simply no real proof that it should have any effect on your overall mental health. Take my anxiety test to learn more about other potential non-medicinal anxiety treatments.
But in this article, we'll explore the idea of self-hypnosis from the perspective of those that believe in it. One thing that is true about this type of treatment - there is certainly no harm in trying it, provided that you're willing to try other treatments if it doesn't work.
What is Self-Hypnosis?
Self-hypnosis is the act of hypnotizing oneself, using words to control the mind in a way that stops anxiety. Self hypnosis can be accomplished in many ways, but is consistently based upon the principle trying to change the beliefs and mental associations that cause you to think and act the way you do. Because anxiety disorders often occur due in part to a person's negative associations or negative beliefs around particular situations, settings or objects, self-hypnosis in its various forms could conceivably be a useful tool for controlling them, and thus controlling anxiety.
You may wonder, how can talking to myself or visualizing certain things change the way my mind works? And if it can, why do anxiety medications exist?
How Self Hypnosis Works
Your brain is the most powerful organ in your body. Almost everything that makes you, you is stored there, including the fears, paranoia and negative thought spirals that can result in anxiety. What you believe, and the feelings you associate with different aspects of the world around you, are big influences on your behavior, and if you can change them your behavior is likely to change accordingly. This is what hypnosis is designed to do.
Self-hypnosis uses the power of words to alter those thoughts so that you can regain control of your reactions to life. For example, imagine you had an irrational fear of spiders. Using self-hypnosis, you would alter your associations so that your mind doesn't experience fear when you think of spiders or see spiders, all through words that manipulate your own brain into thinking differently than it did previously.
Over time, your brain is essentially re-wired to connect certain stimuli with positive, relaxed feelings rather than negative, anxious ones. The amygdalae, twin almond shaped clusters of neurons in your brain, play a fundamental role in this process and also in your anxiety, as the part of your brain responsible for storing memories based on the strength of the emotional states connected with them and triggering reactions to stimuli based on those associations.
The following section will discuss the basics of performing self hypnosis on yourself, as well as several possible variations to try.
Variations of Self Hypnosis for Anxiety
When you do self hypnosis, the idea is to create beliefs and associations that you will carry with you out into the world. However, it is supposed to take a few sessions before your mind becomes accustomed to its new settings. If you are going to try self-hypnosis, then it is a good idea to perform self hypnosis regularly until it becomes easier for you to access positive states.
In order to access your subconscious mind, sit down or lie down in a comfortable position somewhere you will not be disturbed. Look around you and tell yourself three things about your environment that are true (for example, I am sitting on a chair, I see a desk next to me, and I can hear a dog barking). This will prepare your subconscious mind to accept the things you say as true. Then close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your body, one part at a time. Playing soothing music may help you to also relax your mind as you do this. Once you are completely relaxed, you are ready to do one or all of the following things:
- Create an Anchor Point An anchor point is a point on your body that you can touch to trigger calm, relaxed feelings. Ideally it will be somewhere you can reach easily, such as your hand or your arm. To create an anchor point, think of the place or the person who makes you feel the most relaxed and then imagine yourself there or with them. Concentrate on how calm and comfortable you feel and then touch your chosen anchor point, while describing to yourself (preferably aloud, but in a soothing a voice, as though you are talking to a child) how relaxed and comfortable you are, and that after you count backwards from ten to zero, any time you wish to re-enter this state of relaxation, all you have to do is touch this anchor point. Once you have done this, count backwards from 10 and open your eyes.
- Alter Your Associations Once you have achieved a state of mental and physical relaxation, you can start to build new associations with the triggers of your anxiety. Imagine the situation, setting or object that usually triggers your anxiety, and then add something to the scenario, place or object that makes it funny, rather than disturbing. For example, if you are afraid of spiders, picture a spider. Then change the picture of the spider in your head until it doesn't frighten you anymore. For example, give it a hat, make it rainbow-colored, or have it do a tap-dance to a funny song. The point of this exercise is to get you to associate a relaxed state of mind with the object of your anxiety rather than a tense state of mind. Do this until you can picture the object of your anxiety and feel an automatic positive reaction.
- Identify and Replace Unhelpful Beliefs Writing about your anxieties in a journal beforehand may help you to figure out what beliefs you have that are holding you back. For example, I'm not safe in public or other people are always thinking negative things about me. Once you identify these beliefs, think about what else you believe that might be more useful and positive. For example, I know how to protect myself, and I think positive things about others so they probably think positive things about me too. Then, once you have chosen new and more useful beliefs for your mind to jump to, vividly imagine the situations that usually bring the unhelpful beliefs to mind and think about your positive belief instead. Focus on the belief and the happy feelings associated with it until you feel calm while imagining the situation, or until another unhelpful belief crops up in your mind that you can replace with a better one.
- Listen To A Recording Write out a list of positive affirmations to replace the negative beliefs in your mind. Once you have a reasonably long list, record yourself saying it and play it for yourself at least once every day. Speak gently and reassuringly, as though you are speaking to a child. The ends of your sentences should sound definite and decisive, rather than going up at the end like questions (i.e., I am in control of my body. As opposed to I am in control of my body?). Don't use negative phrases like I won't feel anxious or I won't hyperventilate. Instead, use positive phrases such as I will feel calm, confident and collected and I will breathe evenly and easily.
Doing one or all of these self hypnosis exercises on a regular basis is meant to make you feel better about the things that used to make you anxious, and also of putting you in a generally more positive and tranquil frame of mind.
Placebo - But No Harm
There is simply no evidence that this type of treatment works, so it cannot be recommended. That said, many people believe it works, and there is no downside to the treatment if you want to give it a try. There are no side effects and the worst case scenario is that you lose a few dollars.
However, make sure that you never depend on placebo treatments like self-hypnosis and that you are willing to try other treatments when/if this one fails.
I've helped thousands of people recover from their own anxiety without medication or therapy starting with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Consider taking the test now to find out more about your anxiety symptoms and how to control them.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.