How to reduce fear and anxiety with hypnosis
In this essay I'm going to explain how fear works, and some methods to start replacing fear with calm in specific situations. I'm going to tell you why hypnosis is the best way to change fear into confidence.
Picture this: I'm 200 feet above the ground, high on a crane; it's so high that despite the crowd looking up at me, everything's eerily quiet! My pulse is breaking Olympic records, I'm sweating like the proverbial farmyard animal and I'm breathing like I'm in labour. And all this is apparently a cue for my imagination to kick in...
What if these bungee jump guys really don't know what they're doing? Come to think of it when they put my bungee harness on, they were chatting and not paying attention - oh my GOD! I'm going to die, a terrible accident, I swear I can see the headlines in my mind! Why am I going higher than everyone else? No one else went this high - it looks so high from up here - should I say something? Of course I should! What do I care what I look like to others when my life's at stake!
The bungee guy tells me that on the count of three he's going to shout Go! and then I'm to dive into empty space. I'm sure I've seen him on the news, he looks like that psychopath! Was it that show on serial killers? He's grinning, why's he grinning? No way am I diving off this crane!
One, two and... three... Go! he yells and, like a lemming, I dive. My fear of appearing a coward apparently over-rides my fear for my life. I fall so fast that even my imagination shuts up. Miraculously the cord holds - I bounce up... Phew! I'm alive!
Of course, me being me, I tell people it was nothing. They tell me I looked pretty pale. I tell them it was something I ate. Why do we play mind games with ourselves? Why did my imagination torment me up there? Well, I'll tell you why!
Fear is like water - it needs a channel to go down. If nothing actually life threatening is happening right at the point you feel fear, then your imagination constructs a channel for that fear by creating a reason for you to feel fearful. If there's no real evidence of threat, your imagination will very quickly make up evidence to justify the fear. It's very much a case of the cart before the horse.
In your fear state, any input from your imagination is taken as real evidence. Fear gets you to make stuff up and then believe it. Fear thrives on the use - or I should say the misuse - of your imagination. The strongest way to use your imagination is through hypnosis, and that's why we describe people as sometimes being hypnotised by their own fears. Thankfully, we have better uses for hypnosis!
Here's another one for you. Imagine you've just watched a hilarious late night comedy on TV - it's hysterical - you haven't laughed so hard in years. Chuckling to yourself you switch off the TV and go and put the garbage out whistling to your self. And off you go to bed, a totally happy camper.
The next night you watch the scariest late night horror movie you've ever seen - you actually have to cover your face with your hands at times. The movie finishes, the house is quiet and you go to put the garbage out. This time it's a whole different experience. You watch your back, you're checking everywhere, you're imagining things in the shadows - you're terrified! It's the same garbage, the same street, but your imagination has been primed differently. Your senses interpret every incoming stimulus to fit the mood that the movie has created in you.
But we shouldn't be too hard on fear. Fear is a great motivator. The trouble is, it can motivate you away from things that would actually be great for you! One way to think of your fear instinct is like a dog that you need to train properly.
Your instincts take your lead. They don't know what they are supposed to fear. Your instincts learn by what you do and the level of arousal you feel when you imagine something.
If you avoid doing something through fear, then your fear instinct is going to get the message that the situation is actually life threatening and so will try to help you out by building the fear even more.
Your poor old fear instinct doesn't know that asking someone on a date isn't life threatening, or going for an interview, or presenting to a few colleagues. It's just getting that impression from the way you behave and what you imagine when you think about these things.
If you make yourself repeatedly calmly do something that really is life threatening then your fear instinct may even switch off around that activity. It's like your instinct works out that it can't be that threatening or you wouldn't voluntarily do it. This is why circus performers can be calm while putting their heads in the lion's mouth or getting fired from cannons. We don't recommend this by the way.
In fact, if you do anything that you wouldn't do in a life-or-death situation then fear will quickly diminish as your instincts get the idea that this situation is not really threatening.
One of the first things to switch off when your fight/flight response kicks in is salivation, because you don't need to be eating if you're trying not to be eaten. Now if you are in a tricky situation and you chew gum, for instance, the gum makes you salivate. Your fear instinct gets the feedback that all must be well, because you can salivate and so all the other symptoms of fear get reduced in a domino effect.
Furthermore, if you stay in the situation rather than run from it, then eventually fear switches off because if it was really life threatening you'd run away. So you train your instincts partly by how you behave. Run away and the fear builds - stay and do it, and fear diminishes. After my first bungee jump my second was comparatively easy. Had I refused to jump the first time I may have never gone back to it.
But there is an even more effective, and comfortable way to reduce your fear levels. And that is to feel calm when you imagine doing something. This trains your instincts to produce calmness in the situation itself. The best way to do this is through your imagination during hypnotic trance. As well as being influenced by your actions, your instincts are shaped by your imagination and how you feel when you imagine something. If I'd known hypnosis back in my first bungee days, I could have primed my fear instinct to butt out by hypnotically rehearsing the jump ahead of time while feeling very calm and relaxed.
If you feel anxious when you think about an upcoming situation you are misusing self hypnosis and building an unhelpful association.
If I have something challenging coming up, I close my eyes, enter deeply relaxed hypnosis and then - and only then - imagine myself in that upcoming situation. In this way I'm, in effect, setting a helpful instinctive blueprint for the situation.
Once I have self hypnotised a few times and have really strongly visualized that event while feeling very calm, it actually becomes hard not to feel relaxed during the challenge. This is because your instincts don't distinguish between what you imagine and what you really experience!
So remember, if you feel fear your imagination will get in on the act and you will start believing stuff you make up. If you are scared of something in the future you are misusing a type of natural self hypnosis. Feeling a particular emotion while imagining a particular situation will glue the emotion to the situation itself. This is strengthened through repetition.
So to sum up, if you get into the habit of feeling confident and calm whilst hypnotically rehearsing lots of different situations you are quickly going to become generally a calmer more confident and a braver person naturally and instinctively.
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