Hypnosis for Managing Anxiety and Stress

By 
Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg

Coping with Anxiety and Stress using Hypnosis

Whether it is the night before a big exam, preparing for a job interview, or awaiting a first date, we have all felt anxious or stressed at some point in our lives. Anxiety and stress in small doses can even help productivity. However, when symptoms feel overwhelming, do not go away over time, and/or interfere with daily functioning, anxiety and stress can become significantly problematic. 

Due to our current political climate and the ramifications of COVID-19, many of us have experienced an increase in anxiety symptoms and felt an overwhelming sense of stress.  The uncertainty regarding when the coronavirus will retreat creates fear and distress in the general public, and it leaves people feeling helpless and hopeless. Fortunately, hypnosis can be helpful at resetting negative thoughts and physical responses associated with anxiety and stress.

What is Hypnosis?

You may have been introduced to hypnosis from the movies (e.g., Get Out) or stage shows (e.g., High School Assembly). These portrayals of hypnosis often focus on controlling someone’s behaviors and making participants do something they ordinarily would not want to do. 

Clinical hypnosis, otherwise known as hypnotherapy, is very different. It is the practice of using a trance-like state for therapeutic purposes, and it focuses on using suggestive language and metaphors to motivate change. These suggestions are aligned with the clients’ goals and values, and they are decided upon with the client before beginning treatment. Hypnotherapists are adept at assisting clients in utilizing their own internal resources to help minimize anxiety-based symptoms.

Using Hypnosis when Treating Anxiety

Hypnosis can be used in conjunction with talk therapy to help target anxiety symptoms such as:

  • excessive worrying
  • feeling overly agitated and restless
  • noticing an increased heart rate and/or difficulty breathing
  • experiencing greater fatigue and/or exhaustion
  • insomnia
  • difficulty concentrating and/or finding motivation
  • increased irritability and decreased frustration tolerance

Anxiety and stress are often exacerbated by previous experiences, which means that one’s body and mind become conditioned to respond to harmless triggers with fear and worry. For example, perhaps you have struggled with work presentations in the past; now, your body has learned to associate triggers (e.g., being asked to speak publicly) with danger and fear. In an attempt to protect you from what feels like a threat (i.e., public speaking), your body automatically cues your fight or flight response and reacts with physiological symptoms (e.g., trouble breathing, sweating, turning red, stuttering, heart pounding).

Hypnosis can be a useful tool in allowing you to tap into your subconscious mind and retrain it to respond differently to these everyday, benign triggers or stressors. For example, the next time you have a work presentation, hypnotherapy treatment can help to teach your mind and body to focus on what is useful during a work presentation (e.g., your topic, how prepared you are, calming thoughts) rather than your physiological response or unhelpful thoughts.

Which Types of Anxiety can be Treated with Hypnosis? 

Hypnosis can be a helpful tool when treating most types of anxiety and stress, because it assists in diminishing people’s use of unhelpful lifestyle habits that were previously adopted in an effort to cope. For example, mental health concerns such as insomnia, addictions, fears and phobias, obsessive compulsive habits, panic attacks, trauma responses, and poor eating habits are often treated most effectively with a tailored and flexible combination of psychotherapy (e.g., CBT, mindfulness, psychoanalysis) and hypnosis. More specifically, hypnosis helps alleviate a myriad of symptoms of anxiety and stress, including obsessive thoughts, negative self-talk, physical manifestations (e.g., nail biting, hair pulling, skin picking), and tension or pain in the body. 

What is involved in a typical hypnosis session?

During a hypnotherapy appointment, the clinician with whom you work will spend time learning about who you are and the reasons why you have made the appointment. He or she will then provide a brief psychoeducation about hypnotherapy before guiding you into a deeply relaxed state, commonly referred to as trance. More specifically, trance is a conscious state in which people are fully in tune with the part of themselves that truly wants lasting change; when in this mindset, people are able to block out distracting thoughts that often work to resist change.  The clinician will then offer suggestions (e.g., metaphor, analogies, storytelling) specifically targeting treatment needs. He or she will then guide you out of the trance state, followed by a brief check in regarding the experience.

Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg is a Clinical Psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. For questions or to learn more about how mindfulness & hypnotherapy can help you, please contact us here.

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