Dealing with stress and anxiety – hypnosis and other approaches (2)

Self Hypnosis – notes for both methods

Relaxation is a skill, and it takes time to learn how to do it. One of the reasons for this is that distracting thoughts tend to enter your mind while you practice, although these fall away as your ability continues to develop. Remember that relaxing is not like other physical activities. It is a ‘happening’ rather than a ‘doing’.

Conscious thoughts such as: “Am I doing this right?” or “I should be preparing dinner!” are going to increase your arousal and counteract relaxation. You need to resolve that you won’t worry about the time you spend relaxing, that you can take the phone off-line and not answer the door, and put up a sign saying you don’t want to be disturbed!

Some of the effects of physical relaxation may be unfamiliar to you. For example, your muscles may feel warm or cold, may tingle or vibrate, or may give small jerks or twitches. These are signs that you are succeeding! (If you feel too cold just use a blanket.) More importantly, however, when your whole body is relaxed, you tend to feel either as if you are floating or as if you are sinking down and down, deeper and deeper, into the bed or chair.

When physically relaxed, some people like to remain calm with random thoughts drifting through their minds, while others find that visualizing some particular mental image such as a beach or a countryside scene helps them to remain relaxed. If you do this, try to feel as though you are actually a part of the scene, and not just a detached observer. Yet another possibility is simply to repeat the word “relax” each time you breathe out: this is often helpful in the early stages of the procedure. If it helps you, you can find some deep relaxation and visualisation scripts here.

After you have completed a session of relaxation, don’t suddenly resume your normal activity. Stretch each part of your body to accustom your muscles to physical activity once again, and get up slowly.

Some common questions.

Will relaxation help me feel less stressed?

Yes. The relaxation switches off the arousal of your nervous system and helps your body and mind slow down.

When and how should I use the relaxation technique?

Relaxing before your night’s sleep reduces your level of arousal and so helps you to obtain refreshing and revitalizing sleep. The full relaxation technique can also be helpful if you wake during the night or in the morning with feelings of anxiety and tension. During the night, it is important not to worry about the fact that you are awake – doing so makes you even less likely to sleep! Simply go through the whole relaxation process until you reach a state of mental calm and physical relaxation, during which you will at some point fall asleep once more.

If you want to relax in the morning, do it when you’re awake enough not to fall asleep again.

Deep relaxation & visualisation

There are many benefits from a regular schedule of deep relaxation. This is because one or two sessions of relaxation each day reduce your level of arousal, thereby making you much calmer and reversing all the effects of stress – the nasty things we’ve already described. Another useful thing about this relaxation technique is the way in which it gives you the means to quickly relax during the day. Read on to find out how!

Rapid Relaxation For Stress Relief

When you can relax deeply and quickly (or even before!), why not use a form of rapid relaxation as a matter of routine during your everyday life? This application of relaxation (it’s described below) is suitable for odd moments during the day and need take no more than a minute or two, but it’s still very effective in lowering your level of arousal. Moreover, you can use it anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and no-one will know what you are doing (a fact which is sometimes important). By using a quick relaxation technique several times a day, you can avoid the physical and psychological effects of stress in every day life.

Of course, you may also wish to use this quick way of relaxing before and during situations which you find especially stressful. Examples might be: before or during a meeting, examination or interview; while waiting for an appointment; before standing to deliver a speech; while speaking to people; and so on.

There are also benefits to be gained from using the technique after any stressful event such as a meeting, a car journey, a shopping trip, an interview, and so on. It can be especially useful to do this after your day’s work but before driving home. That way, you won’t tend to use your car as an outlet for your aggression and annoyance.

So how does the technique work? First of all, sit in a chair with your back straight, your arms positioned on the arms of the chair (or, if it doesn’t have arms, hanging by the side of your body or resting on your lap), your feet flat on the floor and your head comfortably balanced. The aim is to relax as much as possible while sitting in this position. At least to start with, it may be necessary for you to tense all the muscles of your body before you relax. (Since this is a rapid relaxation technique, it is better to tense all the muscles of your body at once rather than in sequence.) But if you have mastered the skill of deep relaxation, you’ll soon find that you can relax just by thinking about it. One way of helping yourself to do this is to repeat silently the word “relax” each time you breathe out. This should allow you to relax at will. And even if you are standing up, you should be able to relax much of your body.

The technique is pretty good, because even if you don’t relax completely, you’ll still lower your level of emotional arousal and feel calmer and be able to think more clearly. However, we cannot emphasize sufficiently that to derive the maximum benefit from it, you must maintain your ability to relax at a high level of efficiency, and this will only happen if you remember to use the technique as many times as possible each day. You could do this while travelling on a train, bus or car, or while waiting to be served in a shop, or while speaking to people on the phone, and so on.

You may also find it extremely helpful to spend slightly longer relaxing at lunch-time, especially if your daily routine is highly stressed. For example, businessmen can lock their office doors and refresh themselves by relaxing for 10 or 15 minutes with their eyes closed. If you happen to lack privacy, it may be possible to do this in your car or in the wash rooms.

Rapid relaxation is suited to your daily routine – where stresses arise – and can be used among other people in your daytime environment with no disruption.  

When you’ve been using relaxation techniques for some time, you’ll probably notice certain distinct changes in your life. First of all, you’ll probably experience periods of calmness, relaxation. Then you might notice improved interactions with other people, and greater self-confidence. You’ll be less inclined to fly off the handle. These periods of relaxation and lessened stress will gradually spread throughout your day. Perhaps, at first, the moments of greatest stress in your life may not appear much different, but soon you’ll notice how much calmer you are even when you’re in very challenging situations. But don’t expect sudden and dramatic changes. It’s all a gradual process, not an event. So, for example, if your tension headaches occur once a week instead of three times, that’s a major improvement. So too, if they do not last as long or if they are not as severe.

Relaxation or Self-hypnosis – or Something Else?

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that there are many other forms of self-help, which you can try if you are motivated.  For example, when people are constantly stressed and tense there may be an underlying issue which needs investigating. Ths may require therpay of some kind. 

Therapy as a part of stress relief

While techniques of deep relaxation are very helpful, they may in the end only provide symptomatic relief from stress. If there is a deeper issue at work – for example childhood trauma or PTSD – then you might wish to consider some deeper kind of therapy such as counselling, psychotherapy, or shadow work. If you haven’t heard of shadow work before, you might like to take a look at this website. It will help you understand what shadow work entails. Counselling and therapy probably need no introduction to you, but here is a link to the British Association for Counselling and The UK Council for Psychotherapy anyway.

However, let us not forget that often some more fundamental problem underlies the emotional and physical symptoms of stress. In such cases, relaxation is a way of relieving symptoms, and self-hypnosis may be a way of tackling the underlying problem. This is why we have discussed methods of self-hypnosis elsewhere. Self-hypnosis can be used to help overcome anxiety, depression and personality problems such as a lack of confidence. One of the most obvious points in favor of self-hypnosis is its flexibility: it can be used for stress relief as well as curing specific problems like anxiety, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.