We have seen from previous articles that I have posted on this site that, if we suffered chronic stress during our childhood, our ability to deal with stress as adults can be drastically diminished, making it difficult to cope with the daily stressors that others may easily be able to take in their stride.
We may, for example, become disproportionately enraged if we temporarily misplace our keys, inadvertently snap a shoe-lace, or are thwarted in our vehicular progress down the street by a succession of obstinately and infuriatingly red traffic lights.
The reason for such overreactions can lie in the fact that our chronically stressful childhoods have disrupted the process in the brain associated with the production of stress hormones.
In particular, levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol may have become chronically too high.
It follows that, when we experience a minor stressor, too much adrenaline and cortisol are released. Let’s look at the effect that these two stress hormones have upon the body:
1) The Effect Of Adrenaline On The Body:
– causes the heart rate to increase
– causes blood pressure to go up
– causes breathing rate to become more rapid (sometimes leading hyperventilation, a distressing reaction associated with panic).
2) The Effect Of Cortisol On The Body:
– transports energy to muscles by diverting it from areas of the body where it is not immediately needed (such as the stomach).
So, the effects of adrenaline and cortisol combined are to prepare the body for ‘fight or flight’, as if we were being threatened by a ravenously hungry tiger (when, in fact, we are just stuck in traffic or have mislaid our keys etc). In such a case, energy builds up in the body which is not dissipated, causing great tension.
In order to attempt to free ourselves from this unpleasant feeling of tension, we may try to partly dissipate it by shouting obscenities or pounding our fists against some wholly innocent inanimate object (this is sometimes referred to by psychologists as a displacement activity).
In other words:
We are responding to minor stressors as if they posed severe, even life-threatening, danger. Our brain is preparing us for fight or flight because it has grossly overestimated the risk the minor stressor poses to us. It is ‘fooled’ into making this error due to the disruption of the body’s system that produces adrenaline and cortisol caused by our chronically stressful childhood.
And, following the same logic, when we’re unfortunate enough to experience major stressful events in our adult lives, we may find ourselves going into nuclear meltdown, utterly overwhelmed and unable to cope.
GOLDEN RULES FOR DEALING WITH STRESS
According to the British Medical Association, the GOLDEN RULES OF STRESS MANAGEMENT are as follows:
1) Decide what is really important in life and concentrate upon that (i.e. develop a good sense of priorities).
2) If you know you have a difficult situation coming up, try to plan how you will deal with it in advance
3) Try to develop a supportive social network and discuss problems with others
4) Lead a regular life-style which includes exercise
5) Give yourself rewards (however small) for positive thoughts, attitudes and actions
6) Try to strengthen any important weak points
7) Avoid brooding about problems – this is very important and you might need to distract yourself by doing something pleasant, rewarding and interesting
8) Try to think realistically about problems, keeping them in proportion. Where possible, TAKE DECISIVE ACTION to remedy them, rather than continuously having futile worries about them.
9) Be compassionate and forgiving towards yourself
10) Seek professional help if you feel you need it
11) Don’t over-exert yourself mentally or physically – rest and peace of mind are essential for proper recovery which will sometimes necessitate taking time off from work (taking time off work for psychological health reasons is just as valid as taking time off due to a physical problem).
12) Try to make small, frequent, positive changes – these soon mount up making a big difference
13) Make time for yourself – every day.
14) Undertake as many enjoyable activities as possible.
HYPNOTHERAPY FOR STRESS :
Hypnosis can be combined with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to effectively help break the vicious cycle of anxiety. For many sufferers of anxiety, a vicious cycle of worry often develops which will often comprise the following five stages:
1) A specific situation or event (internal or external) triggers the initial automatic anxiety response.
2) Specific automatic, apprehensive thoughts are triggered about what could happen
3) The individual switches into ‘anxiety mode’ with the accompanying unpleasant symptoms and bodily sensations
4) The individual experiences ESCALATING WORRY. This can include expecting a catastrophic outcome and assuming one is utterly helpless. As a result, maladaptive (unhelpful) avoidance, escape and safety-seeking behaviours frequently take over.
5) Frantic attempts to control and/or eliminate the anxiety (paradoxically making it worse).
Why does trying to control and eliminate the anxiety paradoxically make it worse? This is due to something called the REBOUND EFFECT – by trying to exercise thought control, the unwanted thought tends to come back at us all the harder. In other words, when we try deliberately not to think about something, we can actually think of little else. For example, try very hard not to think of a pink elephant for the next 30 seconds and see what happens! Cognitive hypnotherapy can help us to overcome this problem by training us to ACCEPT our anxiety, which leads to it becoming less intense and less painful.
Another way cognitive hypnotherapy helps us to overcome our anxiety is to help us to ‘ACT AS IF’ we are not anxious. By thinking about what we would be doing if we were not anxious, and then just doing it anyway, is a very effective way of loosening its grip.
Thirdly, cognitive hypnotherapy can help us to not get caught up and enmeshed with our worried thoughts – it does this by helping us to take a more DETACHED view of them (for more on the benefits of this, see my post on MINDFULNESS).
A fourth way cognitive hypnotherapy can help is allowing us to EMOTIONALLY REVIEW whatever it is we are worried about. In essence, this means IMAGINATIVELY EXPOSING ourselves repeatedly to what we are concerned about so we EMOTIONALLY HABITUATE to it – this emotional habituation to our concerns weakens feelings of anxiety connected to them.
Finally, cognitive hypnotherapy can help us see that our feelings are connected to our thoughts and that our thoughts may be inaccurate and full of errors. The type of thinking errors that lead to anxiety and which cognitive hypnotherapy can help us to overcome are as follows:
a) PROBABILITY – anxious thinkers tend to greatly overestimate the probability of the bad outcomes they are expecting happening
b) SEVERITY – even if the feared outcome does actually occur, anxious thinkers tend to greatly overestimate how bad it will be
c) VULNERABILITY – anxious thinkers also often greatly overestimate their vulnerability, whilst underestimating their ability to cope
d) SAFETY – anxious people tend to overlook evidence that they will be safe from what it is that they are concerned about. Also, they often overuse maladaptive (unhelpful) safety behaviours, such as avoidance, which can, in the long-term, worsen the anxiety.
Some specific techniques cognitive hypnotherapy can help individuals develop which are very useful for reducing anxiety are as follows:
i) PERFORMANCE ACCOMPLISHMENTS – this technique helps the individual focus on times in the past when they HAVE COPED with something that caused them anxiety and realize that they can cope in the future too.
ii) VICARIOUS EXPERIENCE – here hypnotherapy is used to help the individual imagine how others have coped (or would cope) in a similar situation and then to imagine how they themselves could cope in a similar manner.
iii) VERBAL PERSUASION – hypnotherapy can help develop the technique of giving oneself positive and helpful self-instruction and activate appropriate cognitive interventions (thought processes).
iv) LOWERING EMOTIONAL AROUSAL – hypnotherapy, too, is very effective for helping individuals develop deep relaxation techniques.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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