Cure your fear of flying with hypnosis

Wanting to head off somewhere nice for summer, but a fear of flying is stopping you? This phobia keeps people from getting onto airplanes and heading where they need to be. It is something that can afflict a person for many years and usually there is no rhyme or reason to why it impacts a certain person. It is simply a mental block that keeps people from rationally thinking about flying in an airplane. This can be a particularly devastating problem for people who are in business, as flying across the world has become a very important part of the business landscape. Maybe you need to head across the ocean to close a business deal. Maybe you must travel a long distance to see a sick family member. Whatever the case may be, it is always nice to have the option of flying.

Fear of flying is common – in fact, many people suffer from anxiety when it comes to flying in an airplane. The problem occurs when that bit of anxiety turns into a lot of anxiety and you can no longer function while flying in an airplane. At that point, fear can occur when a person goes to get on a plane or it might even cause them to stay home. This is something that can be fixed, but it takes some mental conditioning. It takes a change in thinking in order to achieve the goal of chasing away the fear of flying.

As with most mental problems, it is easy to get rid of the problem if you can change your thinking. A complete change in mindset about flying and airplanes is something that can be achieved through hypnosis. As a practicing hypnotherapist, I have seen my share of people overcome different mentally based problems. Things like smoking, alcoholism, and gambling addiction can be cured with hypnosis and so can a fear of flying.

Many people think that hypnosis is simply something you see out on a stage in Las Vegas. This is short-changing the process considerably. Though it might seem like magic, hypnotherapy is actually a mental treatment that enables people to calm down and let good thoughts replace those ill thoughts. You would be surprised with the number of things that hypnosis can cure. If you are struggling with fear of flying and you see no other solution to cure this fear, then consider hypnosis. Get all of the information that you can find and make a decision about whether hypnosis is right for you. And if you prefer to chat before committing to a session either in person or online, I offer a free 15 minute consultation. Where will you go next?

20161029_132616.jpg

Lose weight for the summer

Being overweight in the summer heat is no fun. And exposing a fat stomach or fat thighs isn’t exactly pleasant when everyone else around you is wearing gnat-sized beachwear and drizzling oil onto wasp-like abdomens. In fact, for people carrying excess weight, summer can be an unpleasant trial involving countless opportunities for embarrassment and discomfort. So let’s take a look at how you can reduce some of your fat and make summer a happier experience. But first, a warning.

Summer Weight Loss Trap
One guaranteed way to fail is to look for a “short cut” weight loss method or diet. You know what I mean: the type of program that promises “a fast effortless way to reduce weight”. In my experience, none of these diets or pills actually work, and the medical evidence is quite clear: the maximum rate of sustainable fat loss is between 1 and 2 pounds per week, perhaps a little more if you are obese. Besides, if a brilliant scientist did manage to concoct a formula for rapid effortless weight reduction, overnight he would be more famous than Einstein. He certainly wouldn’t be peddling his program in 30 second TV infommercials or mail-order advertisements. So for the sake of your sanity as well as your financial health, don’t waste time on weight loss methods that make extravagant claims. If you don’t believe this, think of any of your overweight friends who favor the short-term “lose 20 pounds in two weeks” type of approach, and ask yourself why they are still overweight.

Three Month Summer Diet Plan
You can’t lose much weight in a week or two. You need about three months to make a significant impact on your body shape. Remember, the human body is interested in survival, not cosmetic appearances, and since rapid weight loss is a prima facie symptom of disease not good health, the only guaranteed way to improve your body shape is to adopt a gradual approach of healthy eating and increased exercise. In three months, you can lose about 26 pounds – more than enough for most overweight people to experience noticeable health improvements as well as a much leaner body. And by reducing your weight gradually in this manner, you have far less chance of weight regain, so if necessary you can continue losing more with less danger of incurring a weight loss plateau or other obstacle.

You Need A Motive
No one likes to change their habits. So if you want to change your eating and exercise habits, you need a strong motive – something to keep you dieting and exercising when boredom sets in. Whatever motive you choose, it must be something more powerful than the urge to eat tasty high calorie foods in front of the TV!

A Good Motive For Summer Weight Loss
Anything that commits you in advance to achieving your weight loss goal, makes a great motive. So be bold. Book an expensive beach holiday, or buy some gorgeous clothes to fit the body you want to have at the end of your diet program. Both these actions require you to succeed, and therefore provide constant motivation along the way.

Be Positive About Short Term Sacrifices
Whether you’re trying to lose weight for the summer, save money or pass exams, an important piece of the motivational jigsaw is your ability to be positive about making short term sacrifices. The choice is fairly simple: you can focus on the “deprivation” involved in giving up certain foods, or you can focus on the benefits you will get by not eating these foods. Sadly, many dieters focus on feeling deprived. After a while they see their diet as a burden, a bore, an evil necessity. This is why so many of them quit. They can’t “see” the benefits that weight loss will bring them. If you want to improve your body shape for the summer, you must avoid this trap and appreciate the longer term benefits you will receive by making short-term adjustments to your lifestyle.

The Good News About Improving Your Diet
Many of our tastes, food cravings, and general attitudes to food are strongly influenced by what we eat and drink. I know countless mothers with families who have reported astonishing changes in their personal and family eating habits after less than three weeks of improved eating. Point is, the average modern diet is loaded with sugar, fat and sodium, all of which condition us to want more of these items. But if you can break out of this dependence on junk ingredients for even 2-3 weeks, you’ll notice a huge difference in your tastes. Which brings me to healthy eating.

Think Healthy Eating Not Weight Loss
In my experience, one of the most effective weight loss strategies is to focus on healthy eating. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand on your weighing scales, just don’t measure progress exclusively by what the scales say. Be aware that it’s just as important to enjoy your food and feel good about your change of eating habits. And any diet you hate is guaranteed to fail, no matter how much weight you lose, because as soon as you achieve your goal, you will revert to your old eating habits and regain every pound lost.

The Top 10 Healthy Eating Habits
In a nutshell, a healthy diet involves (1) More home-cooked food, less eating out. (2) More fresh fruit as snacks. (3) More fresh vegetables as snacks and with meals. (4) More beans as sides or in stews. (5) More dense chewy bread, less refined white breads and bread snacks. (6) Less red meat. A vegetarian or vegan diet has none of the growth hormones or antibiotics injected into factory farmed animals. (7) Smaller servings of meat if you eat it, larger servings of vegetables. (8) Eating low fat dairy foods, if you eat them. There are many tasty non-dairy alternatives. (9) Adding less fat in the form of butter, mayo, sour cream, to the food on your plate. This is a huge source of excessive calories. (10) Stocking up with healthy snack foods to keep hunger at bay. If you fill up with healthy nutritious calories, you won’t want the junk foods that hunger makes you eat. As far as weight management goes, hunger remains Public Enemy Number One.

Exercise Provides Wonderful Indirect Benefits
Exercise does burn extra calories and therefore does help to widen your calorie deficit. But it’s direct effect on weight loss is typically quite small. In fact, it’s not uncommon to gain weight when you start exercising. The real weight reduction benefits of exercise are indirect ones. It raises our metabolic rate, helping us to burn calories at a slightly faster rate, and improves our mood, which typically reduces our need for comfort-eating. However, don’t overdo your exercise workouts. I’ve lost count of the number of dieters who started exercising too vigorously and burnt out within 3 weeks. Ideally, start with 45 minutes/day of any physical activity you can easily manage, and very gradually increase the duration and intensity. Listen to your body at all times, and be sure to loosen up beforehand and wind down afterwards.

See Yourself As You Want To Be
If your goal is a waistline you can proudly display in the sun, then don’t wait until it happens to “see” it. Visualize it from the moment you start dieting. Visualize yourself walking along a beach, or lying next to the pool with a perfectly flat stomach. Whatever your ambition for your weight or body, get used to visualizing it in the greatest possible detail. Because “seeing it” is the first step to making it come true. As they say, one picture is worth a thousand words.

Very Overweight? Just Visualize The Benefits!
If you have a lot of weight to lose (100 pounds+), you may not think that losing 26 pounds in three months is particularly worthwhile. If so, ask yourself this question. What’s the alternative? No matter what method you choose, you won’t lose weight any faster, so it’s only a question of when you start and how long it’s going to take. I can answer the last question right now. Losing 100 pounds takes about a year – typically a little longer to allow for disasters along the way. Fifteen months would be a more realistic time span to reduce weight by this amount. This is nothing. Just visualize yourself walking down the street 100 pounds lighter, and tell me that eating healthily for 15 months is too high a price to pay for such a wonderful prospect.

Your First Priority – Get Support
If you really want to lose weight for the summer, your first priority is to find support. I have had fantastic success with using hypnosis with my weight loss clients – see my ‘success stories’ for one recent testimonial. You can also join a diet group at work, a fitness class, go to weight loss meetings, or join an online forum. Losing weight on your own is perfectly possible, providing things go well and your scales keep saying nice things. But when difficulties arise, as they surely will, having the support of real people can make all the difference between success and failure.

Why hypnosis can cure social anxiety

Why do you think we have emotions? Wouldn’t life be simpler without them? Of course not. As with everything else in human makeup, emotions exist to keep us safe and alive and able to thrive.

Emotions motivate movement

Embedded in the word “emotion” is another word: “motion”. Emotions are there to make us move. Either towards something or away from it.

We all have deep basic needs – for warmth, security, love and connection and, of course, food and shelter. We have needs for status, significance, attention and to feel safe in our lives. We need stimulation, to exercise our creativity to learn and produce in the world. Some emotions drive us toward experiences that would help meet these needs and ensure our survival. And other emotions serve to drive us away from experiences or situations which, we feel, would prevent us meeting our essential needs.

But what happens when we get directed the wrong way by our feelings?

You are pulled towards social contact by your needs, and away from it by social anxiety

The “motion” in “emotion” has us moving either towards what we feel we need or away from what we feel we don’t want. Think lust, love, anger, greed, hunger – all feelings that motivate us towards an experience. And think about feelings that drive us away from something – fear, terror, disgust.

Hopefully, our emotions get it right and drive us toward what is good for us and away from what is bad for us. But sometimes they don’t.

The social phobic both wants and doesn’t want social contact. They are pulled and pushed in different directions by their feelings. If social contact was bad for us, it would be great to be terrified of social events because it would be life saving. But a socially anxious person instinctively knows they need social contact at the same time as fearing it; they are pulled and pushed at the same time by their emotions… tricky! And it gets worse.

We avoid what we fear – but also fear what we avoid

One problem is that the more you avoid something, the more the fear around it increases. It’s as if your “emotional brain” draws conclusions from your behaviour: “She’s avoiding this situation all the time, so it must be genuinely dangerous. So I’ll ramp up her fear of this situation even more to make sure she won’t go near it.”

On the other hand, people can switch off their fear around stuff they should fear simply because they have made themselves go towards it. I’m thinking of the old-time circus lion-tamer calmly putting his head in a lion’s mouth, and of those perennial favourites, the human cannonballs, getting themselves fired from a cannon. Not hobbies I’d recommend. The point is that even dangerous acts like these can start to feel “normal” to your emotional brain if you voluntarily and repeatedly do them (the “emotional brain” concludes “This must be safe, else why are we doing it?”).

So yes, we avoid what we fear, but we can also come to fear something just because we avoid it so much.

A number of approaches have been tried over the centuries to overcome the difficulties this presents. None are as successful as hypnotic therapy. Consider, for instance, what happens with “exposure therapy” and “cognitive therapy” in the context of dealing with fears like shyness and social anxiety.

Exposure therapy: A step too far?

The understanding that emotions are physical drivers away from or towards something is extensively used in exposure therapy. (1) This approach typically has you gradually having more and more contact with what scares you. So the spider phobic might on week one see a drawing of a spider, on week two see a photo of a spider, on week three see a toy spider, on week four touch the toy spider, week five has them seeing a movie of a spider and week six an actual live spider. This can be very effective if the person can be induced to remain calm through the gradual exposure (sometimes known as “systematic desensitisation”). (It would be easier and faster to use hypnosis and the rewind technique.)

The idea is that spiders need to start to feel a “normal” part of experience, and this is done through forcing oneself to go towards rather than away from; classic behavioural therapy, and probably what the lion-tamer did to get the nerve he needed…

Another kind of exposure therapy takes a less gradual approach and is known as “flooding”. Yikes! This might see the spider phobic being put straight in a room full of spiders, with the idea that fully experiencing your worst fear – and surviving it – will put an end to that fear.

So does it work?

Therapy for the therapy

Yes, it can work – provided the person undergoing the therapy is taught to relax deeply. But (you knew there was a “but”) I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had to treat to help them recover from the effects of this kind of therapy when it’s gone wrong. These are the ones who didn’t get better, the ones who couldn’t get past the photo of the spider on week two, the ones who were deeply traumatised by being thrown in at the deep end of having to speak in front of a hundred people when they were still chronically shy.

There has to be, and fortunately is, another way.

The beauty of hypnosis when treating fears

Hypnosis, used sensibly, is the perfect way to expose someone in a safe and relaxed way to a situation they had been avoiding. As far as your emotional brain is concerned, if you have relaxed deeply and felt spontaneous at a party a few times while in hypnosis, this is a sufficiently strong indication that this situation is not dangerous, and that this kind of social event can now be “retagged” as something you can potentially go safely towards – before you’ve even been to an actual party. Someone who hasn’t left the house for years can “leave their house” in hypnosis and “experience it” before they go out the door in real life. The exposure therapy is fully within their own control, in sync with a relaxed mind and body.

When they then “do it for real”, it will already feel more familiar and therefore not as threatening. The previously dreaded social event may even, dare I say it, turn out to be relaxing and fun.

It’s important to understand here that we are talking about more than just what a person believes.

Feelings and thoughts can be at odds

You can fully believe something is good for you and still fearfully flee from it. You can fully believe something (or someone) is bad for you but still be emotionally driven towards it (or them). Cognitive approaches to dealing with fears often come unstuck over this, as fears aren’t driven so much by “faulty thinking” as by more primitive emotional conditioning geared towards survival. It is much easier to access, and modify, these primitive drivers through the use of hypnosis than through reasoning.

When we help someone with social phobia it’s generally obvious the phobia has gone the moment they open their eyes, because calm, disassociated hypnotic exposure to the previously feared trigger while feeling completely relaxed has transformed their response. They know it wasn’t “real” – but nonetheless a new positive blueprint for responding with calm and being in flow when in social situations has become established in their subconscious. Being socially relaxed is the new “normal”.

The new 10 steps to overcome social anxiety course has a hypnotic download for each step of the way. This is partly because social skills can be developed and honed during hypnotic rehearsal but also because we want people to experience hypnotic “safe” social experiences before they go into these situations for real. In this way the horrible away from feelings of fear can gently be replaced with the happier toward feelings of pleasure and positive expectation when it comes to socializing and meeting new people.

Notes

  1. See: Wikipedia entry: Exposure therapy
  2. See: Wikipedia entry: Flooding

The importance of self-care

This post is prompted by some sad news – the death of a musician I was a big fan of over the years. (Indeed I foisted a CD of my own music onto him upon a brief encounter in Stoke Newington many moons ago.) Most shockingly he was around my age, and the only thing I’ve been able to learn around the circumstances of his death is the rather oblique fact that he didn’t look after himself very well. I touched upon how musicians can be affected by the stress of their profession in my last post so won’t repeat any of that here – especially given that it may not be relevant in his case – but as the issue of self-care has been cropping up repeatedly in recent months, I wanted to say a few words on it.

In fact, I did a talk at a lovely local networking group a couple of weeks ago, and the conversation turned to exactly this. The group of women there had all set up small businesses – in many cases, remarkably juggling such commitments around bringing up small children – and some commented that the brief guided visualisation I conducted as part of the session was the first time they had relaxed in months! Not unusually, some of them felt guilty when they took time out for themselves, and I suggested that if they didn’t do this, how could they best serve their clients?

Unfortunately we live in a culture where hard work is fetishised, with predictable consequences – burn-out is endemic, people spend less time with their loved ones, and everyone suffers. You are not being selfish if you take time out each day to properly nurture yourself – and by that I mean things like taking time to cook a nutritious meal instead of grabbing a take-away, spending quality time with people (preferably with phones off!), talking a walk in nature, meditation (there are plenty of guided visualisations on Youtube if you’re not sure where to start)…these are just some examples, but basically anything that encourages you to slow down, breathe, and properly interact with the world around you. Do you ever notice how much calmer you feel around someone who is calm themselves? Well, you can be that person!

And if you need a little support and encouragement along the way, there are many therapists – including myself of course – who are ready to help you. Many therapy centres have open days if you’re not sure where to begin, possibly enabling you to try a few different things before deciding what works best for you. Many therapists (again including myself) offer free consultations, so you can ask questions and decide whether they are the right person for you. Some people are put off by the potential cost, but when an hour with someone who can help you costs about the same as a night down the pub, it may be better to consider this an investment rather than an expense. A good therapist can not only help you work through issues which may be holding you back, but will teach you skills and strategies you can take away and use to better the rest of your life – and who can put a price on that?

I’ll end by sharing my favourite form of self-care – sitting in my lovely garden with headphones on, listening to music I love. And so it seems appropriate to close this post with a track by the wonderful musician who prompted me to post it. RIP Ben.

All about mental health

I’ve been focusing strongly on mental health so far this year – including starting a NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Awareness of Mental Health Problems – and just wanted to update on a couple of events I’ve recently attended. Firstly, it is such a positive sign that such discussions are even taking place, and people are feeling increasingly emboldened to be open about their struggles. I’m no fan of celebrity culture, but upon seeing Mariah Carey reveal her struggle with bipolar disorder yesterday I applauded her bravery. This – and similar revelations by those in the public eye – will bring courage to many who may have struggled with the same symptoms but not known what to do about them…or possibly even that there was a name for them. For far too long sufferers have been ridiculed in the media due to ignorance, and such attitudes have prevailed. This has resulted all too often in sufferers receiving advice along the lines of ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘move on’ – hardly helpful to those already struggling to manage their symptoms, which are often down to factors outside their control in the first place.

So it’s especially encouraging to see the business world starting to grasp the nettle, given that I’m increasingly seeing executives seeking treatment as they start to buckle under the strain of a culture where being a workaholic is seen as some kind of positive attribute. In reality, it inevitably puts strain on their relationships with their families and other loved ones – especially if they resort to coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, or gambling. So it was with interest that I ventured to the recent Minds@Work event – in their own words, ‘a community of like-minded professionals coming together to break the stigma of depression and anxiety in the working world.’ Handily they have put all the talks up on their website, including stories from two gentlemen whose mental health had impacted upon their careers – and how they had overcome this adversity. There was also an excellent demonstration of best practice from insurance firm Legal & General who not only employ 60 Mental Health First Aiders, but have a great campaign underway called ‘Not A Red Card Offence’, engaging famous sportspeople to help shift the stigma (the power of celebrity again). Impressive!

The next event was close to my heart: a Mental Health Workshop run by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA). As a professional musician myself, I have seen firsthand the impacts of a lifestyle which is often romanticised by the media. Long days composing, rehearsing, or touring – followed by longer nights performing – take their toll upon health and relationships; not to mention the near impossibility of earning any reasonable income from one’s talents (did you know a band/artist earns only 0.001p from each play on Spotify, for example?) So this event was intended to provide a taster of skills based on neuroscience and cognitive behavioural psychology to empower musicians as they progress against such unfavourable odds, courtesy of Music for Mental Wealth. It was good to see some of the techniques I use with my own clients gaining wider traction; and I’m optimistic that increasingly these sorts of conversations are becoming not exactly easy to have, but at least less difficult.

So if you or anyone you are close to is feeling the strain of a mental health issue, please know you are not alone. Practical help is available from a number of local sources and support groups, and your GP should be able to advise in the first instance. Although medication works for some people, it shouldn’t really be seen as a long-term solution – a qualified therapist can help you get to the root of the issue and teach you coping mechanisms as appropriate. In some instances this may entail making some lifestyle changes, but we’ve all heard the old adage – no-one on their deathbed wishes they’d spent more time at work.

If you’d like to see whether hypnotherapy or coaching is right for you in response to these (or any other) issues, I offer a free no-obligation 15 minute phone consultation – see my main page for details. And if you are fortunate enough to work for an employer who runs well-being events, I also undertake corporate sessions – feel free to put me in touch with your HR department. In the meantime, thanks for reading; and let’s all do our best to support anyone we know – or suspect – may be struggling with their mental health.

Photo by Lesley Malone – https://tangentialism.org/ 

Time for a change? Here’s how to make it a success!

Raise the subject of new year’s resolutions in January, and you’re likely to get some mixed reactions – from guilty confessions along the lines of falling by the wayside or off the wagon, to those who find the prospect too daunting to even bother anymore. So how can we tackle making changes effectively, new year or not? Fortunately, there are a few ways we can make that first step off the starting block a little easier.

First of all, there’s the bite size approach, where the elements of a task are broken down into manageable chunks. Let’s take the example of writing a book: once you’ve nailed the subject (or a vague narrative, if you’re writing fiction), how are you going to fill those empty pages? A sensible approach would be to break it down into chapters, then work out how many words a day you can realistically get down – they don’t have to be perfect, as you can take care of the editing and refining later. Of course you need to take your other commitments into account, and possibly sacrifice something else – such as time in front of the TV – to fit it in. But even if your goal is only a few hundred words a day to begin with, once you’ve made a start, you’re off!

Which leads me onto the next crucial element: making something into a habit. Research shows that we are far more likely to succeed at something once we incorporate it into our daily routine – basically sidestepping our brain’s tendency to question it. Even if you can only find a small gap in the day to begin with, the important thing is keeping it regular. This has the added bonus of gradually making the process easier, and helping it become a more natural part of your life.

And to enhance that natural process, we can use a little extra cleverness. If you’re a morning person, it makes sense to make the most of your early bird tendencies and set the alarm half an hour early – rather than try and incorporate your new habit later in the day when you may be more tired. And if you really want to give yourself an extra push, take advantage of moments in the day when you can take time out to visualise yourself going through elements of your task – and succeeding. Your brain will respond accordingly!

Finally, the best bit – reward yourself. Track your progress, set yourself achievable milestones along the way, and be sure to celebrate once they’re achieved – perhaps with friends or family who are supporting you. For many, sharing their goal is a magic ingredient of motivation; but if you’re flying solo, then give yourself an extra treat for your strength and determination. Above all, cut yourself some slack and don’t abandon everything if you hit a setback – pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep your eyes on the prize.

A qualified hypnotherapist can help you with all the above stages if you need a little extra support on your journey. Good luck!

(Published on The Hypnotherapy Directory, 3 January 2018)