- The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in major depressive and anxiety disorders worldwide, especially among women and younger people.
- Therapy with hypnosis can be an important and effective tool to help address anxiety and depression, such as reported during the pandemic.
- A key to coping better with stress is to learn how to think in a way that allows stressful triggers to be interpreted calmly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a 28 percent increase in major depressive disorders and a 26 percent increase in anxiety disorders worldwide, according to a study published in The Lancet on October 8, 2021. This study reported that these increases were most prevalent among women, who faced increased tasks in the home and the risk of domestic violence, and among young people who had to deal with the consequences of school closures.
Many children with anxiety related to COVID have been referred for counseling at a Pediatric Hypnosis and Counseling practice in La Jolla, CA. Some children reported fears of becoming sick or about the health of their family members. Others have become depressed because online learning is difficult for them and/or they miss in-person social interactions with their friends. Yet others have become frustrated and angry as a result of the imposed restrictions on their lives, and have taken out their anger on family members. A minority of children have even developed stress-associated physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or chest pain.
The children who were seen before COVID also began dealing with increased anxiety and depression. Fortunately, through application of the hypnosis tools they had learned already, most of them experienced a minimal increase in psychological distress.
Over the past few months, many children have been referred for anxiety because of difficulties in adjusting to their return to in-person school. For example, children with social anxiety who were comfortable staying at home are having difficulty in readjusting to personal interactions with their peers.
A key to coping better with stress is to learn how to think in a way that allows stressful triggers to be interpreted calmly. As a result, such triggers are much less likely to have intense physical or mental effects.
These are four ways for achieving such a shift in thinking pattern:
While life can present many external stressful events a child can be taught that he or she has a choice regarding how much of the stress is internalized. This can be accomplished with the use of positive self-talk. For example, instead of thinking, “This event will make me sad,” a child can learn to think, “I want to remain confident and calm in dealing with it.”
Patients can learn that by thinking in a positive way, including through use of hypnosis, they are able to avoid allowing negative thoughts and feelings related to COVID from affecting them as much.
Rather than focusing on the upsetting nature of a stressful event a child can learn to think about what good can arise because of the event.
At the onset of the COVID pandemic, discussions with children focused on the good that has come out of COVID including opportunities to become closer to their families, to read more books, study a new language or subject, and to learn new skills such as playing a musical instrument, art, writing, and even learning how to invest in the stock market. Patients were told, “Years from now, once COVID is behind us, wouldn’t it be great if you can look back and say, ‘I picked up a new skill as a result of COVID, one I never would have had the opportunity to learn had it not been for such an unusual time.’”
Discussion further focused on how society would improve because of COVID by learning to conduct business from home and becoming more comfortable with technology. Further, it was noted how air pollution levels improved dramatically and that the ozone layer re-formed during the quarantines. By recognizing these benefits and not just thinking about all the negatives, many of the children began feeling better.
Stress reduction techniques include self-calming, slow breathing techniques, exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and sufficient sleep.
Hypnosis is a great tool for self-calming, including through envisioning being in a calm, safe place, and learning how to trigger a relaxation response whenever the child feels stressed (Anbar, 2009). For example, when patients became stressed with online learning, they employed rapid hypnosis relaxation techniques and were able to continue studying effectively. Other patients were able to relax themselves similarly to help deal with resuming social interactions after the quarantines were lifted.
A Spiritual Perspective
Development of perspective allows a child to understand that the stressful event may be temporary or that in time it will be easier to contemplate. Such perspective helps decrease the perceived impact of the stressor. It can be achieved through prayer, contemplation of the grandeur of nature, or listening to inspiring music.
With hypnosis children can learn about the knowledge and wisdom of their subconscious (Anbar, 2008). A spiritual perspective can be attained when children become aware of something greater than themselves, such as the abilities of their resourceful subconscious selves. It is comforting for them to realize that a part of them feels calm in dealing with difficult situations such as caused by COVID.
Take Home Message
A shift in a child’s thinking can dramatically improve their outlook. As an exercise in maintaining a good perspective, it can be suggested to patients that the skills they learn because of coping with COVID will help them to become more resilient and be useful for the rest of their lives.
Copyright Ran D. Anbar
Valentine, Keara E, et al. 2019. "The Efficacy of Hypnosis as a Treatment for Anxiety." International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 67 (3): 336-363. doi: 10.1080/00207144.2019.1613863.
Yapko, Michael D. 2010. "Hypnosis in the Treatment of Depression: An Overdue Approach for Encouraging Skillful Mood Management." International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 58 (2):137-146. doi: 10.1080/00207140903523137.
Anbar, Ran D. 2009. "Adding Hypnosis to the Therapeutic Toolbox of Pediatric Respiratory Care." Pediatric Asthma, Allergy & Immunology. 22 (4): 209-214. doi.org/10.1089/pai.2009.0025.
Anbar, Ran D. 2008. "Subconscious Guided Therapy with Hypnosis." American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 50 (4): 323-334. doi.org/10.1080/00029157.2008.10404299.