- Anxiety becomes a disorder when it begins to interfere with daily life.
- Therapy with hypnosis can help people better deal with the issues that trigger their anxiety.
- Since some anxiety is useful, the goal of therapy is to reduce it to a level that becomes helpful.
When many people think of anxiety, they consider it to be a bad thing. However, anxiety is useful in small doses, and this likely is the reason we have developed to have a capacity for anxiety. A feeling of fear or apprehension is very useful if you are about to climb a cliff with narrow paths, since a worry that you might fall helps you be more careful. Mild anxiety about performing well on a test or during an athletic activity helps push you to prepare more intensively. Mild anxiety about driving helps you keep a closer eye on other drivers and road conditions, which can prevent accidents. Some anxiety about your children’s well-being also is useful for a parent as it helps us question when we are doing our best for our kids. Finally, a young child’s anxiety about being separated from their parent helps them stay nearby their parent so that they can be watched.
When Is Anxiety a Disorder?
Anxiety becomes a disorder when it interferes, rather than helps, with life. When anxiety becomes overwhelming you may choose to avoid climbing a mountain, taking a test, participating in sports, driving, or leaving your child alone. Treatment is appropriate and can be very helpful in the case of an anxiety disorder.
Sometimes, as an aid for avoidance, the body develops physical symptoms such as headaches, a racing heart, stomachaches, shortness of breath or chest pain. This is helpful because the symptoms can give a socially acceptable excuse for not participating in an activity. The affected person and their health care provider might not even realize at first that the physical symptoms are the result of anxiety, and that the way to overcome these is to deal with the underlying psychological difficulty.
An anxiety disorder might develop when we become overwhelmed by life events, as a way of helping us avoid such situations. Some of us are more likely to become overwhelmed because of our genetic makeup, how we have seen our parents or other authority figures react, when we are tired, or we are not thinking properly because of drug or alcohol use.
How Hypnosis Can Help
Therapy with hypnosis can be used to treat anxiety disorder by helping people deal better with the issues that are triggering it. For example, a child who is overwhelmed by his schoolwork can be taught to relax with hypnotic imagery, focus on one assignment at a time, and encourage himself to ask for help as needed. A person who was traumatized because of a past event can be coached to work with her subconscious through hypnosis for the purpose of reconstructing her memory. In this way, she can learn to feel calmer while thinking of the traumatic event. This can help her better process it and ultimately let go of some of the anxiety-causing feelings that were triggered by the event (Anbar, 2021).
Hypnosis can be used to treat anxiety about events that are likely to occur by teaching patients to deal with an anxiety-provoking event in their imagination, which can serve as a form of desensitization. This kind of hypnosis exercise can be repeated multiple times with increasing imagined “exposure” to the anxiety trigger.
Sometimes anxiety is irrational, such as a belief that the sun will explode tomorrow, not touching something properly can cause a family member to fall ill (a common thought for patients with obsessive compulsive disorder) or that if a person does not fall asleep something bad will happen the following day. To deal with irrational anxiety it can be useful to discuss the likelihood of the feared event, which is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique. For example, the sun has not exploded in 4 billion years. What are the chances it will explode tomorrow?
To deal with irrational anxiety using hypnosis, people can be taught to put the anxiety into a helium balloon and let it go. As the balloon grows distant, the anxiety can fade. Another metaphor involves imagining building a sandcastle at the seashore, and putting any worrying thoughts into the castle. Once it is complete, the builder steps back and allows the ocean tides to wash away the castle and its anxiety-provoking contents. Sometimes, it is helpful for patients to consult with their subconscious as a means of being reassured by their inner selves.
People need to understand that in order to overcome their anxiety disorder they need to learn to deal with it calmly. Avoiding the cause of their anxiety helps only temporarily, and unfortunately serves to increase the anxiety as a person becomes even less capable of facing the underlying issue. For example, during the pandemic quarantine, some of my patients with anxiety about social interactions experienced worsening anxiety because their social isolation decreased the amount of practice they had in interacting with others.
As people consistently use hypnotic relaxation techniques to remain calm while dealing with their fears, their anxiety can improve gradually. I remind my patients that as part of their recovery process they find out how to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. By learning how to use hypnosis to help themselves patients gain self-confidence and often experience improved self-esteem. I point out that another way to help decrease their anxiety is to recognize that with their new skills they can better handle almost anything that comes their way.
Finally, as some anxiety is useful, as discussed earlier, the goal of therapy is not to eliminate anxiety, but rather to reduce it to a level that it becomes helpful.
Hypnosis and counseling can help reduce anxiety by teaching people coping skills to remain calm while they deal constructively with the trigger of their anxiety.
Copyright Ran D. Anbar
Anbar, Ran D. 2021. “Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.