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The late summer has brought with it a determination amongst many people to overcome their phobias, particularly ones which limit their enjoyment of the outdoors. The good news is that many people can and do get over even quite severe, long-standing phobias, often surprisingly quickly.
Surprising numbers of children and adults have a fear of dogs for example, and these can range from inconvenient to extremely unpleasant. Various polls suggest that a quarter of people with an animal phobia are cynophobes – they are afraid of dogs - and while more people overall are afraid of spiders or snakes, cynophobes are likely to experience their phobias more often, simply because there are so many dogs around.
Working with organisations such as www.dogfriendlycornwall.co.uk we are exploring ways to ensure that Cornwall gets even friendlier not only for dogs and their owners but for non-owners and cynophobes as well. This should be a win-win-win. There's no reason why all of these groups cannot peacefully and happily co-exist, even flourish. The net gains for mental and physical wellbeing all round could be huge.
A phobia is defined as an excessive fear, often recognised as unreasonable or irrational, which leads to avoidance and anxiety and interferes significantly with someone’s life. These fears can be learned from direct experience, observation or from 3rd-hand information or attitudes. It’s theorised that they can also be inherited, perhaps as genetic modifications from previous generations. Or they can be seen as a sort of evolutionary remnant - a brain function which may have made more sense in earlier, more dangerous times but which has not yet evolved away.
When undergoing treatment for a phobia it doesn’t seem to matter much where they come from. Most successful treatment methods focus on visualisation and positive outcomes rather than examining any cause. People can and do recover from even the most severe and long-standing phobias, often quite quickly. Some treatments, including hypnotherapy, use techniques which relax the ‘fight-flight’ part of our mind, allowing it to learn more appropriate responses, while strengthening and activating the more rational, sensible parts of the subconscious mind. This is a nice way to overcome a phobia, because it doesn’t require exposure.
At the Newquay Hypnotherapy practice we see a lot of people, including children, with dog, spider and other phobias. A few lessons emerge which might be helpful for parents. 1) Trying to rationally talk someone out of a phobia doesn't work - they've definitely tried that. 2) Deliberate exposure risks making it worse. 3) More helpful strategies include: acknowledge the fear, give reassurance and try to use sensible, realistic language when talking about dogs. Maybe tell positive stories involving dogs.
Parents also report spin-off benefits from helping their children. Using positive modelling (showing good examples of response and behaviour) seems to help enormously, and not only for the people being 'modelled' to. One mother recently reported "After modelling good responses for my daughter I found my own fear completely disappearing - now I'm totally fine with spiders."
Changing our perspective can also help. It’s worth remembering that dogs can be anxious too, and a small child at the same eye-height might be quite scary to a dog. Renee Payne, co-author of Be a Dog's Best Friend points out that kids under the age of 5 or 6 tend to “do all the things dogs think are impolite. Like standing still and staring." Maybe we should think about improving our manners! Similarly, it's worth remembering that dog owners may be quite unaware of how frightening some people may find their dogs.
I believe many answers to blossoming human-dog friendships can be found in changing the way we think. Some professionals who work with dogs find that people seem to relate better to the dogs when they are dressed up – even just with a bandana. Perhaps we’ll be seeing more colourful collars, coats and costumes on the dogs of Cornwall. For the time being, we can at least imagine this, and smile - which itself might help.
I have just been awarded another qualification by the National Council of Hypnotherapy, in recognition of some extensive case studies as well as a bunch of reading, writing and supervision over the past year. I've learned for example how neuroscience can now explain why, when it comes to achieving what we want, imagination is more powerful than than the will. A bit like an amazing cocktail's better than a tequila shot - it's more enigmatic, evocative, interesting, and it's still there five minutes later.
On a more historical note, did you know that hypnotherapy originated in surgery? In the days just before anaesthetics came about, a Scottish doctor named James Esdaile noticed that people manage pain and recover much better and faster (and indeed survive more often) if they are helped to relax beforehand. That was in the 1840s! In the same era another Scottish surgeon, James Braid coined the term ‘hypnosis’ and for the first time placed it’s causes in the brain and psychology, as opposed to the more mysterious or external forces referred to by others before him. To this day we're understanding more and more about pain, how it happens in the brain as much as the body, and how we can manage it using mental techniques. Given the massive prevalence of pain - amongst the well as well as the unwell - and a wide-spread reliance on opioid painkillers, which have been shown to be often much less effective than we give them credit for, there is so much potential here.
It has been a demanding process wading through texts, discussing at length with tutors and colleagues and deepening my understanding of these great minds from the past. Achieving it is a significant step towards helping us move another step closer to being the best we can be.
Reflecting on the past and imagining the future helps get the most from the present.
A mathematician recently noted that if you take 6 standard lego blocks there are 915 million ways of putting them together. And hence I suppose the choice: follow the instructions, or go solo - either way you're bound to come up with something fun! Applying this to our lives, we can all no doubt remember times when things just seemed to fall into place ... when out of the hundreds of millions of possible answers we just seemed to arrive at the right one ... right?
One way to achieve more is to USE the lego sets in our brains. There are three things we can do to make the most of the absurd collection of multicolour blocks in our heads:
1. Understand it
2. See ourselves using it, and
3. Enjoy the journey!
It is useful to understand that the brain is a bunch of lego blocks. There are 100 billion of them and each one has thousands of connectors (known as axons and dendrites) so the possibilities are effectively endless.
This is why we need focus. When we see ourselves doing or achieving the things we want, we are setting out specific and unambiguous instructions to the subconscious brain which acts like a perfect team saying "Ok boss, leave it to us. We'll get it done" and we are sometimes surprised at how quickly the team delivers. Lego the company very nearly went bust in the 1990's, losing focus and control of everything from theme parks to the colours of its blocks. A new CEO saw the future quite differently (simple colours, social input into design, girls as customers). It's now the No.1 toy company in the world.
Finally, it's when we enjoy ourselves that we are most effective and our visions most likely to come to reality. Enjoyment is essentially evolutionary encouragement. Positive activity, interaction and thought are enjoyable precisely because they produce chemical responses in our minds which encourage more of the same - and that's good for our survival. Perhaps the little people with removable hair and hooks for hands (who now outnumber humans in the world by the way!) are onto something - thanks to them there is now even a Professor of Play at Cambridge University.
We all have lots of lego in our heads - let's USE it!
As we head towards Summer our work-loads might increase as we prepare to head off for a well-earned break. If you find yourself working longer hours or feeling you are on an endless treadmill, you could look to ways of helping you feel calmer, brighter and happier, even before you get to your holiday.
As a solution focused hypnotherapist and member of the Cornish business community one of the most common areas that people come to see me about is anxiety, and in particular stress at work. Workplace stress can manifest itself in a variety of different ways – not just in the office but also at home and socially. People who struggle with stress in the office may find themselves angrier than they'd like, struggling with sleep patterns, perhaps becoming more insular, or restricted in their thinking.
There are parts of our brains that are very adept at dealing with perceived threats. We have evolved to be quite sensitive to danger, and our reactions to stress are an evolutionary coping mechanism - they are there to help us survive. Sometimes this a very good thing - we are generally quite good risk managers. Sometimes however these responses become disproportionate and can be unhelpful in our day to day lives.
Disproportionate stress is caused by negative thinking. Every negative thought we have ends up in what I call a “stress bucket.” As the levels in the bucket increase so our primitive responses work harder. They are just trying to help but they can become less and less appropriate and actually make things worse until eventually we find ourselves struggling to keep on top of things.
Fortunately it’s not the events in our lives which end up in the stress bucket. It is our thinking in response to those events - and this is good news because this is something thing we can do something about. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy helps people focus their thought energy on things they want, more than what they don't want. This helps to empty the stress bucket and get us back in control.
A key part of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is the safe use of a trance state, which is a natural way to reduce stress so that after a number of sessions people can start to feel better able to cope with life. And trance is natural - we do it all the time - out for a stroll, walking the dog, driving, listening to music, having a great conversation. Even complex work tasks can induce a positive state of trance.
If we can combine little bits of positive thinking with regular spells of relaxation - however brief - it makes for a powerful combination which engages the positive, subconscious parts of our brain. This helps to improve creative thinking, decision-making, productivity and confidence - without us really having to try. This helps us get the most out of our work, but also make the most of our time off.
Yesterday I uncovered a 190 million year-old fossil - a priceless ammonite which hadn’t seen the light of day since Jurassic times. Now that doesn’t happen every day. Although it turns out, it quite easily could. A section of the Dorset coastline is littered with these ancient, spirally molluscs. How can it be that things that seem so distant and rare turn out to be so close and so everyday? And you can pretty much go down to the beach and pick them up.
I had been returning from my father’s 80th birthday. Driving along, I found myself reflecting again on time. So much happens, and so much stays the same. Old is the new young, according to one of his birthday cards - and once we’re 40… 50… 60... 80 ... we seem to be surprised by the numbers. How did that happen?! "I don’t feel any different." How fortunate we are, I suppose, if that is the case.
Anyway, zooming alone the high road through southern Dorset I found myself taking a turn-off onto the Jurassic coast. Ancient mud cliffs with ‘cement layers’ spill onto the beach, and small piles of broken up stone litter the sand where countless groups of fossil hunters have sat and smashed away with innumerable little hammers. There is a ‘code’ which suggests people stick to the beach and don’t take rocks from the cliffs, and there are plenty of loose rocks to pick from. It took me a while to get my eye in - lots of picking up and examining ... no sign of any ancient life. Then a lone fella who was leaving the beach gave me his hammer and chisel - he too was transient, passing by only for an hour or so on his way to a remote contract the next morning. He had bought his tools at the local cafe for a few quid. He had in his pocket a couple of shiny ammonites, a dinosaur turd (he reckoned) and a bullet-shaped belemnite. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing.
Then, as is so often the way with these things, bounty appeared. As soon as I felt like I wasn’t really trying any more, I was picking up bits of rock left by other smashers, and on each one was the clear imprint of several spiralling shells. Ancient beings. Tapping one fist-sized fragment of rock with my hammer, it gently split open, revealing a fresh specimen. This ammonite - long dead, but something of its spirit remaining, had been quietly sitting in that rock, in that mud, there, for … 190 million years. Now it was visible, in the fresh air, being observed by live eyes - available to another consciousness, for perhaps the first time ever.
It led me to wonder - what rich experiences lie just beside the paths of our lives, containing the wisdom of the eons. And how much can we enjoy if we can create just a little time - to follow our noses and our imagination. Where else might this curiosity lead?
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Times change - apparently - but how come time itself changes ... what’s all that about? Sometimes a moment feels like an age, sometimes whole days and weeks fly by ... and then suddenly you feel like you’ve been somewhere forever.
Neuroscientists have started to understand a bit more about our perceptions of time, how our lives really can flash before us, how the units of time processed by our brains slow down when we are 'in the zone’, how our memories work so that something an age ago can seem like yesterday.
Recent studies have concluded that a few things contribute to a feeling of having more time. One is attention. When we focus our awareness on anything in the present moment, we become more aware of time - we seem to have more of it. This is a good thing, provided we can find something more interesting to do than watch than a kettle boiling ... Another thing which seems to buy us time is experiencing new things - one reason why Summers seem endless when we are young.
It also appears that our perceptions of time depend very much on the chemicals produced in our minds and bodies. Dopamine and noradrenaline in particular seem to expand our perceptions of time - which is great because they are also responsible for feelings of pleasure, focus and memory. All together, this sounds like a good combination!
In the process of hypnotherapy it's common for people to experience more control in their lives, more focus, more energy, and also more time. These are good things and we can learn to get more of them. If you want to find out more please get in touch.
In the meantime click here to find out more about time perception. It's very engrossing - in fact, time may even fly while you're reading it.
The truth is, of course, every month can be a good month for hypnotherapy. May was particularly good because of the exposure we got to a national audience of 10 million radio listeners, from behind the doors of BBC Broadcasting House.
It began one Thursday on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 when the subject of sports reporter Vassos Alexander's fear of snakes came up, not for the first time. Only this time Chris suggested doing something about it. He had the idea of calling on the services of a hypnotherapist so that in a week's time Vassos would be able to be in the same room as a snake... live in the studio. No mean feat for someone who couldn't even say the word 'snake' at the beginning.
Fast forward seven days and there was Vassos, not just in the same studio as a snake (a python no less) but he was actually holding it.
What was even better was the endorsement of hypnotherapy that was given by Chris Evans himself, not just on the back of Vassos' success story...
"Everyone I've ever talked to who has had hypnotherapy - and that may be over 100 people in my life - they've all said it’s helped them." And as the action unfolded: “Hypnotherapy you see … if definitely works! Amazing ... A - mazing!!"
It was like he couldn't say it enough. Click on the link below to listen to the broadcast again. And if you have your own fear that you would like to conquer, then get in touch to see how we can help.
Vassos Alexander conquers his fear of snakes, live on Radio 2
The days are growing longer and many of us are really enjoying the benefits of lighter evenings and beautiful mornings. How can we also enjoy the benefits of a long, blissful night's sleep and wake up feeling refreshed, happy and ready for the day? Many people find themselves struggling to settle down for a decent night’s sleep, or find it difficult to sleep as various troubles or to-do lists start to go through their minds, waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can be enormously helpful. Sleep is such a central part of our effective functioning and the process we use is designed to help ease insomnia and help all of our clients to have a more restful night’s sleep.
All of us have a metaphorical 'stress bucket' that can get a bit full. The more stress we experience the bigger the load we carry, which can have a negative impact on our emotional wellbeing and our ability to sleep properly.
During a period of your sleep, your brain enters a specific state of Rapid Eye Movement, often referred to as REM. In very simple terms, this state often allows us to empty our stress buckets. However if there is too much in your bucket, you may find yourself waking up and being unable to go back to sleep. It's like the mind is saying - "Sorry pal, I've tried to deal with this, but you're going to have to wake up and carry on yourself."
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy aims to help us empty our stress buckets. Fortunately it's not the events, or the people in our lives which end up in the bucket - it's our thought patterns surrounding those events. This is good news, because that's what we can control, and change. Hypnotherapy works by gently encouraging more positive thinking, reducing the stress levels people may be experiencing in response to work, life or relationships.
Each session includes a period of hypnosis which encourages Rapid Eye Movement to occur – a natural replication of REM without having to go to sleep - allowing the ‘stress bucket’ to empty itself. This in turn, over a period of time, encourages the process to happen by itself, and allows sleep patterns to improve. We use audio relaxation sessions too which can be enormous helpful. People can let them play as they go to sleep, helping them to relax, let go of tension and enter a blissful sleep, without any effort at all. Click here to sign up for a free download.