Self-Hypnosis, Easy Techniques for Anti-Stress and Relaxation
This article was originally written for and published on Health Action magazine, 2015 Spring issue, where the title was changed to Relaxation Response to the Rescue.
The Flight-or-Flight Response is built into our human biology. The reptilian brain, by far the oldest and simplest part of our brain, is responsible for our survival. It is a system from ancient times which caused an individual to either fight or run for protection when real physical danger was present, such as a large hungry animal. Today people don’t have to face the issue of survival on a daily basis. Yet this component still exists in our biology and can be easily activated, in most people, when a danger is real or when it is just imagined to be real, such as with fear of abandonment, or fear of not being good enough.
When we go about our day to day tasks in the work place, engage in family or relationship interactions, or encounter something unknown such as a new situation that we don’t yet know how to handle, we can unknowingly activate this Flight-or-Flight mechanism, generate fear within ourselves, and flood the thought process to such an extent that we lose sight of what’s really going on in a situation. No large animals need to be present. We only need to believe that we are threatened.
Humans are so imaginative that a perceived danger can be treated as a real danger. For example, when we think, “What if people laugh at me when I present this tomorrow?” The moment we have that thought, we forget that we started the whole sentence with “what if”, which literally means it’s not necessarily true. Yet we often treat it as a fact, and we get stressed.
Thankfully in the human genetic structure, we also have this innate build-in mechanism called the Relaxation Response.
The Relaxation Response can be easily accessed by simply taking a few deep breaths. In the moment of suspending thoughts and taking a few deep breaths, there can be an instant activation of the Relaxation Response. Activities such as a relaxing bath, listening to soothing music, or a walk out in nature, can extend and expand this further.
Stress and relaxation cannot coexist in the same body at the same time. Stress is normally caused by ways of unconscious thinking. It manifests in body sensations such as heaviness, muscle tightness, and even pain. These body sensations are signals telling us where our thinking is at, so we can do something about it. After all, continuing to feel stressed doesn’t really help any situation.
There are many things that we can do to ward off stress. Some are more organic and less costly than others.
Self-Hypnosis is a way to induce trance by hypnotizing oneself. It works with the unconscious mind to create relaxation. Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor at Harvard Medical School, in his book The Relaxation Response, first published in 1975, recommended Self-Hypnosis as a tool to elicit the Relaxation Response. The word Hypnosis may paint different pictures to different people, yet the practical use of Self-Hypnosis may be simpler, and learning the techniques may be easier, than you think.
There are many Self-Hypnosis techniques. Like any tools, one is not necessarily better or worse than another. It depends on the individual and how one uses them. It is a good idea to pick techniques that resonate with you and test them out. When you find one that works for you, you can stay with it for as long as you still benefit from it.
Apart from the natural side effect of the Relaxation Response, the purpose of Self-Hypnosis is twofold. First it can create an open receptive state of mind so that you can give yourself positive suggestions or affirmations without resistance. Second, in this state, as you drift deeper into the unconscious, it is natural to access your inner wisdom, inner solutions, inner memories and inner creativity. You can learn more advanced Self-Hypnosis techniques from a class or hypnotherapy practitioner. Here I’ll share two simple and effective techniques that you can start practicing today.
- Eye Fractionation Technique
Sit in a comfortable position. Let the muscles in your body go limp and loose. Look at a spot in front of you, slightly above eye level. Count down silently from 10 to 0. On each count, blink your eyes once. Tie this into your breathing as well. When you breathe in, open your eyes, and when you breathe out, close them. When you reach 0, your eyelids are probably too tired to keep open, so you can gently allow your eyes to remain closed.
With your eyes closed, you have already entered a hypnotic trance state. You can deepen the state by relaxing each part of your body – from head to toes or from toes to head, muscle group by muscle group.
This is the moment that stress naturally leaves the body.
Practice this twice a day. When you first start, you can simply give yourself 5 to 10 minutes each session. Aim at relaxation only. Like bicep muscles, trance muscles need exercise. When you can get into the self-hypnotic state sooner and deeper, you can start doing it for other purposes, such as suggestions for sleeping better, having better concentration, performance, etc.
- Simple Statement Technique
Rather than spending time stressing about a future that we don’t know, we can actually do something about it to ensure a better outcome. First we do whatever we can to practically prepare for the future, then we can prepare energetically by practicing Self-Hypnosis. The following Simple Statement Technique allows us to do that.
I am going into self-hypnosis for ___ minutes for the purpose of ____________, so when I re-emerge I will be _____________________ and ready for ____________.
For example: I am going into self-hypnosis for 10 minutes for the purpose of peak performance for tomorrow’s job interview, so when I re-emerge I will be refreshed, energized and confident and ready for the job offer tomorrow.
The steps for practicing this simple, effective technique are as follows:
1) Hand write the above statement on a piece of paper.
2) Find a comfortable place to sit down or lie down.
3) Read, preferably out loud, three times. Drop the paper.
4) Take three deep breaths with your eyes fixated on a spot in front of you, slightly upward.
5) On the third exhale, close your eyes.
6) Enjoy the mini-trance. Let your subconscious mind do the timing. You may be amazed how accurate it can be, or can be trained to be.
A new series of Self-Hypnosis for a Better Life is starting tomorrow evening (September 10) at West End Community Centre. Many other Self-Hypnosis techniques will be shared and practiced during the course of six weeks. Time to give relaxation a chance now.