Relaxation is something we all need and enjoy in one form or another, be it reading a book, listening to music, walking in nature, or doing nothing at all. Yet many people don’t take time to relax on a regular basis.
Life can seem really hectic and stressful, and there is a feeling of “who has time to relax?” Knowing just how important it is, though, may change how you choose to prioritise your time. Here’s a run down of the top eight reasons to make mindful relaxation a regular part of your life:
1) Relieve Stress
Ask just about anyone, and they will admit to having a certain amount of stress in their lives. And for many, stress becomes quite a bane. Stress can cause all kinds of physical problems, too, from skin conditions to irritable bowel syndrome. It is even recognised as a trigger for depression and other serious mental conditions. All told, reducing your stress can improve both your physical and mental well-being
2) Restore and Strengthen Your Immune System
Relaxation gives your immune system a break from stress hormones which compromise it, such as cortisol. More than that, though, meditation actually increases your body’s defence systems. Studies show that T cells and antibodies, both important elements of your immune system, improve with mental and physical relaxation.
3) Provide Some Relief From Chronic Pain
While relaxing both body and mind isn’t a magic wand to remove all pain, there are plenty of studes which show that meditation and relaxation help you manage pain better. In particular, taking charge by actively seeking to reduce your pain is an important first step. Relaxing your muscles can help reduce the sensation of pain, while mental relaxation leads to less stress. Stress can also lead to anxiety and depression, all of which worsen the perception of pain. Altogether, mindful relaxation is a win-win on the pain front.
4) Improve Sleep
Relaxation has also proved to improve sleep, both in quantity and quality. Of course, some people use relaxation and meditation practices specifically for sleep. However, it’s striking that studies aimed at quite different goals also show improvements in sleep – both how long people sleep and how well they feel they sleep.
This is a benefit that accrues over time. While relaxation can help in a specific instance, regular relaxation practice will affect the amount you sleep and how rested you feel long term, too.
5) Help to Lower Blood Pressure
It’s well-known that high blood pressure is an indicator of cardiovascular risk – the likelihood of suffering a heart attack. Mindful relaxation reduces your blood pressure, not only in the moment, but throughout your day.
6) Help to Widen and Relax Respiratory Passages
When you relax, your breathing slows and becomes deeper. Relaxation can also help release tightness in your chest muscles. Both of these help you breathe better, which helps in a wide range of situations. For example, it helps with anxiety and asthma attacks, and improves blood oxygenation, which helps nourish all the cells in your body and especially in your extremities.
7) Calm the Automatic Flight-or-Fight Response
While it’s very important to respond quickly to emergencies, in our modern life this response gets triggered by far too many situations. Be it the tension of watching an exciting program on TV, or the hustle and bustle of city life, lots of everyday occurrences can cause this response. And when we are in the flight-or-fight mode, other less urgent survival processes take second place. So, when your fight-or-flight response is triggered too much, it makes it harder for you to digest your food well, or to conceive a baby (and it influences male fertility, as well as that of the woman), amongst many other less immediate survival concerns.
8) Unlock Emotional Blockages
Many people recognise that their emotions have a negative effect on their well-being. Be it anger that comes out inappropriately, causing trouble with friends or colleagues, or loneliness that sees you snacking by yourself, emotional blockages can cause a lot of damage. As for how relaxation can help, there is evidence that relaxing your muscles also helps the mind to release its tensions. This is partly a complementary response – release of one kind triggers release of another kind.
There is also the well-documented fact that we can actually store memories in our bodies. We talk about muscle memory with things like learning to ride a bike, or how to write with a pen. Yet, it goes far beyond this. Many people have had the experience of releasing a muscle through massage or a yoga class, and suddenly having a strong memory of an emotional experience rise up in them. Our anxieties and experiences are stored in our bodies, and so releasing the tension from muscles through mindful relaxation can also loosen up these muscle memories, allowing them to become unblocked.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that mindfully relaxing on a regular basis is good for both your physical and mental well-being. While you’ll get some of the benefits from things such as taking a walk or lying quietly listening to music, the more mindfully you relax, the better. That might mean focusing on your breathing while you think about releasing the tension throughout your body, or it could be attending a hypno relaxation class or session, or listening to a guided relaxation.
A final thought, relaxing doesn’t need to take long. You can devote just five minutes at a time to relaxing, either by yourself or using a guided hypno relaxation recording like this one.
A recent blog post caught my eye. It asked: if you speak multiple languages, do you need multiple therapists?
Language Is Cultural
The conclusion was that there are some things which can only be said and understood in a particular language with a cultural background to match. Therefore, only someone who speaks the same language can fully understand you.
This idea that some words just don’t translate goes part way to explaining why English has adopted certain foreign words outright. For example, Zeitgeist is ‘the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time’. Or Schadenfreude: ‘pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’.
Now, you may be saying that, given we adopted these words, we have the same experience. Is that true, though?
Let’s take the example of hospitality. Yes, English has the word, as do most languages. What do you mean by it, though?
In certain cultures and times, hospitality has meant that you should offer to wash your guest’s feet, or allow them to sleep with one of your wives. At other times, in other cultures, it includes allowing a stranger to camp in your garden, or offering tea and sandwiches in the parlor to people you have already been introduced to while strangers may get some broth in the kitchen with the servants.
These kind of cultural differences can even be seen within a single country. Hospitality in London is surely a different beast to hospitality in the Outer Hebrides.
I would argue that it goes further than this, though.
Imagine a close friend who considers loyalty a paramount value. To him, this means always supporting friends and family.
While you may respect loyalty, what if independence is a more important value to you? That might mean following the dictates of your beliefs, whether those agree with your friend’s or not.
If your friend ran for an election, he would consider that you must vote for him out of loyalty. However, if you believed another candidate would be better for the job, you would vote for them and consider this good sense, rather than disloyalty.
What you mean by loyalty and what your friend means by loyalty are different, even though you come from the same culture.
The point is this: even if you speak the same language as someone else, you still may not mean the same thing with the words that you use. A lot of misunderstandings come from this.
Whether this is two partners who mean different things when they say I love you, or a work colleague whose notion of ‘soon’ doesn’t match your expectations, language can be a strange barrier.
Getting clear about how and where misunderstandings are happening can be really liberating. Realising that you can work things out by changing your language, or explaining what you mean by a particular word, can seem silly and simple. Yet, sometimes simple is the best way to go.
It can be interesting to have a coach or therapist whose first language is not the same as your own, precisely because you become more aware of this potential for misunderstanding. Still, you don’t need to find someone from another country to benefit from coaching.
The Meta-Model is a theory of language used as a coaching tool, and a way of exploring what is really going on for you. Digging into what words mean, for you and for others, can help you find a better way to move forward. It can also be extremely powerful to help you understand what your core values are: so that you can then get them met.
After all, if you don’t truly understand what you want, you don’t know how to go about it, and may not even recognise when you find it.
Another factor is actually being able to communicate without unhelpful emotions or inner dialogues getting in the way.
Hypnosis is a wonderful way to tame your inner demons so that you don’t sabotage yourself. For example, it can help you to change a belief like “I have no luck with job interviews”. In part, it can do this through exploring what you mean by not being lucky, and by boosting your self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also help you to rehearse interview situations and practice how to show yourself to best effect, all within your imagination.
To take another example, that of a romantic couple. In hypnosis you might explore how something your partner says that really upsets you is linked to events in your past. You can heal that past event by revisiting it in your imagination and applying resources from the present day. These resources will then serve you in your current situation.
Successfully communicating what you really mean, and not falling into misunderstanding others, can make your life go much more smoothly. The first part of this is to clarify where the issues are arising, finding the linguistic and cultural aspects that have led to issues. The second part is to change how you interact with others, by changing your perspective and approach. In this way, you understand yourself and others better, and achieve your goals in a more satisfying way.
How often have you thought about a question, come up with an answer in your head, and then written something else entirely?
There is something about the act of writing that triggers a different perspective on what you are considering. As one academic has put it: scribo ergo cogito – I write, therefore I think (Kaufman, 2013).
Writing shapes the way you see the world and yourself. And you can write for a variety of purposes.
- Therapeutic writing – for example, journalling and autobiographical writing.
- Writing for social change – you see this in journalism (well, the good kind), and even when people write letters of protest or advocacy.
- Emotional writing – such as writing a love letter, or a hate-filled rant.
- Aesthetic writing – great literature and poetry fall into this category.
- Business writing – far more prosaic, but an important part of many people’s lives. This can be a combination of writing to inform and to persuade.
- Note making – be it a to-do list, or a shopping list, or writing down information from a presentation, this isn’t emotive writing, but it’s still important.
All of these encourage reflection, they encourage you to think while you write.
A lot of people, though, have been put off writing by experiences at school, or by the fact that they find it easier to express themselves in different ways: through words, music, art, video, the possibilities are seemingly endless. There is a strong case, though, for including writing in your repertoire.
Here are the top 9 reasons why writing is a great practice:
- Writing improves your mood – this isn’t just the case with something like a gratitude journal, though that’s an excellent place to start. There is evidence that this can occur with journalling and blogging, too (Grant and Dutton, 2012, King, 2001)
- Writing promotes cognitive and intellectual growth – (Sullivan and Brown, 2015, Bean, 2011). While both papers are talking about students, this is also relevant to everyone. After all, if you want to stay mentally active all your life, continued mental stimulation is vital, and writing is a great way to go about this.
- Writing improves your memory – anyone who worries that their memory is not what it was can use writing as a way to practice their memory. For instance, writing a daily gratitude journal, as well as improving your mood, also asks you to remember what has happened over the last 24 hours. Or if you write something autobiographical (see the point on hard times – 5), that asks you to work your memory about far further in the past.
- Writing helps you communicate more clearly – writing helps you clarify your thoughts. This doesn’t just lead to better writing, but also helps you to speak your thoughts, too (Miles et al., 2016). Interestingly, learning to write is also associated with doing better at maths – communicating mathematical ideas and concepts, and being able to think creatively and rationally.
- Writing assists in hard times – you definitely don’t just have to write about the ‘good’ stuff. Numerous studies have shown that writing about traumatic experiences, although difficult, leads to improvement in mood after as little as two weeks. Admittedly, you may feel worse for those two weeks, though (Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2010, Pennebaker, 1999, Pennebaker, 1997).
- Writing clears your mind – it’s a bit like having too many tabs open in your browser. Having too many ideas running around your head drains your productivity. So, getting those ideas down on paper frees you up to actually think creatively about them and act on them.
- Writing improves learning – most people are aware that there are different learning styles (see the infographic above). However, while you may use one more than the others, all of them will influence you. There is evidence that people who are literate learn more easily than those who aren’t. It may simply be that they have an extra way of learning, and an extra symbolic system on which to hang any new understanding they have. Whatever the case, if you can write something down in your own words, you have a far better chance of learning and truly understanding it.
- Writing improves your relationships – Pennebaker did some more research (Slatcher and Pennebaker, 2006) around writing about your relationship. He found that people who took the time to reflect in this way were more likely to express positive emotions to their partner, and more likely to still be with them three months down the line.
- Writing lets you move other people – there are only so many people that you can reach in person. These days, there are many other ways to extend your influence. However, writing is definitely still an important one. Consider journalism, blogging, books. If you want to make a difference to a large number of people, being able to write your thoughts is a great place to start. Whether it’s a business blog or a piece of poetry, the written word is far reaching.
As a coach, I often encourage my clients to make writing a part of their life, to help boost their mood, their creativity, and their ability to communicate with others. Here are some writing games you could try to get yourself fired up:
- The six-minute write: write whatever is in your head, without censorship, don’t stop for six minutes, don’t worry about grammar or quality, just write anything. Remember, in this game, whatever you write is right. And you don’t need to re-read it unless you want to 😀
- Journal about gratitude: make it real, specific, and emotional. For example, rather than saying “I am grateful for sunshine,” you might write something like: “I am grateful for my eyes, which allow me to enjoy the spring sunshine dappling through trees with their bright green, new leaves on my morning walk. I feel alive when I see the amazing quality of the light, and think of the new growth and potential there is right now.”
- Use visual cues to spark your creativity. Google a particular word and look for images. Find one that speaks to you, and then write about it. It could be a poem or a story, the main point is to allow your creativity to flow.
- Write a haiku. This simple form of poetry is a lovely practice to try out. You could open a book and find the first word that catches your attention, then write a haiku based on it. At its simplest, a haiku is made up of three lines with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. For example: sensuality/ brings joy and inspiration/ in moderation.
If none of these rock your boat, do a google search for writing exercises, or ask friends what they do. You’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy, and there are so many ways it can benefit you. So, just write!
BEAN, J. C. 2011. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. , San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
GRANT, A. & DUTTON, J. 2012. Beneficiary or benefactor: are people more prosocial when they reflect on receiving or giving? Psychol Sci, 23, 1033-9.
KAUFMAN, P. 2013. Scribo Ergo Cogito. Teaching Sociology, 41, 70-81.
KING, L. A. 2001. The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals. PSPB, 27, 798-807.
MILES, K. P., EHRI, L. C. & LAUTERBACH, M. D. 2016. Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning in Monolinguals and Language Minority English-Speaking College Students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 46, 99-112.
PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1997. Writing About Emotional Experiences As A Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.
PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1999. Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 1243-1254.
SLATCHER, R. B. & PENNEBAKER, J. W. 2006. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words: The Social Effects of Expressive Writing. Psychological Science, 17, 660-664.
SULLIVAN, A. & BROWN, M. 2015. Reading for pleasure and progress in vocabulary and mathematics. British Educational Research Journal, 41, 971-991.
TAUSCZIK, Y. R. & PENNEBAKER, J. W. 2010. The Psychological Meaning of Words: LIWC and Computerized Text Analysis Methods. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29, 24-54.
Life is so busy, who has time (and the skills) to cook food from scratch for every meal?
Who Cooks For Whom?
It’s not just in our modern day that people have turned to other people to make their food. Street food exists in most cultures that are even vaguely urban. And the rich of every society has enjoyed the benefits of paying people to cook for them, be they Pharoahs, Roman citizens, or feudal lords.
Now, getting other peope to make your food for you has become incredibly affordable. Possibly even cheaper than trying to cook for yourself, given economies of scale. It’s a strange irony that it is now corporations who make money from people buying food made by others, rather than it being just the wealthy who pay for their food.
Whether it’s a takeaway from a local restaurant or a ready meal from the supermarket, food prepared by someone else is now within the reach of almost everyone. However, is that a good thing?
What’s In Your Food?
There’s a fairytale in which a King asks his daughters to give him the most valuable thing in the kingdom, to decide who should become Queen after him. He is very unimpressed by his third daughter, who gives him salt. Until, that is, he has to eat food without salt.
Now, you may have noticed that over the last decade there has been a huge upsurge in foods that mix salt and sugar. For example, all those yummy salted caramel chocolates, or sea salt chocolate, or salty and sweet popcorn. These are just the obvious tip of the sugar and salt iceberg.
Salt is a flavour enhancer, and it can even enhance the already powerful (and addictive) delights of sugar. Sweet and savoury are no longer seen as things to be kept separate, but are often combined. And even when the two aren’t sold as complementary flavours, most prepared foods do combine them.
For example, look at the label on any ready made sauce, like a bolognaise or a thai green curry. There is sugar in practically all of them, and plenty of salt, too.
It’s Not Just Ready Meals
In fact, it’s not just ready meals and other processed foods. If you look at a cookery book from fifty years ago and compare the recipes, you’ll find they contain a lot less sugar and salt than the equivalent recipes in a book today! So, even if you’re cooking at home, you may be putting quite a bit of salt and sugar into your food.
So, what’s the solution?
Eat More Real Food
Eating real food is faster, easier and cheaper than you may think. Even if you don’t want to change everything, just adding a few elements of real food will make a difference.
For example, alongside something you get from the supermarket, you could steam up some fresh veggies. Or cook your own rice to go with a takeaway.
A great mantra for cooking real food is KISS: Keep it Short and Simple. Depending on your diet, you could have pasta with steamed veg and either some tofu, some almonds or some salmon. Just add a little oil and some herbs (or chili, if you’re so inclined), and you have a healthy meal in minutes.
Fall In Love With Fruit
If you have a sweet tooth, try substituting fruit for some of your sweet treats. Medjool dates, for instance, are incredibly sweet and juicy. Or try dipping some chopped fruit into dark chocolate for a choc-fix with less calories and more nutrients.
The Flavour Point Diet
This is a fascinating concept. The basic idea is that humans recognise only a limited number of distinct meta-flavours, such as sweet, salty, spicy. When you eat something, you need to keep eating that meta-flavour until you are satisfied. So, if you eat something that is sweet and spicy, you will need to eat more to satisfy both of those flavours, than if you were just eating something sweet.
In a simple version, plenty of studies show that if you have a limited number of food types/flavours in any given meal, you naturally eat less, and feel more satisfied. So, for example, surf-and-turf, buffet meals, or a tasting menu of seven courses, are about the worst thing that you can go for. At any meal, try to stick to just one or two dishes.
Another fun fact is that if you can make the shape and colour of the food on your plate similar, this also reduces how much you eat. So, can you have all green (or yellow, or red) foods and chop all of it in the same shape? Having a single sauce for the entire dish will also trigger those satiety messages.
How Hypnosis Can Help
Hypnosis can help by increasing your motivation to eat and cook better. It can help you de-stress, so that you feel like you have more time and energy to spend on your food. Equally, it can make sure you notice just how quick and easy it can be to make delicious meals. And hypnosis can bring to the fore the part of you that savours and enjoys healthy food.
You can also use hypnosis to look at old baggage that may be getting in your way. For instance, messages from childhood about what you should or shouldn’t eat, or about what food means, may be sabotaging you. Finding and changing these messages can make a huge difference.
Who hasn’t said, “I’m so stressed right now!” Seems like our lives and society are set up to stress us out on a fairly regular basis.
What is Stress?
In fact, stress isn’t all bad. A degree of stress is good: it helps you grow and develop, to gain strength, and it encourages you to make necessary changes. For example, doing exercise that challenges and strengthens your muscles, be it your biceps or your heart, causes your body some stress. Taking on a new job, or starting a new relationship, are also both stressors. Stress is a physical response to allow you to respond quickly to situations around you. So, it encourages you to make changes, which can be vital and life-affirming.
However, a lot of people end up chronically stressed, because they get no down-time from life’s stressors. A little stress is good, but a lot of stress is terrible.
You may not even put the name to it, but that doesn’t change the effects. Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of physical and mental issues, ranging from poor sleep, to overeating, and even to depression.
To assess whether you might be suffering from stress, you could consider whether you have any physical symptoms, and how often you get them: headaches, sleep issues, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain.
Additionally, consider how often you’ve felt stressed over the last month: never, occasionally, often, constantly? How about feeling angry about situations you can’t control? Overwhelmed, anxious, or lacking in self-esteem? Thoughts whirring, difficulty concentrating and making decisions? Have you been drinking or smoking more, snappy and irritable, avoiding things or people?
The Effects of Stress
When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol. In the short term, these hormones give you a boost of energy and wake you up. In the long term, they keep your body wired way past the point of usefulness, and into ill health.
A new study also shows that a brief episode of stress causes relapse in cocaine-addicted mice. As ever with science, more studies are needed. However, it is suggestive that any addiction you have might see a relapse from even a brief stressor. In even worse news, the relapse lasted far longer than the actual stressor, for days, in fact. The scientists are looking into what medications can switch off those brain synapses triggered by the stressor, but there are certainly things you can do right away.
What To Do About It
There’s a great acronym to help remember the six keys to beating stress: S-T-R-E-S-S.
S – Social Connection
As the song goes, no (wo)man is an island. Having a network of people that you can be with is incredibly supportive. We are social animals, at heart, and need to feel cared for and understood. This doesn’t mean you need to be at the centre of a group of people all the time. However, you do need at least one or two people you connect with regularly.
Part of this is chemical – oxytocin is released when you have positive social contacts, and is great for counteracting stress hormones. Another part is that caring for others helps you get outside of your own head and concerns. And you can also be positively influenced by others, seeing different perspectives, and being encouraged to adopt good, health habits. So, it’s great to have friends, and even better to have friend’s with healthy habits.
T – Therapy/Meditation
Both therapy and meditation stimulate reflection, attention and forethought. These are ways to help get a handle on your stress, and to calm your automatic negative thoughts and your emotions. They also stimulate the brain at a physiological level, leading to increased blood flow. That, in turn, helps clears out the effects of cortisol and adrenaline, ‘washing’ them away.
Therapy has the added benefit of being a form of social intimacy, with several studies showing the release of oxytocin being stimulated in the therapy environment. However, if you don’t like sharing your feelings, then meditation gives you many of the same effects, and may have more benefits in terms of creating a calm and relaxed state.
R – Relaxation
In itself, relaxation is another stress-buster. You may find that listening to calming music helps you. Laughter is also a great medicine in this regard. Then there are things like getting a massage, or even natural stress reducing substances like spearmint or chamomile tea, or lavender and other herbal essences such as bergamot, clary sage or ylang ylang.
Or consider doing some breathing exercises. There are so many studies on the benefits of breathing that it’s impossible to deny this is a major game changer. Somewhat harder to define is which type of breathing may be ‘best’.
Fundamentally, any type of slow, deep breathing is calming.
You can try deep abdominal breathing as a first step. This is just getting in touch with your breathing, and making sure that your diaphragm is getting involved. A good way to start out is to lie down and place a hand on your stomach. When you breathe in, your hand should rise. This shows that you are breathing deeply.
The next step would be to keep breathing into you abdomen, and start trying to lengthen your inhale and exhale. It’s a good idea to count your breaths. You might start out just trying to extend the count. You can also check that the inhale and exhale are of equal duration. Or, better yet, extend the exhale beyond the inhale. For instance, it’s great to try to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in.
After that, there are plenty more breathing exercises that you can explore. I’ve mentioned the 4-7-8 breathing technique before. And there’s also alternate nostril breathing. In fact, there are so many options that they really deserve a post (or a video) all to themselves, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
E – Exercise
Physical exercise is another great was to relieve stress. It’s not just kickboxing workouts that act as a pressure release valve (though imagining kicking or punching someone or something that has been stressing you can be very cathartic). Any kind of physical exercise has stress benefits.
Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and stimulate the release of seratonin, a happy hormone. This could be cycling outdoors, or a static bike in the gym. It could be an aerobics class, or dancing around your bedroom. It could be a brisk walk or something more energetic. Extreme cardio workouts cause an increase in cortisol, though, so don’t overdo it.
Weights workouts focus more on your other muscles, while also stimulating human growth hormone and testosterone. These counterbalance cortisol, and it has been shown that your body can tolerate higher levels of cortisol so long as these other hormones are also strongly present.
And yoga has some of the benefits of a weights workout, while also boosting your relaxation levels.
So, find something you enjoy that gets you moving.
S – Sleep
This is a biggie, and not all that simple, I know. It’s really important to get enough good quality sleep. Yet, so many things in your life work against this. Here’s another heading that deserves a post of it’s own.
Basically, try to improve your sleep hygiene. Reduce caffeine and sugar in the evening, ditto to blue light screens (the new iPhones have a setting called NightShift so that you can still look at your phone without getting that melatonin-suppressing glare). Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, and that your mattress and pillow are comfortable. Try establishing a relaxing bedtime routine. And as often as possible, go to bed at about the same time – you can get a mini-jet lag from varying your bedtime too much!
S – Substitute Snacks
It’s one of those bitter truths that being stressed triggers cravings for sugary, fatty, carby foods. And that those self-same foods aggravate stress, causing inflammation in the body. So, this is a negative cycle that can easily develop.
The best advice here is to substitute healthy snacks for junk food. In time, your body will adapt, and thank you for it. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
How Hypnotherapy Can Help
Hypnotherapy is a great all-round helper for stress. It is a clear way to bring relaxation to both body and mind. It is also a talking therapy, helping you to deal with automatic negative thoughts, and to reflect on your situation. Hypnosis helps promote change, and with the therapeutic relationship, it gives you a social connection oxytocin boost.
Indirectly, hypnosis has been shown to benefit sleep, even when that isn’t the aim of the hypnotherapy. Though you can also specifically work on sleep disturbances very effectively with it. And of course, hypnotherapy can be used to target habit changes such as exercising more and controlling what you eat.
The bottom line is that hypnotherapy can help with all six of these proven ways to target stress. If you’re interested in trying it out, why not get in touch?
Most people think they know what the best advice is to get control of their weight: eat small portions of healthy food and exercise. Yet, if we look at the science, some different answers come out.
Let’s look at the top five factors that really affect your weight, then think about how best to use this information.
It is really beneficial to exercise on a number of levels. It boosts your mood, improves how your body processes what you eat, and changes how your body looks. However, it isn’t the biggest factor in controlling your weight. There is only so much exercise you can humanly do. +
Unfortunately, our modern high-sugar, high-fat foods pack a huge calorie punch that you don’t have enough hours in the day to work off. So, although beneficial, exercise can never be sufficient to control your weight without bringing some other factors into the equation
Lots of studies have shown a direct correlation between getting too little sleep and gaining weight. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that more and more people are getting by on less sleep than they need, in our modern society. Whether you attribute it to electric lights allowing poeple to stay up/work later, too much screen time before bed, or the high stress and long hours of much of modern life, the fact is there.
It’s definitely worthwhile to take steps to improve your sleep quality and quantity. That might involve looking at your sleep hygiene: avoiding or cutting down on caffeine (that includes chocolate), alcohol and nicotine; not looking at blue light after a certain time; decreasing sweet foods in the evening; make sure your bedroom is as cool, dark and quiet as possible; establish a pre-sleep routine; do something to drop your stress levels (more below on this).
3) What You Eat
Of course, what you eat matters. While food fads come and go at frighteningly regular intervals, and different studies point in different directions, there are some principles which endure. You may not be sure how much red wine is good for you, but you know that a little can have benefits, at least to your body (your brain is a different matter, according to Dr Daniel Amen, who preaches being teetotal). And you know that eating crisps, chocolate and pizza, and drinking sugary drinks (or even sugar free drinks with artificial sweeteners) will do you, and your weight, no good at all.
The best advice is to eat moderately from any natural, unprocessed foods. You may not be able to avoid processed foods entirely (nor want to), but make sure they don’t take over. And the less sugar, the better.
2) When You Eat
More recently, there has been a lot of press coverage, and a lot of scientific research, on the importance of when you eat. Of course, there’s the 5:2 diet, where you restrict your calories to a quarter of ‘normal’ on two days each week. There are also other forms of intermittent fasting, eg. doing a full 36 hour fast once a week, or doing a weekend fast once a month. Another option is time-restricted eating: going at least 13 hours between your evening meal and when you break your fast. It seems like everyone has an opinion, and a scientific study or five to back it up, determining when you should eat for optimum health and weight control.
Certainly, eating last thing at night is seen by almost everyone as a bad idea, and giving your digestive system some kind of a break on a regular basis seems like a good idea.
Stastics on comfort eating and stress eating vary between 25% and 50% of people in modern society. That’s up to 1 in 2 people who turn to food for comfort or to deal with stress! Yet, anyone who has ever done this knows it’s far from effective. The real result is more stress as you feel guilt and shame, and hate your body for not being the weight you want it to be.
Underlying this are a couple of different factors. One is boredom or loneliness. Another is stress and the release of cortisol. There are lots of studies showing that cortisol triggers appetite for fat and sugar, and that it makes it harder to shift excess weight. And, to add insult to injury, even over-exercising can be a stressor that causes the release of cortisol!
By relaxing, you can stop the release of cortisol, and balance your autonomic nervous system. This by itself will help with weight control both at the level of stopping cravings, as well as at a physiological level helping your body to process the food you eat in a healthier way. It will also help your sleep – so finally we have a win-win.
What’s the solution?
With the stress-relaxation axis being perhaps the single most important factor influencing weight, there is finally some good news. There are lots of things that you can do to help you relax. Better yet, many of them can be done in short periods of time.
My top seven picks for de-stressing are:
This is a surprisingly simple technique. The basic idea is that you breath following a three part structure:
First, you breath in through your nose on a count of four.
Second, you hold your breath for a count of seven.
Third, you breathe out through pursed lips on a count of eight.
An added touch is to have your tongue touching the back of your top front teeth throughout, including as you exhale forcefully through your mouth. However, don’t worry if this is overcomplicated. Just keep to the basic count, and everything else is icing on the cake, so to speak.
There is increasing evidence that meditation doesn’t have to take a long time to be effective. In fact, some people even suggest as little as three minutes, three times a day, can have a profound effect. And you can choose from a lot of different kinds of meditation. Here are a few simple meditation suggestions:
1)Watch your breath as it flows in and out. No need to control it or count, just be present with your breath.
2) Imagine yourself in a safe, pleasant place. Make the space feel as real as possible: what would you hear, what would you see, what would you feel, what would you smell, what would you taste?
3) Be present with your actual experience. What can you feel right now? What can you see? What can you hear? Can you taste anything? Can you smell anything? For three minutes (or more) just keep asking yourself those questions, and seeing what comes up.
Take some time to be with other people. At best, this would be face-to-face. Really listen to whoever you are with and acknowledge them. You can also take the time to write a heartfelt text. The point is to truly connect with someone, so make it a mini-love-letter, rather than a mini-rant. Or call someone, just to say hello and find out how they are. We are social animals, and some true human connection works wonders on our mood.
Pick something you enjoy. It could be five minutes of chair yoga while you’re on break, or a longer yoga class. Or it could be dancing, or walking, jogging, skating, weights. Whatever you enjoy. And it doesn’t have to take long, even a few minutes will make a difference to your mood. Moving releases all kinds of natural chemicals to help you feel good, as well as burning calories – yay, another win-win!
Studies show that just six minutes reading de-stresses you as much as meditating. How easy is that to fit into your day?
Taking up a hobby that relaxes you and keeps your hands occupied is a win-win. After all, if your hands are busy, they can’t be putting food in your mouth. Secondly, such pasttimes are meditative, getting you into that flow space where you are challenged just enough to stay interested and relaxed at the same time. There are myriad different options here, for example sketching, zentangle, colouring, knitting, sewing, painting, felting,
This is like an amped-up version of meditation. You are guided, so it’s easier to follow and not get lost. And extra benefits and suggestions can be added in, to improve your immune system, help you lose weight, teach you a new breathing technique, or many more options. To try out a mini-hypno-relaxation, just click on the image below and relax!
The Starting Point
Have you seen this TEDx Talk, which promises to explain “How to make healthy eating unbelievably easy”? Unfortunately, it only manages to be unbelievably naive.
The basic premise is that to make healthy eating easy, you have to remove unhealthy options from your surroundings. Sadly, there is nothing new there. After all, in Bill Phillips’ 2010 bestseller Transformation: How to Change Everything, he discusses exactly that as one of his first steps. Clear out your kitchen of any junk food and other triggers to unhealthy eating.
More to the point, that was just the first step of many Bill Phillips suggests. He also talks about motivation, community, accountability, and healing the past, to name just a few. There’s a good reason for that: the “control your surroundings” plan only works as a short-term measure.
Sure, some people live places where the closest shop takes long enough to get to that it’s an effort you’d be unwilling to make unless you’re desperate. Or somewhere that the shops are closed for a good deal of the time. For any city dweller, though, junk food is just a short walk away, day or night.
On top of that, if your cravings are strong enough, you’ll drive half an hour to the closest shop. Or spend an hour baking something at home from ingredients most people won’t want to remove from their kitchen, even if they have had a clear out. Hell, I’ve baked flapjacks using oats, apple juice, apricots and not much more. All healthy ingredients, but eat enough of them and the calories add up!
As Bill Phillips correctly pointed out all those years ago, the most important factor in achieving transformation is not trying to bend your environment to your will, because that’s pretty much impossible. The most important factor is mindset, and there are several different elements to it.
I’ve written about motivation in the past – the different types that exist, and how to make them work for you. Motivation is certainly an important element, yet it’s only part of the equation that makes up mindset. Other elements include environment, capabilities and resources, beliefs and values, sense of identity, and life’s purpose.
By environment, I don’t mean whether you’ve got cookies in your kitchen cupboard. Rather, it’s things like how stressed you are in your life. Do you love your job, your relationships, your financial and geographical situation, your home? Or do any or all of them cause you stress? Do you live right next to a really delicious bakery? Are there always cakes in your office kitchen? What activities do you do with your friends? Do you go to the pub, go out for dinner, or are you more likely to do something active with them?
Resources and Capabilities
What resources do you have? I’m not just talking about whether you have a computer, but also whether you have time to search for the information you need, or someone that you can ask for help. Do you have a kitchen, and is it equipped with the pots, pans, baking tins and whatever else you might need to make healthy, nutritious food?
And what skills and capabilities do you have? Do you know how to cook healthy food that is tasty? And can you do so in the time you have between work and other commitments? What about shopping for healthy food: do you find you never have the ingredients you need? How about what goes with what?
Beliefs and Values
What beliefs do you have that may help or hinder you? Do you believe that healthy food has to be tasteless and boring? Do you believe that junk food is the only way to reward yourself? Not only that, but as you make changes to your behaviour you may come across new beliefs you didn’t realise you held.
You can also ask yourself what you value: what is important to you? Is it important for you to have variety in your life? That might be a block to cutting certain foods out of your diet. Or do you feel it’s vital to be hospitable? How might that affect what you feel you need to offer others who come to your home?
Sense of Identity
Who do you feel yourself to be? That might seem an odd question. Still, a lot of people say things like: “I’m not someone who can change,” or “I always fall back into old habits”, or “I just love food too much to give up some things”. These become part of how you see yourself, and that can be a block to enjoying healthy eating.
Sense of Purpose
This is a biggie: what do you think your purpose is in this life? Now, you might be wondering what that has to do with healthy eating. Think about this, though. If you feel your purpose is to be happy, but being overweight makes you unhappy, then changing to a healthier way of eating will help you fulfill your life’s purpose. If you feel that being of service to others is paramount, how might you getting on top of your eating help others? Would it give you more energy to assist them? Would you be able to act as a role model to inspire others to make better choices?
How To Change Your Mindset
There are a number of ways to approach your mindset.
One of those is by asking yourself some of the questions above. By becoming clear on what is helping you and hindering you can make changes in a way that suits you better. For example, if you realise that going to the break room at work is a big trigger for you, can you find a way around it? That might be going out to the park instead of going to the break room. Or it might be starting a healthy eating initiative at work, to get others involved. That way, you improve your environment and also get a community of like-minded people as support: win-win.
Healing the Past
Another mindset transformer is to heal issues from the past that have led you to where you are. You might choose a talking therapy, or maybe you could try hypnotherapy. It’s amazing what you can do when you revisit the past in hypnosis, and see how it might have been different. You can find resources you weren’t aware of, and bring them to bear in both the past and the present, to move you forward into a new future.
Shifting Your Sense of Self
Also, those questions around sense of identity. How do you change those sabotaging, deeply held views of yourself? Once again, hypnosis may provide a solution. In your subconscious, there are myriad different possibilities, and the chance to try on what it might feel like to shift your sense of self a little. Not that you want to be someone else entirely: you will still be you, just a happier, healthier version of yourself.
Finding and Living Your Life’s Purpose
As for life’s purpose, not everyone is sure what theirs is. Gaining some clarity on that can be really helpful, as can exploring at a subconscious level what that might look like. How would you act if you were living your life’s purpose? Seeing this in hypnosis can give you a greater sense of motivation of the best kind!
Making Healthy Eating Easy
The real way to make healthy eating easy isn’t by clearing out your kitchen, though that may be a good place to start. The most important factor is to shift your mindset. Using coaching to look at your values and beliefs, and deeply questioning your behaviours, is a great place to start. If you think about healthy eating as pleasurable and as part of who you are, then it will be easy to maintain. Otherwise, there will always be the possibility of getting cravings that send you out to the shops, day or night, near or far.
The easiest way to shift your mindset is to approach it at the level where these things reside. Not in the rational logic of your everyday thoughts, where you know you ought to eat an apple rather than a biscuit, but at the subconscious level of your deep desires, which hypnotherapy gives you access to. You have nothing to lose but your cravings and guilt.
All kinds of motivation are not created equal, however.
Studies show that internal motivation is more powerful at helping you stick to a plan than external motivation. Therefore, understanding the different kinds of motivation that exist can help you to use them to your best advantage.
Self-determination theory distinguishes five different kinds of motivation. The first three are internal, and the last two are external. Let’s take a look at each, and also at ways that you can boost them, and use them to help you get where you want to go.
Intrinsic motivation is when you enjoy what you need to do to achieve your goal. For instance, if you want to get fitter or control your weight and you really enjoy dancing, then that is probably the best type of exercise to add to or increase in your life. If you want to give up smoking, then finding a habit to replace it with, which you enjoy, is a good way to go. You could drink a herbal tea every time you want a cigarette, for example, or have a small piece of dark chocolate. Just make sure you aren’t replacing one bad habit with another equally bad habit.
Ask yourself: what aspect, element or variation of this activity or goal do you most enjoy?
How I can help: Hypnotherapy can be a great way to increase your intrinsic motivation. Firstly, because it can help you become aware of what you already enjoy, which can increase your sense of enjoyment through increased awareness. Secondly, hypnotic suggestions can remind you to become aware of that enjoyment when you are actually in the moment, rather than getting distracted by what you are going to have for dinner, the latest news, or some project you are working on.
Integrated regulation basically just means that the activity you are taking part in aligns with your sense of identity or your values. Taking the example of becoming vegetarian, that might fit with your view of yourself as an animal-lover, as a highly ethical person and as someone who is highly empathetic.
Ask yourself: how does this goal align with my sense of self, with those things I most value?
How I can help: In terms of this kind of motivation, coaching can make you more aware of what your values are, and hypnotherapy can increase your emotional connection between that value or sense of self and the activity you want to feel motivated to do.
For instance, if you want to control your weight, you may want to exercise more. Feeling more strongly that you are someone who is independent and that staying active will help you stay independent for longer might help. Or, if helping others is important to you, emphasising that by getting healthier and stronger you will be able to support others more effectively and for longer could give your motivation that extra boost. Hypnosis can help you make these high ideals feel real, bringing them into your everyday in a way that connects with both your senses and your emotions.
Do you really want one or more of the outcomes associated with that activity you want to stay motivated about? That’s what the term identified regulation is about.
Thinking about weight control, one outcome associated with eating less sugar and junk food would be achieving a slimmer figure. Another would be a greater sense of wellness, which could be measured through lower cholesterol and none of the warning markers associated with diabetes.
Ask yourself: what outcome of this activity or goal do I find most desirable?
How I can help: There is good evidence that imagining a desired outcome makes you more likely to achieve it. With hypnotherapy, you can do that very effectively, bringing all your senses into play and communicating that image clearly to both your conscious and subconscious mind.
You might imagine seeing that new, slimmer you in a mirror, admiring your achievement. Or you might imagine talking with a nurse who is congratulating you on your blood tests: ‘I wish everyone had numbers that good!’
These internal motivators are powerful and positive, but what about those external motivators?
A word many may recognise from psychology, this is about internalising other people’s ideas. For instance, your parents might have told you ‘Eat your food, there are children starving in Africa!’ In later life, you may find it almost impossible not to eat everything on your plate, even if you aren’t hungry.
While a few of these introjects may motivate you to be ‘good’ – ‘Don’t eat ice cream, it’ll make you fat!’ – this motivation is rarely effective, and may even be counterproductive. It’s not unknown for people to rebel against such introjects, even if the advice is valid. This can lead to self sabotage: the overall goal may be one you embrace, and yet you find yourself doing the opposite of what you ‘know you should’.
Ask yourself: What old patterns am I following, and do I really believe in them?
How I can help: Hypnotherapy is great here for untangling introjects so you can either kick them out of your head or embrace that part of them that truly resonates with you. Either way, you remove the self-sabotaging.
Here, it is still other people’s voices and ideas that act as motivators. This is the realm of ‘Everyone says you should workout at least three times a week’ or ‘All my friends are having botox’. While these motivations based on what other people think or do are less likely to lead to self-sabotage, in the long run they are not very effective. If something starts to feel too hard, like too much of a sacrifice, if the motivation doesn’t come from inside yourself you are unlikely to stick with it.
Ask yourself: Which ideas or habits from other people work for me?
How I can help: Identifying which bits of common wisdom or peer pressure really matter to you can convert some of these into internal motivators. And then you can apply one of the many strategies suggested above to reinforce them.
The Bottom Line
Getting clear about what motivates you towards a particular activity or goal will help you achieve better results faster. Develop your strong, internal motivators and make sure there is no self-sabotage getting in your way. Then, watch how you seem to achieve your goal almost without effort!
If you want some help with your motivation, why not get in touch on 07561 231 281 or on firstname.lastname@example.org
You’re about to speak in front of an audience and your heart is pounding and you feel nauseous. Or maybe you have to go to the hospital or the dentist and you want to be able to stand your ground and not feel intimidated into doing whatever they tell you. Or perhaps you’re waiting impatiently for an email or a call, news that matters to you and that you feel you have no control over.
In any of these situations, you probably know that your feelings aren’t helping you achieve your best or feel happy.
What you want is to be feeling calm and confident, perhaps excited or simply detached. Maybe you need a boost of creativity, or a shot of diplomacy, or just the ability to distract yourself and focus elsewhere.
Setting anchors is a technique that is often used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and by coaches trained in that approach. It’s a really useful way to access positive resource states like calm, confidence and creativity, at times when you need them most.
Generally, people set anchors ahead of time, before a situation they know may be challenging.
The traditional way of setting anchors is by really getting into the emotion you want, and then creating a physical anchor for it in your body. An example would be pressing your thumb and little finger together, something you wouldn’t normally do, and are unlikely to do accidentally. In this way, the anchor is only used purposefully, making it stronger and more effective.
You can also create a cascade of anchors.
This is most often done when you want to change from a quite ‘negative’ state to a ‘positive’ one. It would be a big ask to go straight from terror to confidence, for example. If you can set yourself up to go from terror to nervousness, then to calm and finally to confidence, then you’re being a lot more realistic.
One of the great things about a physical anchor is that you always have your body to hand (pun intended). So, you don’t run the risk of losing your lucky pants, or whatever other object you might have as an anchor: a mistake made by no small number of athletes!
On the other hand, physical anchors don’t work well for everyone. It depends on how you interact with the world.
Do you hear songs when you look at pictures, or if you just hear a keyword, or maybe even when you smell a familiar scent? If so, picking a playlist to listen to just before or during that tricky situation may be the best answer for you.
Maybe you can picture what you’d like to happen really clearly. Or perhaps a particular image triggers an emotional response in you. In that case, having a specific image as your home screen or setting up a mini-slideshow for yourself could be really useful.
And with both the playlist and the slideshow, you’ll find that once you’ve gone through it a few times, you can bring it to mind without the external cues, if need be.
Let’s ground this in an example, using images. You could pick something that represents your feeling of terror at speaking in public, or the worst-case-scenario you imagine. Then, pick one to three images that represent comfort to you: a role model, a favourite place, person, animal or object. Finally, choose one to three images that trigger the emotions you’d like to be feeling: calm, confidence, enthusiasm.
In some ways, it’s best to keep it simple: one image of what you want to release, one for the transition, and one for what you want. However, it can be good to pick a few extras, as you may find one or other works better for you as you experiment with them. The same theory would hold true when setting up a playlist.
If you set up something like this, run through it at least five or six times before the situation you’re preparing for. As they say, practice makes perfect, and in this case it’s like martial arts, you want this response to become as ingrained as possible so that every time you start to feel that negative emotion, you can automatically bring up the anchors to guide you to those more positive, resourceful states.
Why not give it a go? And if you’d like some help, call me on 07561 231 281.