Stress can have many impacts on the human body including causing fatigue, depression, anxiety, poor sleep, weight fluctuations, and increased pain. Particularly now, when the world and everything around us has changed so dramatically, learning ways to de-stress is more important than ever. Meditation and hypnosis have both been shown to have a positive impact on managing stress and the resulting effects. Who among us couldn’t benefit from a few minutes a day to relax and calm our minds? Cinema has portrayed both hypnosis and meditation in an exaggerated light, leading people to misunderstand the concept and benefits. Here’s how both methods can help how you manage stress and improve mental and physical well being.
Meditation helps cultivate an awareness of what you’re feeling in the present moment, without judgment. By producing a sense of calm, we can focus our mind and body to control aspects of the pain, anxiety, or stress and their resulting impact, by dealing directly with the muscle tension, sweating, and irritability it causes. The idea is to relax the body and become aware of the pain without judging or fixating on it. Usually we want to run away, but mindfulness allows us to go back into the abyss and learn ways to address and control the beast.
When we are stressed, our bodies trigger the release of stress hormones, causing inflammation, that increases pain in already irritated joints. Meditation shifts our focus to something quiet and calm. When we get into that quieter state of mind, the body isn’t releasing stress hormones into the bloodstream. Instead endorphins, a natural pain reliever, floods the system. Muscles and tissues around the joints relax, inflammation recedes so that the brain can calm and feel less pain.
Several studies have shown that mindfulness-based stress reduction was more effective than drugs, including opioids, and surgery for alleviating chronic low-back pain.
One study tested healthy, pain-free people via brain scans while they experienced painful heat with a 120-degree thermal probe. After four days learning to mindfully meditate and breath deeply, they re-entered the MRI machine and endured the same pain from the 120-degree probe. They were told to use their training and indicate the physical intensity and emotional unpleasantness of the pain.
For those taught mindfulness meditation, pain intensity was cut by 27% and emotional pain reduced by 44%. That shocked the researchers since past studies have shown opioids reduces physical pain by 22%- and mindfulness had surpassed even that. But the MRI results were even more surprising. People who had practiced mindful meditation seemed to be using different brain regions than the other groups to reduce pain.
There was something more active, going on with the mindfulness meditation group. This group had increased activation in higher-order brain regions associated with attention control and enhanced cognitive control, while exhibiting a deactivation of the thalamus- a structure that acts as the gatekeeper for pain to enter the brain. This result has not been seen with any other technique.
How to meditate
Get comfortable in a quiet place, with few interruptions. Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
Breathe normally and notice the rhythm of your breaths – your chest expanding and contracting. On deeper breaths, let go of body tension as you exhale slowly.
Begin by meditating for just five minutes. Use a kitchen timer or the timer on your smart phone or watch. Practice meditating a few times a week to start, and work up to 20 minutes.
Meditation is a practice. Your body and mind experience benefits even when it feels as though you didn’t meditate well. There is no perfection to achieve, just a practice of being aware and present. Thoughts coming and going are normal. Observe the thought, without judgment or engaging with it, and go back to your breathing.
Just three weeks of daily meditation for even a few minutes, can rewire the brain to be less stressed and more responsive, helping us to be more present, calmer and function better.
By definition, hypnosis is a set of techniques designed to enhance concentration, minimize outside distractions and heighten responsiveness to suggestions in order to alter one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors or physiological state. It’s not a treatment but an adjuvant therapy that can facilitate other types of treatments.
Hypnosis involves learning how to use your mind and thoughts to manage emotional distress, pain and behaviors like smoking over overeating.
During hypnosis, the conscious part of the brain is temporarily tuned out as a participant focuses on relaxing and letting go of distracting thoughts. By making his/her mind more concentrated and focused, a participant is able to use it more powerfully. A good analogy is that it’s like using a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun and make them more powerful.
Under hypnosis, a person may experience physiologic changes. It’s common for pulse and respiration to slow and alpha brain waves to increase. In this altered state, a person may become more open to specific suggestions and goals offered by the therapist, such as reducing pain. After this suggestion phase, the therapist or individual when self induced, reinforces continued use of the new behavior or mindset.
How to practice hypnosis
Hypnosis can be a great method to help reduce stress and bring calm to your day. It doesn’t require a certified therapist or practitioner, it can be done any where, any time, on your own, with just a little practice. Basically, hypnosis means learning to use your subconscious mind as you choose. Here are 10 ways to practice self-hypnosis to combat pain:
Find a Quiet Spot
The beauty of hypnosis is that a certified practitioner is no longer needed once the techniques are learned. But once the basic tenets are achieved it can be done anywhere, anytime you have a break in your schedule. In the beginning, find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes.
Imagery is a powerful tool in hypnosis. Find the area within your body where you experience pain. Focus on it and then imagine a healing white light surrounding that area. Imagine it to be warm, and soothing and healing. Keep that light on the area until you feel the pain dissipate even slightly. With practice the white light should offer a welcome respite from pain whenever it’s conjured, even if it’s only temporary.
Create a Personal Hypnotic Mantra
Our minds are incredibly powerful, hypnosis uses that power to heal. Pick a mantra that is personal to your needs. Something like: “I take three deep breaths, and for a few minutes, I feel healthy and happy.” The more you practice, the more the words will encourage your body to respond, outside of the hypnotic state. Add a particular trigger, like rubbing your fingers together, and the feelings can be reproduced with just this act. Imagine getting emotional or stressed at work or home and this simple act stops the escalation.
Throughout the day, practice closing your eyes, taking deep breaths – breath in to the count of three, hold for the count of three, breath out to the count of three. . .while repeating “I am relaxed.” When you feel yourself entering a relaxed state, establish a reminder. For example, put your first finger (the pointer) and your thumb together. This becomes a reminder or “trigger” for relaxation. You can use this anywhere you need to calm your body -even when your eyes are open and you’re around others.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Hypnosis is a useful way to identify and isolate problems areas. When sitting quietly with hypnosis, and breathing with your eyes closed, you can focus on each area of the body. How does your head feel right now? How much tension do you have in your shoulders? What does your lower back feel like right now? Pay attention to your body in order to better heal yourself.
The mind can’t focus on two things at once, so pretending you’re at the beach, smelling the ocean, hearing the waves crash and feeling the salt air on your face, is a powerful distraction. The more often attention is pulled to something that’s positive and vividly experienced, the less focus it can have on what hurts, causes stress, or raises anxiety levels.
Imagine Positive Outcomes
Hypnosis can’t get rid of the underlying causes that cause stress but it can transport our minds to a better, more optimistic place. Often believing in the best possible outcome each day helps up to experience less stress, pain, anxiety, or whatever else overwhelms us. The more our mind grabs onto this concept, the better we may feel.
Engage Your Senses
Hypnosis allows us to utilize senses we might not otherwise engage. If I tell you to close your eyes and image a fluffy, adorable animal, a smile often appears as the image of a kitten is pictured. If I ask what your left knee feels like when focused on, it may be surprising to suddenly feel its sensation when it wasn’t part of your immediate attention. The focus becomes more pronounced and more acute with hypnosis, and, with practice, we sense and feel things at a deeper level. This then gives us the power to define where our attention will go next and where it’ll be diminished.
Put Your Mind at Ease
Your mind is constantly trying to find a solution to the chronic pain. What else can you Google for help? What other doctor can you see? What new alternative medicines are there? Our minds can jump from place to place, wearing us out in the process. Hypnosis gives us a break. It asks the conscious ever-active mind to take a rest and allows the subconscious calmer part of our minds to take over for awhile.
Learn to Breathe Correctly
Clearly we all have to breath, but most people only breathe in the upper chest and can “puff” in and out. Hypnotic breathing requires you to breathe deeply from the stomach. Deep cleansing breaths in, then breathing out any tension or difficulty. Focus on the breath – breathe in deeply to the count of three, hold for a three count, then breathe out deeply to the count of three, hold there for a count of three and repeat. Doesn’t that feel better already?
Our minds respond to whatever we focus on. Meditation and hypnosis help us to use that focus in a powerful, positive way. It empowers us, reinforcing that the external factors and the resulting stress, anxiety, and pain they cause do not control the future, we do. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll use the time to relax and take a much needed respite from your busy day.