Stress. It affects everyone. We all know what it’s like, and very few of us manage it correctly. A little stress is actually good for us. The positive stress of a challenge helps us feel like we’ve accomplished something, and enables us to stretch past our comfort zone and learn something new. Many people, however, live with levels of chronic stress that are physically and mentally damaging, and most don’t even realise until it’s too late. The damage has already been done.
The mechanism of stress is very basic. Most people have heard about the fight or flight response, which is the physical response to a dangerous situation that enables us to prepare to defend ourselves or retreat. During this time the sympathetic branch of the central nervous system is activated, and all our surplus energy is diverted away from non-essential activities, such as digestion or routine maintenance. When the danger has passed, the stress response is neutralised and the parasympathetic branch of the central nervous system takes over.
Routine tasks such as digestion, cell repair, damaged cell removal and detoxification all rely on the deactivation of the stress response. These are activities that can only occur when the sympathetic nervous system is deactivated, and when the surplus energy is not being used up in defensive activities. These are the mechanisms by which the body heals itself, and given the chance, our bodies can and do maintain positive health in the face of an incredible number of potential threats every day.
The common metaphor that is used to explain this mechanism is that of being faced by a tiger. Of course it makes sense that to kill off that one cancer cell when in danger of being eaten is not in one’s best interests in that moment! However, such dangers pass, and the body is designed to return to the base level of calm and relaxation that is typical of parasympathetic operations.
Unfortunately in our modern day society, it is not always easy to act on our fight or flight response without serious social repercussions. Punching the boss, or running away from customers will not feed your family in the long run, and so we hold ourselves in stressful situations, often feeling like there is no way out. Staying in prolonged states of stress, however, even at a low level, means that essential repair work is not taking place, as the surplus energy is being reserved in readiness for fight or flight.
Psychologists have added two extra ‘f’s to the equation, suggesting that in response to our modern day predicament, we may instead ‘freeze’ or ‘fawn’ in an effort to manage the stressful situation and avert the danger faced. These are not always effective strategies for minimising difficulties encountered at work or in a relationship, and so the stressful situation continues to deplete our resources.
This is a dangerous situation to be in, especially as we can adjust to the new level of constant stress and end up thinking that what we are experiencing is ‘normal’. When new stresses are encountered, the stress response peaks at higher and higher levels, and we may not return even to that low level state. Rather new, higher levels of stress are maintained and, adaptable as we are, we believe everything is fine.
It is vitally important for our society to recognise that to remain in a state of constant alert not only compromises our health, in fact it actually stops our natural healing processes altogether. Our bodies are truly amazing and can and do regularly heal from all sorts of serious illnesses, but when we are stressed this ability is diminished and we are at much greater risk of serious disease. It really is an all or nothing sort of a situation. Either your body is relaxed and healing itself, or it is stressed and not healing itself.
So what can be done about it? There are a number of different approaches, but the essence of all of them is to deactivate the sympathetic nervous system response. Only by neutralising stress entirely, and allowing the body to experience the deep levels of healing calm for which it was designed, can this pattern be reversed. Now one point to make here, is that being stressed is not a sign of weakness. Neither should a person be ‘blamed’ for illness. The processes we are talking about are automatic and occur beyond the reach of our conscious control. Event the strongest and most resilient of people can experience high levels of prolonged stress.
Rather we can work to support the body to return to calm, perhaps through traditional physical methods of relaxation such as massage or a sauna. Exercise is excellent too, as it encourages the release of endorphins which are the body’s natural feel-good messengers. For some however, experiencing a truly deep relaxation can be a bit of a shock after prolonged stress. When we become habituated to high stress levels, it feels so uncomfortable to relax that we may seek out activities that re-stimulate the sympathetic response.
Hypnotherapy can help you to make adjustments gently and automatically. First there is the physical relaxation that naturally accompanies hypnosis. As your mind is guided to focus on soothing images and ideas, your sympathetic nervous system automatically deactivates, and the natural healing activities of your body are restored. Tissues, cells and organs are healed and restored. Blood vessels relax, circulation improves and oxygenation increases. This allows for repair and defence against serious illness. People also often report much better, more refreshing sleep when using hypnotherapy, which assists not only with restoration of the body and mind, but also increases your resilience of everyday irritations.
As the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol decrease, metabolic hormones increase and it is easier for your body to maintain its ideal weight, getting rid of stubborn tummy fat much quicker. Emotional responsiveness and warmth is enhanced and relationships are naturally improved, as both your mood and your reactivity are better regulated. Opportunities to connect with your own inner knowing enable you to recognise alternative approaches to previously stressful situations. You get to explore these situations safely and calmly, coming up with new realisations and new attitudes that support you as you go about your everyday life.
So perhaps hypnotherapy sounds appealing to you. After all, we all experience stress. Perhaps you are wondering just how stressed you really are. Some people are surprised to discover just how different they feel after hypnotherapy. You may be interested to uncover new ways of thinking or dealing with stresses that have bothered you for some time. Or perhaps you are looking for another technique to promote well-being, and wish to invest in your long-term health.
Whatever your reasons, even if you are just curious, why not give me a call to discuss how hypnotherapy can help you. You never know, a different life may be just around the corner.
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