It's all in the breath....
by Rebecca Donoghue (Clinical Hypnotherapist, B.A. hons, Dip. Hyp. GQHP, ISCH).
‘’Take a deep breath’’……We’ve all probably been told this when we have a moment of stress or panic and I’m sure most of you already know that regulating your breathing can lead to a reduction in stress.
If you are suffering from stress or anxiety there is a possibility that you are shallow breathing – breathing (probably too quickly) from your chest and upper respiratory area. That’s because stress and anxiety can activate your fight or flight response. This is an automatic survival response to danger that evolved through our ancestors – it was extremely valuable to them as they constantly faced physical danger during their lives. This response causes a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol to be released, your heartbeat speeds up and you breathe faster in order to get more oxygen in so you can ‘fight’ or ‘flee’. Our bodies still react in the same way these days, despite the fact that most of the threats we face are psychological, not physical, i.e. not situations where there is an actual need to run or fight.
When our minds are constantly bombarded with perceived threats, fears and feelings on a daily basis (such as work stress and pressures, self-esteem issues, relationship issues, family stress, exam stress, money worries etc.), we can be constantly in and out of this fight or flight state as our bodies believe we are continuously under attack.
So, if your stress response is regularly triggered, it can lead to a whole host of health problems:
‘’A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the build-up of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression.’’*
When you ‘shallow breathe’ throughout the day you are breathing carbon dioxide out too quickly, before your body has chance to make enough. If you do this too often you could hyperventilate, making your body feel like you aren’t getting enough oxygen. When this happens, your response may be to take ‘big’ breaths, over-breathing and taking in bigger than necessary amounts of oxygen. In short, doing any of this can seriously upset the delicate balance of the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange that takes place in every cell in your body.
This is why it is important to develop a variety coping mechanisms and techniques to balance the effect of stress and anxiety, starting with resetting the fight or flight response by learning how to breathe correctly.
How to breathe correctly
- You need to breathe in through your nostrils not your mouth (The little hairs inside your nostrils, the cilia, filter the incoming air and guard against harmful external particles such as dust and bacteria). When you also breathe out through your nostrils, it creates more air pressure and slows the exhalation down because it’s a smaller outlet than the mouth. This helps the lungs to improve oxygen intake.
- Breathe using the lower respiratory system. You engage your diaphragm as you breathe all the way down to your belly – you’ll know you are doing it right as the lower belly rises when you fill your lungs with air and falls again as you breathe out. (This is known as ‘belly breathing or ‘abdominal breathing’ or ‘diaphragmatic breathing’).
- Slow it right down. It may help to count to 4 or 5 as you breathe in, then hold that breath for a few seconds before breathing out to a count of 6 or 7. It is important to extend the ‘out’ breath and make it longer than the ‘in’ breath. Then just pause before taking the next breath. Feel comfortable with your breathing and create a nice, slow, steady comfortable rhythm that feels right for you.
- Just relax. Allow your muscles to relax and unwind. Physical tension leads to more feelings of stress, so will have a negative knock on effect on your breathing. When your body is relaxed, your health improves, the body retunes itself so it can function at its optimal level and you feel better in so many ways – happier and more energised.
In order to realign your breathing throughout the day, it is useful to set up reminder ‘breath check’ triggers in places where you will see them often. I get my clients to stick small coloured dots around the house, in the office, in the car or on objects you use a lot such as your phone or computer. Each time you see the dot it acts as a reminder to check your breathing pattern, so you are checking it through out the day, not just at the onset of a stressful situation. Of course, you don’t need the coloured dots, there are other ways to trigger a reminder such as post-it notes or simply writing the word ‘breathe’ on several bits of paper that you stick around the house, for example.
For more information, check out my video – ‘It’s all in the breath’ found on my facebook page www.facebook.com/rdhypnotherapy .
*Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School June 2018 (Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response).
Disclaimer: Rebecca Donoghue/RDHypnotherapy is neither a trained psychiatrist nor a medical doctor. At no time will Rebecca Donoghue/RDHypnotherapy attempt to provide medical advice. If you have underlying health problems, especially concerning respiratory system, or are prone to panic attacks always consult with trained medical doctor first before partaking in any of the breathing techniques outlined in this article.
Overcome your Fear of Flying 16th May 2019
By Rebecca Donoghue, Clinical Hypnotherapist
Next time you go on a plane, if you suffer from anxiety whilst on board, the chances are you won’t be the only one. This common fear could be experienced to some degree by up to 40% of the population. So if your fear of travelling by aeroplane is holding you back, then you are certainly not alone.
Fear of flying can and does have a negative impact on the lives of those who suffer from it, preventing many from travelling to other countries or enjoying holidays. This can also have a subsequent knock-on effect for loved ones who would wish to accompany them. It could even lead people to turn down or not pursue work opportunities if they are unable to take trips abroad, thus having a negative effect on the career of those concerned.
In my experience of dealing with the fear of flying, the most common reasons expressed for these feelings of anxiety or panic are either the loss of control (as all control is handed to pilots, air traffic controllers and mechanics), or external factors such as turbulence, bad weather or the thought of a potential mechanical fault with the plane. Some clients have also expressed a concern regarding the possibility of a terrorist attack.
However, if you look at the statistics, flying is one of the safest forms of travel – but rational thinking rarely influences feeling of anxiety. This is because fear, alongside other emotions, isn’t something we consciously control. The feelings associated with anxiety and panic (for example shortness of breath, sweaty palms, palpitations and nausea) are an automatic subconscious function caused by high levels of stress hormones released due to our primal fight, flight, and freeze response that is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. This response is designed to keep us safe in the event of perceived danger.
In order to overcome the fear of flying there are various methods to consider. Therapy treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which engages the conscious mind can and does assist some, while others opt for fear of flying programmes run by airlines themselves.
Many find that another highly effective way to conquer your fears is hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy engages both the conscious and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is your analytical mind, it questions and makes decisions, adds logic and stores your short-term memories; whereas your subconscious mind stores your long-term memories and learnt behaviours. The subconscious mind uses the imagination and it’s here where you can influence the sympathetic nervous system that controls our fight or flight responses. So by accessing the subconscious mind whilst in hypnosis, you can reprogramme the learnt anxiety responses to create new, more appropriate patterns of behaviour that are beneficial to you.
Here are some other tips to manage your anxiety whilst on board a plane.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol – they could increase feelings of anxiety.
- Use mindful abdominal breathing exercises.
- Listen to music or bring along a favourite TV show or film to watch if there’s no in-flight entertainment. This will distract you from the situation.
- Using noise-cancelling headphones as they will help to block out unfamiliar technical noises from the cabin.
Does the answer to sustainable weight loss lie in the subconscious mind? 11th January 2019
We’re almost half way through January and as more than 60% of adults in England are overweight or obese**, millions of us will have started some sort of new health regime - a low-calorie diet, a low-carb diet, joined a gym, maybe started running or joined a slimming club. However, research suggests that a rapid weight loss plan can lead to eventual weight regain* (and maybe even to a heavier weight than you were in the first place).
The problem is that most rapid weight loss plans are unsustainable and don’t tackle the reason why many people are overweight in the first place.
Overeating is often due to childhood programming – were you ever encouraged by a well-meaning parent or grandparent to eat it all up (even if your stomach was telling you it had had enough)? Maybe you weren’t allowed to leave the table until your plate was empty? And most of us have been given sweet treats as a reward or to cheer us up when were sad. Which leads me to my next point…
Many of us condition ourselves to overeat in response to our emotions – when we are feeling down, stressed or even bored. This develops a poor relationship with food that can be difficult to overcome unless we tackle the root cause, the reasons why we linked overeating to our emotions in the first place.
So how do we lose excess weight and keep it off long term? And how do naturally slim people successfully manage their weight?
‘The Truth About Slim People’, a Channel 4 documentary, found that after studying the eating habits of ‘naturally slim’ people, none of them followed a special ‘diet’ – in fact some of the time they did eat high calorie meals or foods, yet still managed to maintain their naturally slim state.
So how were these people managing to sustain this? The answer lies in ‘self – regulation’. They recognised when their bodies had had more calories than they needed and naturally felt less hungry, so ate fewer calories following that. The programme also identified that these ‘naturally slim’ people were doing this subconsciously. So, it was their subconscious that had developed a positive relationship with food and regulated the amount of calories they were consuming.
In conclusion, in order to lose weight and maintain it, working to change your habits and your relationship with food on a subconscious level could be the key to your success.
Hypnotherapy can help you to control your weight as it works on a subconscious level to reprogramme your mind to tackle the root causes of your overeating and adapt healthy new habits and beliefs to support your self-regulation.
By Rebecca Donoghue (B.A. hons. Dip. Hyp. ISCH GQHP)
* www.thelancet.com ‘The effect of rate of weight loss on long term weight management’
Balance - 31st December 2018
As we celebrate the New Year, it’s traditional to reflect on the year that has past and think about changes you want to make to improve your life in the months ahead.
As a busy working mum, one thing that I have struggled with for many years is balance – something I’m sure I’m not alone in!
To me, a balanced lifestyle is simply a state of existence, in which one has time and energy for both life’s responsibilities and pleasures. Yet it’s easy to allow the demands of everyday life to destabilise us, resulting in a negative effect in all areas of life.
To achieve balance, I’ve decided to assess what is important to me and work out just how much time and energy I’m willing to devote to each area of my life. I’ve included spending quality time with family and friends, health and fitness, work, solitude and meditation, community and giving, personal growth and fun. So, my promise to myself in 2019 is to no longer allow certain elements of life to take up an excessive amount of time, energy, or effort and allow myself the reserves I need to nurture the other aspects of life that are fulfilling and equally as (if not more) important.
It goes without saying that balance is difficult to incorporate into your life. Living a balanced life, however, can help you attain a greater sense of happiness, health, and fulfilment. So, for me, 2019 is the year of balance.
Rebecca Donoghue - Clinical Hypnotherapist
World Mental Health Day – 10th October 2018
Did you know that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in the year? Some of us may experience more common conditions such as depression, stress or anxiety, whilst others suffer from rarer disorders such as bipolar.
Just like our physical health, we all have the responsibility of looking after our own mental well-being, as well as the mental health of those we care for.
October 10th marks World Mental Health Day – a day dedicated towards raising awareness of mental health issues and fighting the stigma that is still at times associated with them.
Here are some things anyone can try to look after their mental health:
Take a break and relax
A warm relaxing soak in the bath, a stroll in the country, creating a work of art, guided meditation…. however you prefer to do it, take some time out for you. We all have different things we find relaxing and in our busy lives, relaxation is often the one thing that gets overlooked.
The benefits of exercise on your physical health and fitness are well known, but regular exercise is also very important for your mental health. When we exercise our bodies release endorphins – the chemical that helps us to feel good. Exercise can also help to improve sleep patterns and feelings of anger.
Sleep is vital for fostering a healthy body and clear mind. It rejuvenates us, keeps our memories working well and helps our bodies to heal. See my previous blog on tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Having a balanced diet and eating foods that sustain your blood sugar levels, can help with energy levels, weight control and self-esteem. Cut out junk food and refined sugars.
Too much alcohol disturbs sleep and affects the balance of chemicals in your brain. You might feel more relaxed after your first drink, but as you consume more alcohol, the brain can be affected in a very different way. Those positive emotions you might first experience can be replaced with feelings of depression, anxiety or anger.
Stay connected to others
Being social and staying connected to people around you (actually face to face not via social media) can greatly support your mental well-being. Sometimes just a chat to ‘get things off your chest’ can help you to get through difficult periods in your life.
Worrying about what might happen or mulling over past problems can greatly affect your levels of anxiety. Learning to focus your attention on the present moment, or mindfulness, can be hugely beneficial to your physical and mental health.
Care for others
Looking beyond yourself and helping others, by doing a charitable or good deed, doesn’t just help someone else in some way, it also promotes that ‘feel good factor’ within you.
Always find some time in your day to focus on what you are grateful for, instead of what is going wrong. Recent research has revealed that feeling gratitude can improve both physical and psychological health.
Update your self-talk
It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of negative and destructive thoughts that only serve to compound feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. Recognising the negative inner-voice in your head and learning to change those thought patterns can take perseverance but is extremely worth-while. Challenge your negative thoughts, accept yourself and your qualities and focus on what you can do.
Rebecca Donoghue - Clinical Hypnotherapist
Are you getting a good night’s sleep?
We all know that sleep is important. However, when life gets busy, sleep is often the first activity that we sacrifice. But there are many other reasons why a person may be struggling to sleep including pain or feelings of worry and stress. Not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling drained and susceptible to increased feelings of low mood, irritability, anxiety and even depression. The benefits of sleep are irreplaceable as it is essential for fostering a healthy body and a clear mind.
There are many different strategies to help you to get a better night’s sleep and here’s a list of factors to consider that could help you to improve the quality of your slumber.
- If you struggle to get to sleep, make sure you get in some exercise each day to tire your body. Many sleep studies suggest that this is a key ingredient to reducing insomnia. The morning or afternoon are the best times to exercise. Exercise also helps to reduce stress, anxiety and prevent feelings of depression.
- You should also avoid caffeine several hours before bedtime and limit the amount you consume during the day.
- Aim to create a healthy bedtime routine: be careful what you read or watch on TV (i.e. nothing too violent or distressing) and avoid using electronics – especially your mobile phone at least an hour before bed. You could also listen to a calming guided relaxation meditation to promote a calmer mind (available to order from RD Hypnotherapy).
- Nicotine is also a stimulant and should be avoided before bedtime. (Follow the link for details on how hypnotherapy could help you to stop smoking).
- Snoring waking you up? Try sleeping on your side and propping your head up slightly. You should also avoid drinking alcohol to help resolve this.
- Waking during the night? You guessed it…alcohol is again guilty of disturbing those sleep patterns as it decreases the amount of time you spend in REM. You should also check the temperature of your room, approximately 18° is advisable.
- Can’t seem to wake up in the morning? It is suggested that getting up at the same time every morning (even on the weekend) helps your body to get used to it.
- Suffering from back pain? Add a pillow under your thighs if you sleep on your stomach or under your legs if you sleep on your back.
- If you suffer from shoulder pain, you shouldn’t sleep on your side. If this is the only way you sleep, and the pain is only in one shoulder, try sleeping on the other side. Hugging a pillow also helps some people.
- Make sure there is no electrical equipment within 2 metres of the bed – including alarm clocks and mobiles.
- Make sure there is adequate ventilation (including opening the vents on double glazed windows).
- Sleep naked with a seasonal quilt (sleeping naked allows the skin to breathe and your body needs a cool environment to fall into deep sleep).
- Make sure your room is dark enough to facilitate the production of melatonin: this is the hormone that sends us to sleep. Dim lighting encourages the body to produce this hormone.
- Minimise noise. You may want to consider earplugs.
If you’ve tried it all and are still struggling, it is possible that worry, stress or anxiety are disturbing your sleep patterns. Hypnotherapy is a safe, natural and effective way to help you to manage these feelings and promote a restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep. Many of my clients comment on how much better they are sleeping after their hypnotherapy sessions, even if insomnia isn’t the presenting issue. Click here to find out how a programme of hypnotherapy could help you.
By Rebecca Donoghue (Clinical Hypnotherapist) 19.9.18
Time to Talk Day 2018
February 1st was 'Time to Talk Day 2018' - a day that's being promoted as a chance for us all to be more open about our mental health. Mental health problems can affect any of us yet still people are afraid to talk about it. As a hypnotherapist I see first hand how underlying issues can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life, health and general well being of my clients.
So find some time today to talk, ask your friends, family or work colleagues how they are and let's remove the barriers and encourage people to talk about their issues. Maybe you can open up yourself or maybe you can just be a good listener.
Thursday 18th May 2017
What a week it has been for Vassos Alexander, Sports Presenter on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show (BBC Radio 2)!
Vassos has a terrible snake phobia, so Chris arranged for him to have a course of hypnotherapy to help him to overcome his fears. Chris has been raising awareness about the benefits of hypnotherapy all week and today was the day that Vassos came face to face with his nemesis, live on Radio 2.
The results were amazing, as you will see for yourself when you watch the clip, demonstrating just how powerful hypnotherapy can be. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05391w3
The truth is, of course, that it isn't just a snake phobia you can overcome through hypnotherapy. Whatever your fear: flying, open spaces, heights, clowns, dogs, spiders, insects, needles, crowds (the list is endless), hypnotherapy could be the solution for you.