Gut Directed Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

According to the NHS 1 in 10 of the UK population currently suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), with 1 in 5 likely to suffer at some point in their life. Women in particular are more likely to be affected, being twice as likely as men to suffer from the condition.

For those struggling with IBS the symptoms can be painful and upsetting. In addition to the discomfort caused by bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhoea or constipation, sufferers also have to contend with the potential embarrassment that a sudden onset of symptoms can have.

Although there is no cure for IBS, treatment conducted at the University Hospital of South Manchester shows that hypnosis can bring relief for many sufferers.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS has no known organic cause and is considered a disorder of the gut-brain axis. Although onset of the condition can be as a result of an infection, for many people the symptoms are made worse by stressful situations as well as negative feelings and emotions. Clients who are more sensitive to emotional troubles, or who struggle with anxiety in particular, can be more prone to IBS. In fact, research shows that about 60% of IBS sufferers also meet the criteria for one or more psychiatric disorder. Unfortunately, a vicious cycle is developed, whereby sufferers become anxious about their condition, leading to more discomfort and more anxiety. For example, someone who has IBS which causes diarrhoea can become very anxious about making motorway journeys because of the fear of not getting to a toilet in time if an an attack comes on.

IBS sufferers are also thought to be more sensitive to any discomfort in the gut. When under stress or anxiety, the flight or fight response is triggered, which leads to the digestion system slowing down or stopping. This can lead to bloating, intestinal pain, feelings of nausea and “butterflies” (which is caused by extra sensitivity in the gut).

So, although IBS isn’t caused by stress or anxiety, you can see that the symptoms are very similar and that the body’s response to stress is likely to increase the symptoms and discomfort of IBS sufferers.

What is known to help? 

Anyone dealing with IBS, or who thinks that they have IBS, needs to visit their GP for a proper diagnosis and advice about what might help alleviate symptoms. For many people stress management can be key in reducing symptoms. Techniques such as hypnosis, mindfulness, yoga or simple breathing techniques can be helpful as well as psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Moderate exercise is also known to improve symptoms, and of course can also be a great stress reliever.

Because the symptoms vary so much between different sufferers, dietary advice will depend on how someone responds to different foods. However, general advice from the NHS includes:

  • having regular meals and taking your time when eating
  • drinking at least eight cups of fluid a day
  • restricting your tea and coffee intake to a maximum of three cups a day
  • reducing the amount of alcohol and fizzy drinks you drink
  • reducing your intake of resistant starch, which is often found in processed or re-cooked foods
  • limiting fresh fruit to three portions a day
  • if you have diarrhoea, avoid Sorbitol (an artificial sweetener)

For those who require it, there are also a number of medications that can be used to treat IBS including antispasmodics, which can reduce stomach cramps; laxatives, to relieve constipation; and antimotility medicine to relieve diarrhoea.

Gut Directed Hypnotherapy for IBS

At the University Hospital of South Manchester, Professor Peter Whorwell and his colleagues have conducted hypnosis based IBS treatment for hundreds of patients. Their research shows hypnotherapy helped 71% of patients and their improvements lasted 5 years. In fact so effective is the treatment that in February 2008 the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), which gives guidance to the NHS on effective treatments, reported that there was good evidence that hypnotherapy was an effective treatment for IBS and that it could be recommended for chronic IBS.

The treatment, described as Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy, differs from other approaches because it aims to teach patients hypnotic skills to control and help normalise gut function, rather than just as a way of creating relaxation or reducing psychological stress. This is particularly beneficial as many IBS patients who struggle with physical symptoms can be put off by a psychological approach and the idea that “it is all in your head”.

The treatment lasts a maximum of 12 sessions, with many patients requiring fewer sessions, and patients are usually seen weekly. Although there is a treatment structure, the therapists highlight the importance of individualising treatment to best meet the needs of patients. After the initial assessments are completed patients are taught a simple hypnotic induction, creating a feeling of deep relaxation. It is explained to patients that hypnosis is a skill that can be learnt, practiced and developed. It is also explained that using hypnosis is a way of helping them to tap into and direct the unconscious mind’s ability to regulate bodily functions and to control the gut.

A hypnotic “anchor” is also developed during these early sessions, linking the word “calm” to the feelings of relaxation and wellbeing created through hypnosis. Patients are taught to use the word “calm”  at other times and places whenever they want to feel calm and relaxed. Patients are also given recordings of sessions that they can use at home in between sessions.

As the treatment progresses a variety of techniques are used to help patients to start to take control of their gut and to reduce and eliminate unpleasant symptoms. For example, patients use hypnosis to create a comfortable, healing warmth on their abdomen. This technique is useful for soothing discomfort in the gut. Another technique involves asking patients to use their imagination to picture an image which represents their gut working normally. This imagery could be literal or metaphorical, such as imagining a gentle flowing stream. By focusing on this positive image patients are able to influence the functioning of the gut.

Patients are also taught how to use hypnosis to rehearse the type of situations that can lead to fear of anxiety. For example, in the case of patient who is anxious about motorway journeys they can use hypnosis to imagine themselves driving in their car feeling relaxed, calm, comfortable and in control.

Finally, for clients who require it, additional help is offered around improved breathing patterns, helping them to breath deeper and slower, as well as identify lifestyle changes such as incorporating short breaks throughout the day. At the end of treatment patients are offered “top-up” sessions if symptoms should flare up. Although many patients appreciate the offer, knowing they have extra support if they need it, very few of the patients actually take the therapists up on their offer.

Although hypnosis is not a cure for IBS it is a proven treatment which can greatly reduce symptoms and help patients go back to a “normal life”. I’m pleased to say that I can now offer treatment based upon the Manchester model for anyone struggling with IBS.

If you are interested in finding out more please contact me on 0161 298 7070 or ianguest@firststephypnosis.co.uk

Reference: http://nvvh.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Gut-Directed-Hypnotherapy-The-Manchester-Approach-for-Treatment-of-Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome.pdf 

photo credit: beautiful young woman drinking water in the morning via photopin (license)

Don’t Believe In Hypnosis? 3 Studies To Change Your Mind

I get it. I understand why people are cynical about hypnosis. In my last blog I discussed stage hypnosis, and the tricks used to convince an audience. Hypnotising dogs on Britain’s Got Talent don’t help its image and the portrayal of hypnosis in films and television usually just confirms people’s suspicions that it is all a con.

I’ll admit that when I first started my training 5 years ago, even though I entered with an open mind, I still had nagging doubts. During the initial training sessions as the tutor talked about “altered states of consciousness” and the brain entering an “alpha” brain state (now proven to be wrong anyway), a little bit of me still thought it all sounded a bit dodgy.

As time went on and I gained more experience working with clients I started to see the benefits that hypnosis had on individuals. Clients who came to see me who were overwhelmed by their feelings and emotions were able, through hypnosis, to take back control of their life. They were able to gain a better perspective about their problems and very quickly became more optimistic about the future. Unhelpful habits that they had developed became easier to let go of and replace with healthier behaviours.

I still don’t know if hypnosis is a unique “state”. Even recent research using the most high tech brain scanning equipment can’t categorically prove that it is either. The truth is that hypnosis isn’t a unitary state anyway, but is very task specific. Therefore, you would expect to see differences between a person who is hypnotised and instructed to relax deeply compared to one who is asked to hallucinate (for example to imagine that they see an object in front of them).

However, gathered below are 3 studies which throw up some interesting results. They don’t prove conclusively that hypnosis exists but go some way to showing that it is worthy of further research and a reappraisal from the media and the general public.

Hypnotic inductions can change affect activity in the brain

It might come as a surprise, but when we are at rest, parts of our brain actually become more active. The default mode network, as it is called, includes large areas of the brain which paradoxically are more active when we’re at rest compared with when we’re engaged in a taxing, externally focused task.

As part of one experiment, researchers assessed brain activity of participants while resting in an fMRI scanner and also while engaged in visual tasks, both in and out of hypnosis. Participants, who were already identified as highly suggestible, whilst in hypnosis showed decreased brain activity in the parts of the default mode circuit. In low suggestible participants, hypnotic inductions produced no detectable changes in these regions, but instead deactivated areas involved in alertness. The findings indicated that hypnotic inductions create a distinctive and unique pattern of brain activation in highly suggestible subjects. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that showed decreased activity in the hypnotised participants included those responsible for daydreaming and letting the mind wander. This might support the idea that hypnosis creates a heightened increase in focused attention.

Hypnosis changes colour perceptions in the brain

A study conducted at Harvard University was designed to show whether hypnosis could affect colour perceptions. Using a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, eight highly suggestible subjects were asked, both in and out of hypnosis, to view a colourful Mondrian style pattern, in different ways:

  • The original version in colour
  • A similar grayscale version in colour
  • The colour version as grayscale
  • The grayscale version as grayscale

When subjects were hypnotised, parts of the brain responsible for colour perception were activated when they were asked to perceive colour, whether they were actually shown the colour or the grayscale version. However, those same brain regions had decreased activation when subjects were told to see grayscale, whether they were actually shown the colour or grayscale version. In other words the brain responded “as if” they were seeing a colour image (whether or not they were in reality), rather than just imagining they were. In the same way, they responded “as if” the image was grayscale even if it was really in colour. The conclusion of the researchers was that the subjective changes that the subjects experienced were reflected by the changes in the brain.

Hypnotic suggestions eliminate Stroop effect

You may have already seen the classic experiment into the Stroop Effect. A list of random words for colours are presented. Each word is printed in the same colour as the word it represents. The participant is asked to read out the words and are timed doing so. A second list of words is then produced, but each word is printed in a different colour to the one it represents. Upon the second attempt to name the words, most participants will take longer to name the words (you can try the experiment here https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/java/ready.html ).

The Stroop Effect is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. It’s difficult to name the colour because our autonomic processes want us to read the words, rather than naming the colour. However, if the words were in a different language, such as Polish, you would have no problem naming the colour because the words have no meaning to you (unless you speak Polish).

In a study in 2002, a group of 16 high suggestible subjects as well as a group of 16 lower suggestible subjects were given hypnotic suggestions that they only attend to the font colour and ignore the meaning of the word. The results of the experiment were that posthypnotic suggestions eliminated Stroop interference for highly suggestible subjects. Studies using an fMRI showed changes in the brain including  lower activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area involved in resolving conflict and competing demands. There was also a reduction in activity in the visual cortex, which is important for recognising words.

 

Citations 

Hypnotic induction decreases anterior default mode activity (2009) 

Hypnotic Visual Illusion Alters Colour Processing in the Brain (2000) 

Hypnotic suggestion and the modulation of Stroop interference (2000) 

 

Are You Going To Make Me Cluck Like A Chicken?

When I tell people I’m a hypnotherapist I usually get one of 3 responses. Sometimes people are quite positive because they have had hypnosis themselves or know someone who has; occasionally they look at me with a bemused look, as though they didn’t really think it was a real job; or thirdly, and most commonly, I get some variation of “look into my eyes, not around the eyes…”

Of course, this response is understandable when most people’s experience and knowledge of hypnosis is either the Little Britain sketch, hypnotist dogs on Britain’s Got Talent, the recent ITV show Back In The Room, stage hypnotist shows on holiday or, for those with longer memories, Paul Mckenna making fools of contestants on his show in the early 90’s.

I think even for many potential clients who ring up to find out more about my hypnotherapy services there is often that nagging doubt at the back of their minds that I’m going to make them cluck like a chicken when their eyes are closed.

In this blog article I’m going to explore more about the similarities and differences between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy and why what you see on TV isn’t always all it seems.

Stage Hypnotists 3 weapons: Hypnosis, Suggestions and Compliance

A good place to start is to understand what hypnosis really is. There have been dozens of theories written about hypnosis and one that fits in well with understanding how stage hypnosis works is called the Social Role-Taking Theory. This theory argues that a hypnotised person is simply playing a role, or acting “as if” they are hypnotised, based upon their understanding of how a hypnotised person behaves. They are not “faking it” but simply using their imagination to act, feel and think “as if” they are hypnotised.

In addition to hypnosis, understanding the power of suggestions is also helpful. We live in a society where we are bombarded by all types of suggestions. Whether that’s to buy a particular product or brand, to vote for a political party or to watch a particular television programme. Sometimes we call it advertising or marketing but, however we describe them, suggestions are aimed at influencing our behaviours, thoughts and feelings. In hypnosis we use positive suggestions to help people change unhelpful behaviours, but research shows that many people respond readily to suggestions outside of hypnosis.

Finally, the impact of compliance on an audience member is probably a stage hypnotists strongest weapon. In 1961 Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to test whether participants would obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Participants, were asked by the Experimenter (an authority figure) to give a Learner in another room (actually an actor and confederate) an electric shock for each incorrect answer they gave. In reality there were no shocks, just a well planned set up.  As the experiment went on the participants were told to increase the voltage of the electric shock up to 450v. Despite the screams and banging from the Learner after each increasingly stronger shock, the Experimenter insisted to the participant that the experiment had to continue. Despite many participants becoming stressed and upset by what they were doing to the Learner 65% of them administered the highest 450v shock. If people are willing to cause considerable pain to another, it becomes easier to understand why someone would be willing to make a fool of themselves in front of an audience when told to by a stage hypnotist.

The Secrets of a Stage Hypnotist

A stage hypnosis show usually starts with a call for volunteers. The stage hypnotist asks for volunteers to come on stage only if they “truly want to be hypnotised.” The popularity of some hypnotists means that there is usually no shortage of volunteers, and for those that do step forward the hypnotist can be highly certain that:

  1. They know what they are volunteering for and what will be expected of them. This means that they will be very willing to participate as directed by the hypnotist.
  2. They are going to be exhibitionists. Volunteers want to be on stage and want to perform, regardless of how foolish they might look. Indeed, they are happy to play the “role” of someone who is hypnotised, happy to follow any “suggestions” and will be happy to be “compliant” to any request made.
  3. Amongst the volunteers there will be some who have a “hidden agenda”. Perhaps to prove that it ‘s a “fraud” or that they cannot be hypnotised.

Once the volunteers are assembled the hypnotist will start to establish which of them are going to be entertaining performers and which are there to prove a point. Either off stage away from the audience or under dimmed lights on stage, the hypnotist will administer simple hypnotic suggestibility tests to the group. This will start by giving all the volunteers a quick hypnotic induction or focusing technique (for example “your eyes will get heavy as you listen to my voice”). Then using suggestions, usually given in an authoratative tone, such as “You can’t open your eyes” or “your hands are stuck tight together” they are able to find the most responsive volunteers. Volunteers who don’t respond well to the suggestions are asked to return to their seats. For those that remain the hypnotist will strengthen their confidence by making suggestions that they are good and responsive participants and how unfortunate it was that the others were not smart enough to succeed as hypnotic subjects.

By now, with the volunteers selected, the pressure to perform becomes very intense. The volunteers have been chosen for their ability to follow instructions, to be obedient and to put on a “good show”. They now need to perform well to meet the expectations of the hypnotist, the crowd and, of course, themselves. As we’ve already discovered we will readily comply with instructions, even if we may not truly wish to. At this point the audience expects the volunteers to behave in a particular way, and the volunteer themselves expects to be “made” to act in certain entertaining ways. Deviating from this arrangement is unlikely due to the volunteer’s expectation to conform to their “role”. With the peer pressure of a watching audience, it takes a strong sense of independence to not conform to the norm. Of course, any negative side effects from being a volunteer, such as embarrassment, can easily be attributed to the hypnosis and not the volunteer themselves. Indeed, research shows that people are far more willing to exercise questionable judgement when they are not held accountable for their actions eg it was the hypnotist/hypnosis that made me do it.

Therefore, on stage, you might have a combination of volunteers who are genuinely hypnotised, those who aren’t hypnotised but are “up for a laugh” and are happy to act “as if” hypnotised and finally those who aren’t hypnotised, perhaps no longer want to be there, but feel the pressure is too strong to say “I want to leave”. Of course, regardless of the state of the volunteer they are all able to refuse to follow any of the suggestions or instructions given by hypnotist. None of them have given up their personal control to the hypnotist, none of them are actually made to do anything that can’t be replicated out of hypnosis, they just act with a greater degree of compliance because that’s their “role” for the evening.

Finally, of course, some stage hypnotists will always be able to fall back on simple deceptions to make the show more entertaining, if the volunteers aren’t up for it. This might include the use of stooges or plants who are paid to perform or requesting that volunteers simply “play along” or fake it.

Stage Hypnotists; For or Against?

I have a confession to make. A part of me has a sneaky respect for stage hypnotists, illusionists and mentalists. Derren Brown is a great example of a performer that uses some of the techniques we’ve discussed to produce exciting, interesting and intelligent television shows. I love to be entertained and I’m willing to suspend disbelief and get taken in by the sleight of hand and misdirection. I then enjoy trying to work out how they did it and what tricks and techniques they used to make the act work.

On the other hand there have also been calls for stage hypnotists to be banned because some perceive them as being dangerous. I’m certain that this is not the case and famous legal cases favour the hypnotist (eg Gates v Mckenna). Indeed the Hypnotism Act (1952) makes sure that hypnotists comply with certain requirements to mitigate potential risks.

However, in my opinion too often stage hypnotists seem to want to produce shows that are crass and tasteless, having little respect for the dignity of their volunteers. I suppose to maintain a living as a stage hypnotist you need to be more outrageous to sell more tickets and I’m sure they would argue that they are just giving the audience what they want.

So what do you think? Have you ever watched a stage hypnotist show? Perhaps you were a volunteer? Do you think they should be banned or are they a valid form of entertainment. Please let me know in the comments box below.

photo credit: NMX14-1-334.jpg via photopin (license)

 

Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Stick And How To Fix It

Now that we are well into January how are your New Year’s resolutions going? Don’t feel bad if you’ve already had to dip into your children’s chocolate selection box, or missed your session at the gym. Research conducted in 2007 shows that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail to keep them. In this article we will look at why New Year’s resolutions don’t stick, what you can do about it and how hypnosis can help.

What was your New Year’s Resolution this year?

According to a Comres survey, a third of Brits make New Year’s resolutions and a Yougov poll showed the most popular were;

Lose weight 35%
Get fitter 33%
Eat more healthily 31%
Take more care of my appearance 15%
See more of family/friends 14%
Find more time for myself 12%
Get better at work-to-life balance 12%
Stop drinking alcohol/drink less 11%
Give up smoking 5%

 

As you can see, many people really want to be healthier, slimmer and enjoy life more. Unfortunately, 43% of those who failed to keep their New Year’s resolutions didn’t even manage a month before caving in to temptation, or going back to old or bad habits.

Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions stick?

As you probably already know from your own experience, just because we say we are going to quit smoking, lose weight, go to the gym or just make more time for ourselves, it doesn’t mean it is actually going to happen. Despite our best intentions, there are a couple of reasons why our resolutions just don’t stick.
Making personal changes requires willpower and it’s best to think of willpower as being like a muscle. Just as your biceps can only manage so many push ups before they give up, willpower is a limited resource that can be overloaded when asked to do too much. The prefontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for willpower, is also in charge of short term memory and solving abstract problems. Expecting it to take on the task of losing weight as well as everything else we have to do is just asking too much. In fact experiments show that when this part of the cortex is overloaded with information, participants are more likely to eat unhealthy food.
Another factor that reduces our success rate is our need for instant gratification. In a famous experiment called the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, small children were told that if they could resist the marshmallow (or cookie or pretzel) in front of them for 15 minutes then they would get to eat the marshmallow and get a second as a reward. Only a third of the children managed to delay gratification long enough to receive the second marshmallow. The children who were successful were able to distract themselves for long enough, for example by singing to themselves or tying their shoe laces. In other words, using distraction techniques they were able to remove the temptation from their consciousness. In a follow up study many years later the group that had resisted temptation “tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures”.

How can I make my resolutions stick?

If you really want to make a success of your New Year’s resolutions here are 5 really useful tips to increase your chances of success this year.

  • Only set yourself one resolution at a time – don’t overload your cortex with too many goals or targets
  • Make sure your resolution is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic & time related). For example, commit to losing 8lbs in 10 weeks, rather than just “lose some weight”
  • Ask a friend or family member to help and support you. Keep them updated with your progress and speak to them when your willpower is slipping. Even better, find someone with a similar resolution eg quit smoking, and do it together
  • Think of your goal in terms of baby steps. Identify milestones along the way and make sure you celebrate each milestone you hit. For example, your first milestone could be 10 visits to the gym in 8 weeks. Reward yourself by going to the movies or having a pamper session
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you have a setback. Dust yourself off, accept that you need to take one step at a time and recommit to your goal. Learn to be more mindful and less judgemental or self critical by focusing on the present rather than the past or the future

How hypnosis can make your goals more achievable

When working with clients who are looking to change old, unwanted habits, such as smoking or biting nails, I successfully incorporate a technique called the Benefits Approach developed by a hypnotherapist called Roy Hunter. The process involves identifying the rewards or benefits of changing a behaviour and incorporating that into a future image of ourselves.
To begin with, define your goal and then identify the benefits. Write them down and make sure they will offer sufficient motivation to help you change. For example, if you want to lose weight your goal might be to lose 3 stone in 6 months. The benefits of losing that weight might be:

  • I’ll be healthier (this might even be related to an illness such as diabetes)
  • I’ll have more energy (and decide what you will do with this extra energy)
  • I’ll have a better self image
  • I’ll have a greater choice over the clothes I can buy and wear
  • I’ll be less conscious about my weight
  • I’ll feel more attractive
  • I’ll feel happier about myself

Once you are happy with your benefits you are ready to do some hypnosis

  1. Find 5 –10 minutes in your morning or night time routine to find somewhere you can be undisturbed to close your eyes and relax
  2. Close your eyes and simply count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number allow yourself to become more comfortable and relaxed
  3. Once you are nice and relaxed, create in your own imagination an image of yourself, as you wish to be one year in the future, having achieved your goal. Be aware of how you look, how you feel, how you walk, talk and behave.
  4. As you enjoy that image focus on all your benefits; feeling healthier, happier, fitter etc and think about how those benefits are going to impact on your life. See yourself as you want to be doing the things you want to do.
  5. As you focus on those benefits create a wonderful feeling of success, as though you have already achieved your goal, as though those images are the present.
  6. Spend as much time as you want enjoying those images, feelings and ideas.
  7. Then spend a few moments refocusing on your goal and your commitment to achieving that goal. Become more aware that the benefits and rewards you identified are realistic and achievable.
  8. Finally, when you are ready, you can slowly emerge yourself from hypnosis by counting up from 1 to 5, becoming more energised with each number.

If you feel you need personal support to achieve your goals, whether for weight loss, to quit smoking, to feel calmer or any other habit please contact me to arrange your free consultation.

Citation
http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703478704574612052322122442
http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/dec/31/how-long-do-people-keep-their-new-year-resolutions
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

 

3 Steps To A Stress Free Christmas

With Christmas once again almost upon us, I felt this might be a useful time to share my 3 steps for a stress free holiday.

The festive period is a great time to unwind, spend time with family and friends, overindulge and catch up on all the Christmas specials on television. Unfortunately, Christmas can also be a stressful time if you have to deal with overexcited kids, drunk uncles and broken Christmas tree lights. Follow these 3 steps and you’ll enjoy a much more relaxing, enjoyable and stress free holiday.

Start With A Healthy Perspective

Too often our expectations for how the holidays will turn out becomes unrealistic. The kids must love their presents; the Christmas turkey must be perfect; no-one should argue; she shouldn’t get drunk; the Christmas tree has to look perfect.

We want Christmas to be great and so we end up making ourselves anxious by placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others. We need to start by having a healthy perspective on the holidays. Some things won’t turn out the way you want them to – and that’s ok, it doesn’t have to be perfect. With 6 billion people living on a planet floating in an infinite universe how important is it really that you have a perfect Christmas?

Begin by thinking about the small pleasures you want to get out of Christmas and then recognise that anything else is a bonus. So perhaps your goal is to have a few days away from a hectic workplace, or spend a couple of hours with your children, or visit an elderly relative, or go for a drink with an old friend, or go for a winter walk with your family. By hoping these things happen, but not wanting or expecting them to happen, you are developing a healthier and more realistic perspective.

Practice Acceptance

So, it’s Christmas day and the dog has stolen the turkey…

Take a deep breath…

Acceptance means acknowledging a situation in a non-judgemental way, not seeing it as good or bad. Things happen over Christmas that we have no control over. For example, we can’t control other people’s behaviours, responses or emotions any more than we can influence the weather. If you have visitors coming on Christmas day some will be early, some late and if you are lucky some will turn up on time. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking, supporting or endorsing a situation but it does mean recognising that you can’t change what has happened. Spending time worrying about the future or ruminating on what’s happened will just mean you won’t enjoy the holidays. Learning to accept the ebb and flow of the holidays is the second step to feeling calmer.

A really useful technique to help you practice acceptance was develop by Dr Elisha Goldstein and is based on the acronym S.T.O.P:

S – Stop what you are doing

T – Take a breath. Breathe naturally and focus on your breathing for a moment.

O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Name any emotions you recognise but don’t try to stop them, just allow them to be. Then take your attention to your body and become aware of any sensations and how you are holding yourself.

P – Proceed with something that will support you in that moment for example talk to someone or take a walk.

Develop An Attitude Of Gratitude

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca summed up the value of gratitude best when he wrote:

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

Unfortunately, as we got caught up in the Christmas spirit, especially in our modern age of consumerism, it is easy to lose track of all the things in our life for which we are grateful. No amount of expensive presents can be as fulfilling or rewarding as the support of a loved one, or a great friendship. Developing a better attitude of gratitude is proven to:

  • Improve physical health
  • Improve psychological health
  • Enhance empathy
  • Reduce aggression
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve self esteem
  • Increase mental strength

So this Christmas why not try this simple technique to help you feel happier and reduce and minimise any stress. A study of the effectiveness of this technique showed that 6 months later participants were on average 9% happier.

  • Get a notebook
  • Every night for one week before you go to bed make a note of 3 good things that have happened to you that day. It can be as simple as a delicious lunch or a catch up with friend
  • Think about why  – make a note of why it happened and why it made you feel good
  • Look back at your journal a week later. How does it make you feel? Are there any themes?
  • Try again for a second week. Get into the habit of including it in your bedtime routine