Perpetuating Anxiety: Pathologizing the Perfectly Normal. Harness the Power of the Fizz.
I love working with children and young people, they are a dream to work with; literally. They engage in daydreaming so much of the time, and teaching them how to access a focussed state is often easy, as most of the time they are already halfway there. Hypnosis and the young are great collaborators.
The stats regarding the mental health and wellbeing of our young people make rather depressing reading. Recently it has been found that one in three teens experience some mental health challenges (Mental Health Foundation). Much of this has been attributed to the impact of the pandemic. The long-term effects of such remain to be seen. Let’s be honest too, there was an already increased number of children and teens experiencing some mental ill health, or perhaps and more appropriately termed, unhealthy and/or unhelpful coping strategies. Covid has exacerbated this. As a parent of a teenager, I can fully appreciate the many pressures they are exposed to in our ever-changing and “unswitchoffable” technological world. I would prefer to rid them of unnecessary pressures, and change education and social policy to better reflect their educational development and outcome measurement, stress, and multitudinous pressures, but that is not within my control, nor indeed theirs. If we can’t change a situation, we can learn to adapt to it in the best and least harmful way. We are advised to foster resilience and I acknowledge that this is the most effective strategy for promoting a sense of wellbeing. Life will throw us a curveball every now and then and if we cannot duck in time, we must be able to move on purposefully post-wallop. True resilience is often a thing of beauty, but it can also be weaponised, suggesting you are not resilient enough and therefore weak, is not really in the spirit of its meaning now is it? It is tantamount to telling someone struggling to suck it up: you should be better…I am better…
I do however often reflect on how we can sometimes unwittingly create or perpetuate the state of emotional disturbance. Are we pathologizing something that is a natural state, which then creates more distress? An unintentional negative-feedback mechanism creating a cycle of potential harm.
Let’s consider, for a second, anxiety. Now before I continue, I must state from the outset, that I am in no way decrying the experiences of individuals, judging them, or negating their struggles, that would be counterintuitive, not to mention morally repugnant. I work as a therapist. I love being a therapist. Before becoming a professional Clinical Hypnotherapist, I worked as a nurse, often alongside CAMHS, supporting children and young people. I simply suggest that it may be a consequence of our trying to protect our children and alleviate any feelings of discomfort, we may have unintentionally engendered a sense that we none of us, should experience any sense of emotional turmoil or even a slight waver, from emotional equilibrium.
Experiencing anxiety is, in the main, a perfectly normal state of human consciousness. As are nervousness and excitement. We have, however, in my experience, forgotten about nervousness and excitement and categorise every feeling brought about by a surge of adrenaline as anxiety. Let me demonstrate this point. I would like you to sit back, close your eyes and recall your very first date, really bring it to mind. Imagine yourself getting ready, notice your surroundings, sights, sounds, and scent. Now notice how you feel in your body, really pay attention to this feeling, Just take a moment to do that now…. I hazard a guess that you feel a fizzing feeling of nervousness, a fizzing of excitement and anticipation… a wonderful fizzing feeling, albeit tempered with a bit of “what if?” thrown in. If you would really rather forget your very first date, then you could always recall the first time you went out with your pals on a night out. Getting ready, music blaring, sights, and smells, that fizzing feeling! Not anxiety, but rather a different sensation that is now often absorbed into the anxiety category. The now ubiquitous ‘mental Health’ category.
This completely changes the narrative; everything becomes something to fear. So, we try to ameliorate this feeling for our young, only to create a greater fear. Are we sending unconscious messages to youngsters that we doubt their ability and capability to deal with any situation that engenders these fizzing feelings? An entrenched and disempowering Pavlovian reaction, for all involved. Do we also doubt our own adult ability and capability to demonstrate containment?
A great example of this is allowing them to absent themselves from the situation, to avoid anything that may “trigger” them. Again, that well-meant subtle message about this being too overwhelming for you. It initially felt easier to protect them from the perceived threat, but modern therapeutic thinking does not recommend this. Neurobiology aside, our sense of self is minimised by the idea we are weakened by the trigger, and we have taught ourselves and others that it is far greater in power than we have agency to manage. This learned and habituated behaviour, then literally imprints the outcome response in our neural pathways and it rests very nicely in our subconscious mind. Like a spore preparing to engulf an entire organism, a shadowy passenger, ready to seep into the absolute sense of a person.
Here is when magic can enter the game, well not real magic but hypnotherapy can have a magical effect. If we can learn a behaviour, we can unlearn it. It takes a pattern interruption and an alternative outlook. Nature abhors a vacuum; we simply need to transpose coping skills, into where there were previously non-coping behaviours. Hypnotherapy is now recognised by NICE as being an appropriate and effective tool to help manage anxiety. Which is a brilliant, if not a little late, development.
Creating deep relaxation is a perfect place to start. Have you ever tried being simultaneously relaxed and anxious? It is a physical and psychological impossibility. Teaching how to anchor a resourceful state - recreate this relaxed state at will, (with some practise of course), and build a sense of power and confidence are the building blocks for cognitive restructuring. Essentially collapsing old habits and forming new, more healthy, helpful responses. Often those with anxiety are hypervigilant and have difficulty simply letting go of the physical manifestation of their thoughts and feelings. The joy of simply demonstrating to them that they know how to do it; they are able to relax, to switch off the fight or flight response, and simply languish in relaxation, is so fulfilling. It may have been some time since they have experienced this sense of being, yet they are unfurling in front of you. It is nothing short of miraculous.
Once they are aware of how they can really allow themselves to switch off, instructing the inner mind to work in different ways can begin. Mind management: a promotion and reframing of our power and agency, reawakening our courage, and empowering us to make ourselves magnificent. In previous blogs, I have used the garden bench and lawn analogy to demonstrate cognitive restructuring. The same metaphor works here. We are creating new neural pathways; a new path on the lawn, allowing the grass to cover the old, well-trodden but no longer useful, path.
I introduce laughter and fun into sessions, they are perfect for interrupting negative thoughts. My favourite tool to demonstrate the power of the mind is my pendulum. I have yet to meet a person big or small who is not intrigued by the workings of the seemingly inexplicable.
Hypnotherapy for anxiety in its many guises can be fabulously effective and long-lasting. I have seen many youngsters. I am always blown away by the person, how they initially present, and latterly who they become.
Let’s harness their propensity for daydreaming and enable them to throw off the shackles of doubt and anxiety.
We can start with the simplest things, we must stop attributing all fizzing feelings to anxiety, stop pathologizing a perfectly normal experience and have faith that our children are phenomenally competent in learning how to be their own superhero. If we need to add additional support; find a hypnotherapist – a wonderful, wandless magician!