Hemisphere Clinical Hypnotherapy articles. For anxiety, stress, health issues, brain injuries, quit smoking, lose weight, bad habits, phobias, confidence, self-esteem and more.
Article originally written for Clinicians for Daffodil Day which is the Cancer Society's annual flagship event and one of the most important fundraising campaigns to raise awareness of cancer in New Zealand.
Explaining the scientific principles behind the creative art of hypnotherapy.
How Hypnosis can help you become Smoke-free
In this article I'm going to discuss the ways in which hypnotherapy can assist people in their goal of becoming smoke-free. When people talk about their emotions around smoking they describe feelings of comfort and balance. Smoking has the ability to soothe away anxieties and gives them a reason to take a deep breath of oxygen. It also provides an opportunity to take time out from the stresses of life or uncomfortable situations and provides a social outlet spending companionable time with fellow smokers.
Another benefit people cite with smoking is improved concentration and focus. This on the surface would seem to contradict the relaxation response described above. Never the less these emotions and the comforting rituals of smoking can make it difficult to give up. The smoking habit is hard-wired into the brain so smoking becomes the default setting that the subconscious puts into place and we act out accordingly.
So now let's look at how the two responses of relaxation and focus are possible using smoking for self-medication.
To begin with, let's look at the brain wave patterns that are generated by nicotine. The most common wavelength that is generated by nicotine use is known as SMR (Sensory Motor Response). SMR brain waves frequencies (12-15 Hz) sharpen your focus and calm your mind. They enhance concentration, and at the same time help with stress, anxiety, mood issues and insomnia. We generate these SMR waves whenever we are engaged in simple tasks or hobbies that require a small amount of focus and are enjoyable. For example activities such as knitting, model making, doing jigsaws or crossword puzzles can all generate these relaxed yet focused brain waves. Smoking tobacco also generates SMR patterns. [Note: other forms of self-medication such as alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines etc have different signature brain waves associated with them].
Studies show that people with nicotine addiction often have less SMR activity within their brains than non-smokers. Whether this is a genetic propensity or caused by environmental factors, such as stress or fatigue, it means they have trouble physically relaxing and turning off their thoughts. Our brains will always crave balance, so one way of bringing a sense of balance back to the brain is to use an external substance such as cigarettes, which temporarily make us feel more balanced and relaxed. Nicotine increases relaxing SMR brain waves and produces an instant calming feeling and increased concentration.
Put simply, if you are stressed smoking will calm you, if bored it will focus you.
So how does hypnosis help becoming smoke-free?
Hypnosis is a state of focused relaxation characterised by an increased suggestibility of the subconscious mind. It is simply the slowing down of brain waves into a pattern somewhere between 11 and 7 Hz. We can use the hypnotic state to address the subconscious mind more directly than during normal waking states. Based on my experience with neurofeedback brain wave training I have developed an SMR brain wave protocol to be used during hypnosis sessions, which is very effective for the treatment of nicotine addiction.
The technique works by presenting positive suggestions while the subconscious is in a receptive state. This suggestion can take the form of a phrase, which is used to trigger the desired SMR brain wave pattern (14 Hz). This helps regain a feeling of internal balance when you get the urge to use the external substance to either calm or focus you ie. smoking. You simply close your eyes and repeat your phrase. Over time you will have less and less need of the phrase as you program in new coping skills, reinforced by each success you have in controlling your nicotine addiction. As you feel more balanced neurologically and emotionally, you will find you will simply have less desire to smoke, as it will start to go against your natural feelings of balance.
There are plenty of reasons to give up smoking as I'm sure everyone knows, so I don't tend to waste too much time going over them. We know it's bad for our health and our wallet and aversion-type treatments tend to make us more nervous, which is counter-productive. When people feel healthy and emotionally balanced they naturally walk away from activities that no longer enhance their lives.
Repetition, repetition, repetition is the key ingredient in any good hypnosis outcome. This is because the brain needs to neurologically build up a new network to become the default setting for the subconscious mind. Listening to a reinforcement recording that is provided for you for 21 days without a break is very important. Over time this new habit pattern will become hard-wired into the brain, so that smoking becomes a thing of the past.
There are a few actions you can also take as you ease yourself into becoming smoke-free such as keeping a Quit Journal. Use it to write down your list of reasons to quit smoking eg. the pros and cons of smoking, goals you have in your life, benefits you can envisage as a nonsmoker. Once you quit you can use that journal to log your daily progress. If you make an effort to write in it once a day it will help with the reinforcing process, which is essential when undertaking any hypnosis treatment. Use it to remind yourself of how far you've come and as a tool to help you continue towards your goal if you start to forget.
Finally I also suggest making your quit day a significant date or connected to some ritual (which the subconscious mind loves). All of these things you can do for free to prepare yourself for making that transition to a smoke-free future.
Hypnotherapy - Where Science meets the Subconscious Mind
The brain is an electrochemical organ, discharging electrical vibrations constantly in the form of brain waves. There are four main categories of these brain waves, ranging from the most activity to the least activity. When the brain is awake and actively engaged in mental activities, it generates Beta waves. Being actively engaged in a conversation would mean our brain produces predominantly Beta waves. The next brain wave category in order of frequency is Alpha. Alpha waves represent relaxation, so whenever we daydream or do something relaxing we are usually in this state. The next state, Theta brain waves are of even slower frequency, where we can mentally disengage and become free flowing and creative in our ideas. Regular meditators easily achieve this pattern. The final main brain wave state is Delta. Here the brain waves are of the slowest frequency in the group and we enter the sleep state. Our brains do a lot of reorganising and regenerating while we sleep.
The Trance State
The Alpha and Theta states of consciousness are often referred to as trance states. Many cultures know a great deal about theses trance states and have been using them as a means to gain healing and enlightenment for centuries. Studies have shown that vibrations from rhythmic sounds have a profound effect on brain activity. In shamanic traditions, drums were used in periodic rhythm to transport the shaman into other realms of reality. The vibrations from this constant rhythm affected the brain in a very specific manner, taking the shaman to the Theta state and allowing them to achieve an altered state of consciousness. In this realm, cures for physical and spiritual sicknesses are revealed to the shaman. We see similar effects brought on by the constant and rhythmic Tibetan Buddhist chants, which transport the monks into the meditation zone.
How Can Hypnosis Help?
So how can we make use of this scientific information about the brain to help us in our everyday lives? How can we benefit from these Alpha and Theta states of relaxation and creativity in our mental and emotional life? Hypnosis evolved from a growing understanding in the West of the principles of Eastern meditation techniques. Hypnosis is a focused state of relaxation, characterised by the predominance of Alpha waves produced by the brain. Some people are also able to generate a predominance of Theta waves while in hypnosis. While in these states of altered consciousness, our minds are much more imaginative and our subconscious mind in particular is more readily accessible to therapeutic intervention in the form of positive suggestions.
Introducing the Nucleus Basalis
Hypnosis is also excellent for switching on the nucleus basalis. This is a small gland in the centre of the brain, which controls the learning pathways. From birth to 3 years the nucleus basalis is switched on most of the time so learning is constantly occurring. As we get older the gland is switched off more often, so in order to learn we need to switch it back on. Switching it on simply means stimulating chemical activity within the gland, so that our five basic senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell are able to transmit their vibrational energy experiences to our brain, via the nucleus basalis.
Now how do we switch on the nucleus basalis? By focusing and concentrating on the subject to be learned. This is why teachers are always telling us to concentrate! Whether they know it or not they are asking us to switch on our nucleus basalis, otherwise information "goes in one ear and out the other". One of the main reasons that children and adults with ADD/ADHD have difficulty learning is because they can't easily concentrate, so therefore can't "switch on" this valuable learning pathway
as easily as other people.
During a hypnosis session, the client focuses and concentrates on the sound of the therapists voice
and the words being spoken.
The hypnotic state just in itself can be therapeutic, in the sense that one goes in and out of this state throughout the day when we are daydreaming, listening to music, reading an absorbing book, watching a movie or any time we are in a focused state of relaxation. It is refreshing and relaxing, and we may feel inspiration come to us in the form of ideas or images, and we recharge our batteries so that later on we can carry on with more active Beta-oriented tasks.
The Therapeutic Application of Hypnosis
But what if we took the principles that I have just spoken about and combined them into a powerful tool to assist you in making deep, lasting and rapid change in any area of your life? First of all we have the slowing down of the brainwaves into the Alpha or Theta states of awareness. Here our minds are much more creative and imaginative, and our subconscious mind is more readily accepting of positive therapeutic suggestion. And secondly, while in this relaxed and focused state, the learning pathways to the brain are switched on and the five senses can be used to transmit new learning with ease. Our subconscious mind doesn't distinguish between what it experiences out in the "real" world, and what is imagined, so in this way we can also use the imagination to great effect and make positive changes.
Sowing the Seeds of Neural Connections
As we have discovered, hypnotherapy is the therapeutic application of the hypnotic state. So during a hypnotherapy session, a state of relaxed, receptive and focused awareness is induced and positive therapeutic suggestions are given. This is, in biochemical terms, sowing the seeds of new neural connections via the senses (in the case of hypnosis, mostly through our hearing and sight senses). We then use positive emotions to fix this new learning in place. Whenever we experience emotions of any kind we also secrete chemicals known as neurotransmitters and these 'cement' the newly sown seeds of change into place within our physical brain.
Emotions Set the Tone in Our Brain
Often we have strong negative emotions associated with situations that may have scared us in the past. Our brain is designed to alert us to possible danger and these strong emotions 'fix' a fear reaction in place, which gets reinforced over time if nothing intervenes to break that habit pattern. It becomes our 'go-to' memory, and comes to the fore whenever we find ourselves in what the brain perceives to be a similar or other threatening situation. To develop new positive responses to replace the old ones, we evoke strong positive emotions while in the hypnotic state to fix the new desired responses in place. We can do this using uplifting visualisations, evocative music, colours, fragrances - whatever encourages the generation of powerful positive emotions.
Reinforcement and Repetition
When these new neural connections have been 'fixed' in place using positive emotions we then grow them by reinforcing them over and over - repetition, repetition, repetition is the way forward. A new neural network starts to grow in our physical brain, and you may have heard that it takes at least 21 days to form a habit. This is because this is the length of time taken to seed and grow a new neural pathway in our brain. No struggle is required just the following of a simple process, as the new patterns become subtly integrated into our everyday lives. This new behavioural habit pattern becomes our new 'go-to' response. Whether it is stopping nail biting or learning to relax more we are creating new pathways that are reinforced with every positive experience we have associated with that change. It is often not until we look back over a period of time that we realise how much things have changed for us. The way forward becomes clearer every day, as those old blocks becomes less and less prominent and the new desired reactions subtly take their place.