Tecnhiques for dealing with stress and anxiety

Dr Vernon C. Sykes, a senior clinician and specialist adviser for the NCH on pain and anxiety, explains his stress release technique, developed over his 40 years as a practising hypnotherapist. This article first appeared in the Hypnotherapy Journal Summer 2012.

During the past few CPD courses that I have facilitated, it has become more and more noticeable that the importance of stress release and management has been overlooked to the detriment of our clients’ wellbeing.  I consider it such a cornerstone of therapy that I would like to pass on the following guide to the procedure I have developed and do hope you find it beneficial.

Causes of stress in the mind and body include change of any sort, excesses and pressures at work or home, misplaced guilt, uncertainty, recession, increased job load, maintaining quality, excessive hours, marital problems, mother-in-law, frustration, apprehension, targets to be met, promotion, demotion, redundancy, retirement, bereavement, holidays, Christmas, new baby, smoking, family, debts and many more.

Symptoms of stress include pain in the neck, head, shoulders, chest or abdomen, occasional blurred vision, sweaty hands, stomach in a vice, noodle legs, anxiety, palpitations, agitation, indecision, shakes, feeling like a volcano about to erupt, bodily malfunctions, despair, apprehension, etc.

I feel it is necessary for the patient to be aware of the likely outcome if stress is not treated.  This can include panic attacks, migraine, dermatitis, backache, asthma, strokes, heart attack, fatigue, low self esteem, hypertension, worsening of any ailment, even cancer and death!

The above shows how many of the problems with which clients arrive are either brought on or worsened by stress.  So there is little point trying to deal with their presenting problem if you don’t deal with stress first.

Although not absolutely essential, I find the use of visual aids and pictures extremely beneficial and effective to get the point over whilst talking to the client at a conscious level.  This psychotherapeutic part of the consultation is very important and on occasions can take up to 50 per cent of the time available.  These are kept in my ‘tool box’, the contents of which are out of sight of the client as it contains a dozen or so frequently used aids and the element of surprise when produced is useful and adds to the effect. (Please see the adjoining box for how to make the visual aids I use.)

After the preamble and explanation of how, in the state of hypnosis, we are going to deal with their problem I explain that before we deal with the specifics we need to deal with the accumulation of bottled up anxiety, tension and stress which builds up inside us unnoticed.  It’s rather like pumping up a car tyre ignoring the pressure gauge.

At this point I produce the balloon inflator and pump away at it whilst explaining you can go on pumping and pumping up a car tyre and no-one will notice the problem until it goes ‘bang’.

Follow this by presenting the full bottle of sparkling mineral water and tell them that they are like this and give it a few pings with your knuckles to show them what you mean.  Then invite them to feel the bottle themselves and note the tension within.

Next present the second bottle with the dockets in.  Hold up vertically and suggest that it represents them, indicating the cap as their head and downwards to their shoulders, arms and legs.

“There doesn’t look a lot wrong, but when we get down to it”, invert the bottle, “you can see that there are lots of issues still lurking about;  the after effects of past disturbing events, anxious moments, painful episodes, harrowing times, unresolved situations and distressing outcomes which have nor yet been addressed”.

Keep turning the bottle as you say the above so the dockets will continue to float around as you are talking about them.  “So I am going to help by releasing this accumulation of unhelpful pressure by releasing the cap like this…”  Release the cap as far as you can without allowing the cap to come right off at the same time making a ‘pssst’ sound the emphasise the idea of release.  Squeeze the bottle two or three times, without spilling the water inside, as you repeat the words, “release, release, release”.  Replace the lid.

Next introduce the Michelin Man (or woman!) and continue, “Another way of looking at it is that you have got yourself a bit like a Michelin Man/Woman stress wise”, be sure to emphasise ‘stress wise’ if your client is overweight but hasn’t mentioned it!  “Every part of the mind and body is out of kilter, every organ and gland, your blood vascular system, your lungs, your heart, even your reproductive system.  The contents of your mind and body are constantly under excess pressure and cannot work at peak efficiency.”  As you mention each body part above, indicate them on the Michelin Man.  “So you see how absolutely important it is that we rid you of this enemy”.

Next present the excess stress model.  “I think this model may impress upon you the importance of stress release.”

Take the model and put the bobbles in the healthy level position and explain, “We all need a certain amount of stress to keep us going.  It’s when the level is excessive that it becomes a problem.  Imagine that every day we produce a certain amount of energy – the fitter we are, the more energy we produce.  Imagine that this is distributed between two recipients – one side deals with the immune system and bodily functions, the other with stress, which can turn into excess stress.  The more excess stress we generate the more of our available energy is diverted to dealing with this excess and less and less energy is available for the immune system and bodily functions.  It’s not long before the indicator gets into the red”.  Move the bobbles to show the effects of excess stress.

Once the client is in a satisfactory state of hypnosis begin the stress release.  “In a moment you will feel a hand on your forehead, a helping hand, it is as though this helping hand is connected to a long, long aerial reaching up into the sky.  It attracts help from all available beneficial sources, to assist you in releasing this accumulation of bottled up tension and stress.  Is this ok?  Please give me a nod if it is.”  Place your hand on your clients forehead.

“In a moment, when I count one, we will release the cap on your bottled up tension and stress part way and you will feel a very deep sigh coming right from the top of your head downward and your toes upwards, out through your mouth, nose or eyes or all these together – from every part of your mind and body you will feel and experience release…………..one!”

“When I count two we will release the cap even more so you will let more and more out………..two!  Releasing even more.  Feel from deep down inside that every cell in your mind and body is giving up its tension and stress and each time you breathe out quite deeply, feel that you are getting things off your chest, and out of your system, clearing your head.”

“When I count three we will take the cap right off and it can all come pouring out and you can really sound off, let rip and let of steam…………three.”  Pause a little while for results, if they are not to your expectation, encourage them, “That’s good, but you can let so much more out.  Come on, let it out”.

“This release will continue until you have released as much as you can cope with releasing on this occasion, then you put the cap back on, but you will have made plenty of space to deal with everything without getting up tight or tense about things.  Soon the feeling of release will change to a wonderful feeling of relief”.

I follow this with my ‘garbage clearing’ technique.  Like the stress release technique, the whole sequence of events is supported by visual aids and pictures when I explain it at the conscious level.

“Imagine that every anxious moment, disturbing event, harrowing time or painful episode that has happened in your life has been like putting a ten pound weight on you.  It is a burden to you, but you get over it, more or less, but inevitably you leave behind some residue and over the years this residue mounts and mounts up.  Eventually, you end up as though you have a ten pound residue weighing heavily on you, which is equivalent to an anxious moment, but there isn’t one.  So you become anxious because you’re anxious and more weight is piled on and everything gets out of kilter.  We need to readdress the balance.”

“So imagine that the after effects of past disturbing events, anxious moments, painful episodes and harrowing times have all been collected into opaque black polythene sacks, but the bin man hasn’t been and they are blocking the way to your subconscious control room, so you are denied access to it.  I am going to clear as much of the garbage as I can today.  As I clear the garbage from the corridor which leads to your control room I am making space for you to utilise your full potential and make best use of your time, talents and resources in coping, adapting and adjusting to the prevailing situation, seeing appropriate avenues to take in order to get your act together and (other suggestions appropriate to their problems).  Let’s open a window and let in a breath of fresh air.

Really feel it.  There is now space for you to proceed down the corridor and as you do you see doorways which lead to the rooms where your agents of well being are housed, but there is more garbage blocking the doorways.  I am clearing this garbage now so your agents of well being can be set free to work at peak efficiency to aid your return to good health and well being.  As I mention their names you will see them running out of their doorways, jumping into vehicles and setting off on a circular tour of your whole mind and body, dropping off agents wherever they are needed.”

“See your defence mechanisms, repair services, healing agents, maintenance men, body and mind regulators, hormone, chemical, fluid and enzyme balancers, pulse, heart, breathing and blood pressure regulators and your drive, motivation, enthusiasm, determination, cope-ability and adaptability people (plus any agents specific to your client’s problems).  All running out of their doorways, jumping into vehicles and setting off on a circular tour of your whole mind and body, dropping off agents wherever they are needed.”

“Right at the end of your corridor is your Control Area, and there are yet more black sacks blocking the way.  I am clearing them now, we don’t have to clear them all today, just enough so we can get to the Control Panel.

As you now arrive at your Control Panel you see how some of the many knobs, dials and switches have become knocked cockeyed as you have gone through life.  You can now reset and update them to help you make best use of your time, talents and resources and update the way you think, feel, react and behave and delete all the negative expectations and out of date information relating to (their problem)”  Then carry on with your usual routine.

The above is just a very shortened segment of what I call my Foundation Building routine.  It can be used for virtually any problem because nothing works effectively under excess tension and stress or with a mind full of garbage.

I use it with all my patients no matter what sort of problem they present, whether it is weight loss or Canadian Rocky Mountain Yellow Spotted Fever they will go away feeling much better after the first session and, if required, I can research the problem for the following session.  I use this routine not only on the first occasion but also on each subsequent visit, slightly amended each time.

Dr Sykes practicss from his consulting rooms in Morley, Leeds, where he also runs NCH approved CPD courses.  Alongside his private practice, he spent five years as the Consulting Hypnotherapist at the Leeds General Infirmary’s Pain Clinic and later spent ten years as Practice Hypnotherapist at a large NHS general medical practice, funded by the NHS.  He has also facilitated workshops for the European Society of Psychotherapy & Psychosomatic Medicine, the International Stress Management Association and the Open University for Complementary Medicine in Edinburgh, Lisbon, London, Edinburgh,  Constance and Vienna.