Stressed out? Try this

May 23, 2003

Self-hypnosis and meditation can change your life, this doctor says. Here's a step-by-step guide.

 

Stressed out? Try this

Self-hypnosis and meditation can change your life, this doctor says. Here's a step-by-step guide.

By Stephen M. Gilman, MD
Psychiatrist/New York City

In my psychiatry practice I counsel colleagues who feel they are constantly trying to run up a down escalator. There's considerably less pleasure in their practices and more anxiety. "When will it end?" they wonder.

The usual methods to help deal with stress—taking care of oneself with proper diet and exercise; increased interactions with friends and family; psychotherapy—all have value. But for many they're simply not enough to reduce everyday tensions and facilitate change.

Several years ago I developed a simple technique that has helped me relax and focus on the things that are important in my professional and personal life. When I taught it to friends, family, and selected colleagues, the feedback was so positive that I began to instruct some of my patients in the technique. The results continue to pleasantly surprise me.

This technique synthesizes basic concepts of self-hypnosis, meditation, and spirituality. I'll outline the component theories, then take you through the procedure step by step.

Self-hypnosis is essentially a means of inducing a hypnotic trance in which you are both the hypnotist and the subject. The resulting trance state is not a state of sleep. Rather, it's a state of relaxed alertness during which suggestions can more readily bypass the ego-based conscious mind. This increased suggestibility and malleability of the subject's belief systems is useful in smoking-cessation programs and allows clinical hypnotists to raise subjects' confidence and help them overcome fear of public speaking, writer's block, stress, and anxiety.

Meditation is a practice that goes back to the beginning of recorded history. Practitioners believe that the meditator can connect with a universal energy force that is timeless and spaceless—transcending our sense-based perceptual abilities and allowing a deeper understanding of life. I encourage you to suspend any disbelief and imagine that there is some validity to this spiritual conceptualization.

Meditation induces a light trance similar to the self-hypnotic state. Brain-wave activity shifts away from beta toward alpha. There's an important distinction, however. In the meditative state the goal is to abolish conscious internal dialogue—to push aside the critical thoughts of the ego. This can be accomplished by the repetitive chanting of a mantra such as "ah," "om," "la," or "ra." Each mantra has a spiritual meaning. In ancient times, "ah" was associated with creation and "om" with gratitude.

Now let me take you through the steps of the process.

• Get comfortable. Find a place where you will not be disturbed for 10 to 20 minutes. Light, ambient music, such as classical or new age atmosphere music, works well to set the mood.

• Induce a light trance state. Sit or lie down, close your eyes, and breathe deeply at an approximate rate of eight to 10 breaths per minute, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Your focus should be on the breathing itself, which induces the trance and shifts awareness away from the external environment. After about 30 seconds, begin chanting a mantra. I usually use "ah" because this is the sound we all make when we sigh, and it's a pleasant, stress relieving sound.

The mantra acts to deepen the trance state. It is said aloud during each exhalation. At this point, you should find it easier to push distracting thoughts from your mind. While you might have trouble clearing your mind the first few times, it will become easier with practice.

• Use autosuggestions. Recite to yourself what you want to accomplish for the day. Make it as real as possible by visualizing these things, feelings, or events to enhance the experience. Keep it simple and repeat the same two or three visualizations. Be playful and adjust how you internally represent conceptualizations to intensify the effect.

• End your session. Shift your focus back toward the external environment, then open your eyes. You should feel refreshed, alert, and fully oriented to your surroundings. Remember, you're always fully in control during a meditation session. You can emerge from it at any time, realizing all of the benefits.

When practiced at least once a day, for 10 to 20 minutes per session, this technique can decrease stress, boost confidence, and induce calmness, clearer and more focused thoughts, and a heightened ability to tackle important tasks.

 



Stephen Gilman. Stressed out?

Medical Economics

May 23, 2003;80:74.

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