Imagine a young sapling tree being buffeted by gale-force winds. Its flexibility is its strength as it’s being blown about in all directions, losing nothing more than a few leaves in the process. And this buffeting strengthens the tree, making it less likely to be blown over from similar gale-force winds as it grows older. A sapling unused to these stresses is less resilient in the future.
So stress is an inevitable part of life. It can even be good. And we’ve evolved well enough to deal with stress. It’s called sleep. Each night, when we sleep, we re-run the events of the day and convert them from being emotional memories to narrative memories. In other words, we process them, we file them and we organise them. And by doing that, we have control over them, so that more often than not, by the following morning those events don’t feel so raw.
It seems too obvious to say that sleep should be restful. But without it being restful, whatever needs processing ends up not getting processed. And so it remains stuck in the part of our brain that is in charge of our very basic and primitive survival. Over time, more of these unprocessed thoughts and experiences build up and get stuck, making restful sleep less and less likely; while making anxiety, depression, and anger, and all the performance-related consequences of that, more likely.
So stress is bad when it reaches a level where our sleep is affected. All this processing is very energy intensive and so to prevent us from waking up mentally exhausted, we’ve evolved a nightly limit to this processing. And when we reach that limit, our mind is triggered awake. Usually in the middle of the night.
So with a build up of stresses, we walk around the following day, trying to make sense of events seen through the prism of our primitive system; the part that is in charge of making judgements when we’re worried, anxious, angry or depressed. And because of that, everything starts to seem inappropriately worse, giving our poor, overworked brains, even more to process during the next sleep.
Hypnotherapy can break that vicious circle. And over time, hypnotherapy allows us to see the world less through our primitive system and more via the part of our brain that is cool, positive, innovative and easy. We start to see the world appropriately again. Hypnosis is not sleep but it does replicate the same, restful alpha-waves of (just before) sleep. And in this state we can de-stress, our subconscious mind can go to work uninterrupted and also we can entertain positive thoughts of change. And just entertaining these thoughts is enough to start the process of actual, real and profound, positive change.
When clients come to a therapy session resistant to change, or agitated, anxious and stressed, it’s a sign that their primitive system is ruling. And because the primitive part is solely there for our survival it sees any change as potentially harmful and is therefore likely to resist change; Far safer (it thinks) to stay as you are. When under hypnosis however, that primitive part is reassured, quietened and pacified, and in this state it’s easy to see how small, incremental steps towards the client’s preferred future- self is possible.
And over time, with them eventually sleeping more efficiently and their day’s events processed more easily, they have more spare capacity and resilience to cope with those gale-force winds, whenever they do occasionally blow.
Wind Blowing from Mt. Fuji by Hosokibara Seiki (1885-1958), Japan,
The White Thorn, John Petts, wood engraving 1949
Storm, Sybil Andrews. Linocut, 1953