If fear and anxiety have gained a hold on your life, you know they can feel like they’re consuming everything. You can medicate or meditate, read self-help books, or try to push through on your own—but it’s always best to admit when you need help, then seek it out.
You might consider hypnosis, but not know where to start. We’ll ease some of the stress of figuring that out for you.
What is hypnosis good for?
For a full run-down of what hypnosis is, what it can be used for, and what you can expect when you first try it out, we turned to Dr. Gigi Arnaud. She was a dentist in New York City for over 30 years, but became a certified hypnotherapist and certified life coach to, at first, help out the patients who were nervous about dental appointments.
“Hypnosis is great for fears and phobias, like dental, flying, spiders, etc.,” she told Lifehacker, adding that it also works well for habit changing (think weight loss, smoking cessation, and the like) and anxiety and stress reduction. She sees clients who want to enhance confidence, self-esteem, and focus, as well as some who are looking for more restful sleep.
She described hypnosis as “a relaxed state of inner absorption, focused attention, and concentration.”
“We all experience this trance state in our daily lives,” she said. “When you drive to a location and are not totally aware of the route but since you’ve already gone that way, you just do it without ‘thinking,’ you are in a trance. In those moments right before you fall asleep or as you’re waking up, you are in this state or when you are absorbed in a good book or movie (the theta brain-wave state). It is a state where the subconscious mind is open to positive suggestions, called post-hypnotic suggestions.”
How can hypnosis be helpful?
Dr. Arnaud said that for real, lasting change, you have to connect your conscious awareness to your subconscious mind, which is even stronger. Your subconscious mind holds your beliefs, your experiences, and, often, your negative thought patterns, which can be imparted on you by your parents, society, or surroundings.
Whether you’re hoping to correct social anxiety, a fear of bugs, or a habit of talking down to yourself, it comes from that subconscious part of your mind. Hypnosis can help you identify and utilize your conscious and subconscious minds so you can tackle the root of your issues and make positive changes going forward.
One key step necessary for hypnosis to work, Dr. Arnaud pointed out, is a positive attitude toward the process and sessions. A hypnotist will work with you to correct myths and misconceptions while developing a trusting relationship. Banish the thought of hypnosis as a gimmicky party trick that makes people do things against their will; it’s not that.
Here’s what to expect
After an initial session discussing hypnosis and what it really is, you’ll have an induction. That, Dr. Arnaud said, involves the hypnotist “talking the client ‘down’ into a trance state, which can be just a light trance.”
In the trance state, you should feel relaxed but able to focus on a goal. Your body might feel relaxed and heavy, though also “fine,” she said. You’ll hear your hypnotist’s voice, but don’t be surprised if it sounds distant and far away. Some hypnosis—especially hypnosis done to break habits—can involve therapy. In those cases, you might feel some pretty strong emotions during your session.
Don’t be afraid of the trance. You can easily get yourself out of it by just moving around and shaking your body out. You won’t be stuck like that and you won’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Also, don’t be so sure you’ll notice any major differences right away after your session.
“There is no exact prediction for how being hypnotized will affect you. You may not feel or change anything in your life or you may not know it,” said Dr. Arnaud. “Remember, you’re shifting your subconscious (not conscious) mind, so, you may not be consciously aware of it. But it’s often there and working somewhere in the background.”
Conversely, you might feel “a big shift,” say, if you’re working to stop smoking or increase your confidence. “It’s all individual. It depends what your subconscious mind is willing and able to accept,” she said.