We all have our personality quirks. Mine would be anxiety. Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with my hypochondria. By that I mean that the slightest twinge of huffy puffy, even after running a marathon (which I would never dream of doing, by the way, but helps to illustrate my point), could well signal the first stage of a fatal heart attack. I’d probably be the only athlete whose running partner was a certified EMT instructor.
I’m always surprised at how many others are just like me. And anxiety encompasses all forms. It doesn’t have to only involve racing hearts, sweating, breathlessness and legs that feel like rubber bands or cement. Symptoms could include the obvious—the inability to relax, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, irritability and headaches. And the sneaky—an unaccountable phobia that causes terror whenever it is encountered. Some people, myself included, are naturally adverse to snakes and other slimy citizens of the forest and swamp. Others take it to extremes; for them it becomes a phobia, an irrational, persistent terror of certain situations, objects, activities, or other people. They can go from the odd but understandable—fear of clowns, for example. (No offense, Bozo.) To the truly bizarre—fear of olives. (A recommended drinking partner if you don’t care to share your Dirty Martini.)
Writer Patrica Morrisroe, author of Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia, had a longtime fear of driving, which, along with flying, is another common phobia. As she recently chronicled in a hilarious story for the Sunday Style Section of The New York Times: “It started 42 years ago, on my maiden voyage in the family car with my mother in the passenger seat, I accidentally hit a dog. On Easter Sunday.” Apparently, the dog escaped without a scratch but its owner, along with two little girls, started to scream “murderer, murderer,” causing the Easter bunny in their basket to jump out and run into the woods, just as a hawk swooped down. You can imagine the rest. “From then on,” Patricia continued, “whenever I got behind a wheel, my mother would remind me not to ‘kill any animals’ which had the expected inhibitory effect.”
Since anxiety hits so close to home for me, when The Synthesis Effect, the latest book for healthy healing, thumped across my desk, I considered it a keeper. In it, Dr. John McGrail, a renowned clinical hypnotherapist, personal improvement expert and spiritual teacher, gives us simple techniques that work like a charm, one being hypnosis. (It worked so well, in fact, I invited him to be a guest on my radio program, The Jane Wilkens Michael Show on CBS Radio, The Sky.)
I know, I know. The word hypnosis itself evokes images of swinging watches, losing control of your mind and being forced to flap your arms like a chicken, or getting stuck in some zombie-like netherworld. But according to Dr. McGrail, hypnosis is a completely natural state of consciousness and its use in healing and fostering wellness dates back more than 7000 years. Indeed, it creates both an open, receptive state of mind and what might be thought of as a direct communication link with the mind/body dynamic that is safe, painless and versatile. “More and more people,” states McGrail, “are discovering in hypnotherapy a potent tool for crafting a healthier, more productive life.”
If you’re not quite ready to jump into it, er, full swing, for a good start, try Dr. McGrail’s self-hypnosis technique to combat anxiety and stress: Sit comfortably somewhere without distractions or disturbance. Close your eyes and relax them completely; let the lids feel so heavy that they cannot open. Now, do the same with your jaw—let it droop as if the bones and muscles are jelly. Breathe slowly and gently, and relax your neck and shoulders, then arms and hands, torso, hips, upper and lower legs and feet. Refocus attention to your eyes; gently look up toward the inside of your forehead and breathe in; as you release the breath, silently say, “Totally relaxed, deep sleep.” You are in light hypnosis-nothing more to it. To come out, count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, eyes open, wide awake.” You’re back. Congratulations, you just successfully hypnotized yourself.
Still think hypnosis is too other wordly to try? Just remember: It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.