How to go beyond anxiety and depression and find happiness during the lockdown and how hypnosis can help?

“No, no, I don’t have mental health issues. I understand what you are going through, I feel for you, you are so disturbed… it’s just that I’m busy with life. These are real problems, so I’m worried about them at night, and I imagine the future, you see, my car and the house, and I know what I need. It isn’t about mental health.” My ex-colleague told me defensively and put me in my place, reminding me that mental health was not an issue for people like her. I heard the cynicism in her laughter, and she told me that she had genuine problems, and she had a real-life, so mental health was not a real thing for people like her. It was for emotionally weak people. 

I tried to make her understand that just as we have a physical existence, our mind has an existence, too. And just as we take care of our body, we have to take care of our mind, too. But she became defensive every time I tried to talk about looking after her mind. Her voice trembled, and she turned her attack mode on, telling me I was a sick person who was in an embarrassing position for having mental health issues. Bearing in mind, I had never told her that I was mentally ill but that I was concerned about my mental health, and I constantly engaged in certain activities to work on my mind.

I wanted to understand why my colleague was so defensive when clearly the things she was saying were rather disturbing, and the fact that she often wanted help at around 2 am showed that she was going through something she was not always able to deal with.

I realized the primary problem related to mental health is we hear the phrase “Mental Health” as a negative state of being, whereas we accept the phrase “Physical Health” and don’t associate any social stigma with it. We know our physical health has an existence and whether we are feeling healthy or we have an illness, they are all related to physical health issues, and it is ok to talk about it and seek help. Since our minds don’t have an existence, the phrase “Mental Health” is associated with insanity and bad karma. We don’t think about being in a positive or negative state of mental health because we should all be ok by default, and only disturbed and weak people have mental health issues. We cannot associate ourselves with those kinds of people. We cannot imagine “Mental Health” can also be associated with the term “Good Health.”

I asked my colleague to stop denoting the phrase “Metal Health” as the state of being weak and disturbed. I asked her if she could start imagining that her mind has an existence; therefore, it has a body, and it has different body parts just like her physical body. And just as the different parts of the body need care, her mind needed appropriate care, too. Therefore, the term “Mental Health” could mean either good health or bad health. I asked her if she was able to ask, “How is my mental health?” just like she asks, “How is my physical health?” “I understand,” she said, “but I don’t have those problems. I have to deal with colleagues, and now I’m thinking about the future and what’s going to happen. I understand some people have problems, like they were abused and stuff, but I’m talking about my responsibilities.”

This is why I am so passionate about talking about mental health. It is surprising how many of us believe that the term “Mental Health” is only related to abuse or trauma. That our minds don’t get affected by our daily activities, worries and that the state of mind doesn’t change according to the state of the changing world around us. Just think about our physical health for a second: do we physically feel the same after a leg day as opposed to a rest day? Do we not take extra care when we feel tired and possibly have some muscle pain after a hard day of working out? Then why do we imagine that the state of our mind will always stay the same, even if the external world is in an ever-changing mode?

The most recent change we had in the external world is the Coronavirus pandemic. We hear the word “Plague,” and we immediately think “Biblical diseases.” We don’t believe it can be a real thing in our world, and we are continuously trying to make sense out of it instead of accepting that various plagues occurred in human history, and there will be other outbreaks in the future. Humans have dealt with virus attacks in the past and have survived and will continue to survive. However, there are many myths, conspiracy theories, scaremongering stories and cynicism on online information that often holds people back from accepting reality. They are bound to affect parts of our minds and cause stress and anxiety in our subconscious level.

If only the above were enough in a pandemic. We had to start re-thinking our five-year plan and wonder what would happen in the future. We have been made redundant, we have lost our loved ones, we have been shielded and isolated, we were deprived of all our social activities, and so many of us have not seen our family members since it began. It is not logical to state that only the weakest link has been affected by mental health issues. Some of us are in a better economic and social position, but let’s not imagine that the minds of the fortunate ones didn’t have a wave of commotion either. Our problems are different, they are based on our social, economic and cultural circumstances, but the fundamental issue here is that we are all in greater need of taking care of our minds during and after the pandemic.

There are different ways to take care of our minds. We all know the basic care kit by now. That we should go for a walk, talk to our friends and loved ones over the phone, eat something good, adapt to new activities. So I tell a friend of mine about the basic activities, and he tells me he cannot concentrate on a book or a film, he has no interest in picking up a new activity, walking alone only makes him worry and think more, he overeats or skips meals rather than eating well, and a video conversation doesn’t satisfy his needs for seeing his children he is separated from. He tells me he needs more than the basic mental health kit; he needs something he could use in his daily life. He talks about anti-depressants prescribed by the doctor, and we both discuss if they might be useful.

I knew my colleague and my friend had depression, but how can I be sure? How can I be sure that I have suffered from depression? According to The Wellness Institute in Washington, USA, trainers and educators in hypnotherapy, the following can help us to identify depression.

Symptom #1 – “Now, I can’t get out of bed in the morning. I just don’t have the same interest in things that I used to.” 

Symptom #2 – “I have body pains, and I’m worried that I may have (fibromyalgia, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, etc.).”

Symptom #3 – “I can’t seem to stop overeating, and I gained 40 pounds.” Or “I have gone back to drinking, smoking cigarettes or pot, etc.”

Symptom #4 – “I’m having trouble sleeping at night, and I’m exhausted.”

Symptom #5 – “I cry at the drop of a pin, but mostly, I feel numb.”

Admit it; we all have developed one or more of these mental health symptoms during this pandemic. We all have been slightly paranoid about being sick; in my locality, one cannot sneeze without being cast with a look of hate. Many of us have been either over or undereating, and everyone I know, including me, has changed our sleep cycle against our will. A friend of mine and I discussed that we both often burst into tears without thinking about something specific. My friend is not allowed to see her husband at the hospital, I have not seen my family who are in North America; in theory, we should not have any problems because we don’t have economic and social injustice, and yet we are breaking down in tears. What it tells me is that too many of us are suffering from depression and although some of us are too ashamed to declare it, it is important that we keep educating ourselves about depression and respect each other for telling the truth.

My next assignment to myself was to find out the ways beyond the basic mental health kit. So I sought help and got myself anti-depressants.  I took one tablet, and I felt it affected me immediately. I felt I was drunk, I felt extremely tired and numb. Prior to taking the tablet, I had a plan to eat something I like and watch a show before going to bed. I lost that interest because I felt so incredibly sleepy, and I felt I was going to drop things or cut myself if I worked in the kitchen because I partially lost control over my body. I went to bed, and I slept like a baby until the next afternoon. This was the first sleep I had in months without a strange dream that I was having during this pandemic. I also felt very numb and calm the next day. I understood how it could be helpful to tackle depression. I know the BBC has reported that people around the country have been having disturbing dreams, and sleeping has become a distressing activity. Hence, it is good to have anti-depressants as a helping hand.

But I also wondered if anti-depressants are something I always want to use. Do I want to withdraw from my usual activities like cooking a good meal, writing, watching my favourite show? Do I want to have less control over my body and keep falling asleep? Do I want to miss out on this world for so many hours? How would I get back to life once the pandemic is over? I felt this wasn’t the only answer to our current mental health state. There must be something more I could do.

I came across the topic of Self Hypnosis, thanks to the glorious social networking sites. Yes, social networking isn’t all that bad, it has been useful in many ways during the pandemic.

Many of us are very cynical about the term “Hypnosis.” We sometimes associate it with charlatans and deceptive ideas. So let’s look into hypnotism. Is it all mumbo jumbo, misleading people to achieve a business venture from a group of quacks? What is hypnotism, and how does it work?

Firstly, we are talking about hypnosis; it can put us into a trance-like state and give us specific suggestions, such as “quit drinking soda.” However, the person has to be receptive or willing to receive, and it will not work on a reluctant personality who is not willing to delve deep into their consciousness. This can be understood by looking at the faith community. It is often told that “Those who believe will see the positive result.” Therefore, a person who is not willing to believe will not see any positive result, meaning that seeing the positive result depends on the person’s world view.

For example, Subject X may feel that the ability to have control over their diet is a positive state, whereas subject Y may feel that this is not enough, and it brings no positivity in one’s life. Subject X has allowed its subconscious state to receive some suggestions and can see what one may achieve in the next two to five years by having control over their diet. Subject Y is unwilling to receive any suggestion to foresee any accomplishment in the future.  Hypnotherapy may work with similar principles, but the difference would be that a hypnotherapist will work on the individual and understand the personality first before working on the subconscious and putting suggestions in the individual’s mind.

According to the hypnotherapy directory, “Hypnotherapy works for depression because it targets the underlying basis of depression and completes the ‘unfinished business’ that otherwise continues to recycle as self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours.”

Our mental conditions are mostly on an unconscious level, and fear or worry makes us feel anxious. However, when these fears and worries start to affect our lives and environments, our state of being anxious becomes overwhelming, and that is when we start to suffer from anxiety disorder. When we use the term “Anxiety Disorder,” many of us often believe it is a state of seriously scarred people who are somewhat abnormal, and we are above such mental health state. We believe we have all got it together, and anxiety disorder is for the weakest links. Truth be told, anxiety disorder has affected most of us in the pandemic. If you disagree, ask yourself if the pandemic did not make you worry about an unknown future, your career and jobs, the health of your family members and friends, if you will see your friends or family members again, your own safety when you are outside and your economic situation. The answer will be, you have worried about at least one of these things, and you have suffered internally that you have never imagined suffering from before the pandemic.

Anxiety and depression come as a package, and starting with depression, we step into anxiety disorder, and then we go into a bipolar stage.  It is important that we never hit the bi-polar stage because that is when it becomes the hardest to deal with things around us. To avoid going to that stage, we need to be receptive, just like the members in the faith healing sessions and try to work on our subconscious. Dr William Dubin, a member of the American Psychological Association and a psychologist specializing in hypnotherapy at ARTS in Austin, Texas, USA, states that “People who are defensive may not be the best candidates.” Those who are easily absorbed in books and films and adept in visualisation are the better candidates for hypnotherapy.

Mark Tyrrell, a psychologist trainer in the UK and the author of New Ways of Seeing and the course designer of The Uncommon Knowledge, says that “Hypnosis is not actually a therapy. It’s a state of mind and body in which learning takes place quickly and thoroughly. Hypnosis can be used as a ‘delivery system’ for therapy to make it more powerful.”

I think we can all agree that in the second year of the pandemic, we need a delivery system to make the treatments for our anxiety and depression more powerful.

Celebrity psychiatrist and America’s most popular therapist, Dr Daniel G Amen, explains what anxiety does to us by using an example about the injection needle. He tells us that all our blood vessels are wrapped in smooth muscles, and when we get anxious,  our blood vessels clamp down and make it really hard to put a needle in it.   A few of you may remember those times at the surgery when the nurse was struggling to take your blood sample. Now you know it was because you had a short-term anxiety disorder. Now imagine a long-term anxiety disorder and how it could suppress your mind on a much larger scale. If the needles were the suggestions, and the mind was the blood vessel, then just like the needle cannot penetrate the blood vessel, the external suggestions will not penetrate the mind. Dr Amen tells us that he uses hypnotherapy techniques to ease the patient from the short-term anxiety disorder so that the blood sample can be taken once the person feels relaxed. The role of hypnosis is similar. It is not about curing but relaxing the patient’s mind so the person can receive useful suggestions to deal with the anxiety disorder.

Returning to my colleague or to my friend or to my state of anxiety about the future, I can see an urgency to relax the mind. If my friend could relax his mind, he could let the therapist assist his subconscious, and he could take suggestions on activities that could help him with his anxiety disorder. Truthfully, none of us can actually do anything about the current reality and yet we are clamping down our minds, making any suggestions hard to penetrate. This is not our fault but a natural human state during harsh situations. And this is why a regular dose of hypnotherapy could really help us ease those vessels in our unconscious; it is no magic; neither is it fake science. It is an old knowledge we need to nurture, and, as Dr Tyrrell tells us, we can learn from ancient examples and work on the present.

 We cannot all commit to receiving a regular hypnotherapy session, but we can try to practice some self-hypnosis practices and try some useful suggestions. Dr Amen gives us a DIY hypnotherapy technique. Let’s try it.

Focus on a spot on the wall.

1, 2, 3-let your eyes feel heavier and heavier.

4,5,6,7 heavier still.

8, 9, 10, 11 heavier and close them if you prefer.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18, close your eyes and take a deep breath, as deep as you can. Hold it for a second and then take a long time to exhale. Exhale all the way out and hold it for a second or two.

Inhale again and exhale slowly. Breathe out all the tension. Think about all the fear and imagine breathing them out and relax. Now repeat; inhale slowly and deeply and exhale all your troubles out. From this point, allow your breathing to be slower, deeper and more regular.

Keep focusing on regular and relaxing breathing, and think of warmth, imagining a warm hand. Think about all the things that make you anxious and release them via exhaling.

With your eyes closed, roll your eyeballs up as far as they go, hold them up and then let them come back down to normal position and think about how relaxed your eyes are feeling now.

Let that relaxation spread from the little tiny muscles on your toe to your face in a slow pace and keep imagining warmth. Imagine your back, your shoulder, your arms, and all your muscles are becoming heavy, warm and relaxed.

As the relaxation spreads to your chest, imagine a spot in your chest that is warm and let that warmth spread to the rest of the body.

Imagine yourself on the top of a long white marble staircase with sturdy banisters, and on both sides of the rails, there are beautiful flowers.

Now start climbing down the stairs. You are feeling even more relaxed with each step down.

Walk down the staircase and count backwards, 10. 9. 8. 7. 6, feeling deeper and protected, 5. 4. 3 more protected, 2. 1. Step off the staircase in the most beautiful park of your fantasy. Experience the park with all your senses; see the most beautiful things you want to see; smell what is the best fragrance for you; hear what you love hearing, perhaps your favourite bird singing, dogs barking, children’s laughter or the rustling of the branches; only hear what you choose to hear. Taste the freshness of the air and feel the warmth, the soft sun or the gentle breeze against your skin, feel the soft grass under your feet.

You have activated all the senses, now allow yourself to be more relaxed and more comfortable. Imagine a pool filled with warm water. It is safe, so walk towards it. The water is topaz blue or emerald green and shallow. Get into the pool, bathe in the water, let all your senses relax in the water and let it dissipate all your fear and anxiety here. This is the water that can protect you, and it is the place for refuge. You can come to this water any time you want to feel safe.

You have done great, and it probably took you from two to three minutes. To come back from the safe water, count backwards and wake your senses up to receive the noises, smells and feelings of the world around you. Make yourself aware of the presence again and open your eyes. You can do this anytime you feel the need to leave the presence, relax and feel safe.

How amazing is it to have a self-hypnosis technique? Thanks, Dr Amen.

Dr Amen talked about warmth in the technique above, and you are probably wondering what it actually means. Thinking about warmth and warming our hands up can have healing effects. We can write down ten images that can warm our hands, such as a hot water bottle, warm baby skin, touching a pet, warm radiator, putting your hand on warm sand or in water, being in the sauna, etc. Hand warming lowers anxiety, and it has proven to decrease stress. A study shows that touching a pet helps to relax the mind. Perhaps you have a dog you can cuddle. The warm skin of the newborn baby can generate the same feeling. Cats are most effective, their warmth easily penetrates to the human mind, and warms up the hands, and one can start relaxing. So let’s praise the therapy cats.

Perhaps we can all try a little self-hypnotherapy, ask the pets to help you out and try to create safe water in the mind. Perhaps we can all become a little better at managing our mental health and accept that our minds have existence; therefore, it is important to be aware of the health condition of our minds, good or bad. There are many ways to help ourselves with depression and anxiety, and hypnotherapy is certainly a deserved complementary method. You can choose to keep many techniques under your sleeve. Whatever helps to stay alert and stay safe and yet happy is to be nurtured.

For information on Hypnotherapy, check out https://hypnosis.plus/

Shanta Sultana
I have worked for social services encouraging clients to receive training and educational qualifications towards personal development. I studied at Southampton City College and received the “Best Student Achievement Award”. I studied Journalism at the University of East London and did part of my final year with the University of Greenwich. I received the award for “Outstanding Achieving” for writing the best theory for creating a fair society. I focused on social and political issues as a Journalist and wrote about the topics that are affecting the communities in England for three years, especially in health and social care and worked with the politicians. I have worked with the Lambeth community and collected the users’ experience in health care and mental health services for an umbrella organisation of Age UK. I then completed a PGCE/PCET, Teachers training with ESOL, Invisible disabilities, mental health, and the refugee reintegration from the University of Sunderland. My working route was on generating continuous educational opportunities, journals, and media programmes to overcome social and cultural prejudice and division and improve productivity by celebrating differences. I have worked in the mental health department and I work with special needs children and adults. I have published articles and stories in UK and USA and promoted organisations and personalities in Arts and trades in the UK and in South Asian countries.