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How to help Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People who experience Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) know the type of inner dialogue it creates:

“Did I turn off the iron?” “Yes, I think I did” “I’d better go back and check again” “I don’t want ‘that horrible thing‘ to happen, and if I check 10 times, then I’ll be safe” Checking multiple times and then walking away but… “Did I really turn it off?” She goes back to check, and checks another 10 times before she can walk away again….She is now thinking “I really have to leave NOW to get to my appointment…but I’d better check again” ……and just as she gets to the front door, she thinks “I’d better check one more time – I can’t see that the switch is off from here…” and so she gets more and more anxious about being late, but the anxiety drives her to check again and again….getting into a vicious circle of anxiety, and checking, checking, checking….

“Betty” – a former client

The great news is that OCD can be helped by cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy. It may not be completely resolved, but that annoying OCD pest can be minimised and “put in its place” so it has a much smaller effect on our lives.

OCD is an anxiety disorder, and affects more than 500,000 people in Australia. It usually develops in late childhood or early teenage years and without proper treatment can become a chronic condition (1).

Most of us have occasionally had to double-check that something was locked or turned off, but OCD can involve obsessive – almost superstitious – thoughts that something terrible will happen unless we do / repeat certain activities. In time, the OCD may encourage us to repeat the compulsions more and more (i.e. check 20 times instead of 10 times).

As the name suggests, there are 2 kinds of symptoms:

  • obsessions – an unwanted thought, image or urge that repeatedly comes into the mind, and creates anxiety that something terrible will happen
  • compulsions – repetitive behaviours or rituals, that are difficult or impossible to resist doing, which are carried out to reduce the resulting anxiety (1). These can be hand washing, repeated checking that something is switched off or locked, hoarding things that we don’t need, doing tasks in a certain order or arranging items in a specific order.

The compulsive activities bring temporary relief from the obsessive thoughts and anxiety that something terrible will happen, but need to be repeated to guard against these terrible things from happening. Many people resent what OCD does to their lives, and find that it gets worse at times of stress, and then sometimes decreases, to flare up when they are under stress again.

Hypnotherapy and iCBT for OCD

Hypnotherapy for OCD targets the underlying fear that drives the compulsive behaviour.

But why use hypnotherapy and integrated cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) to help with OCD?

1. OCD puts us in a trance

Hypnosis involves a narrowing of attention and absorption with a specific idea. There is also “time distortion” – time seeming to disappear very quickly (e.g. 20 minutes seems like 3 minutes).

This may seem very familiar to those of us bothered by the OCD pest. Many of my clients state that while they are doing the “compulsion” part of OCD (doing an activity, or checking & arranging items), that they are totally focussed on it, and time seems to fly past.

Treating OCD with hypnotherapy breaks the OCD trance

2. Hypnosis targets the subconscious mind

The obsessive feelings and imagined events, plus the compulsive rituals in OCD are in the subconscious mind, and the great news is that hypnotherapy can enable you to change these to something that better suits your life.

The subconscious mind is always working to protect us – in this case from the imagined terrible consequences of NOT doing the compulsive activity – but it does this from the perspective of a young child. By involving the subconscious, and communicating in a way that it understands, the obsessions and compulsions of OCD can be helped.

3. Therapy targets the conscious mind too

Specific worries, and other negative thoughts can exist in the conscious mind. These can be discussed and examined during therapy to see if there is any evidence to back them up (hint: there generally isn’t any evidence!).

iCBT involves discussion of the link between triggering events (such as coming into the house from outside), feelings (I’m unclean), and thoughts (I must repeatedly wash my hands and arms), and behaviours (compulsive hand and arm washing). iCBT enables clients to choose different thoughts and feelings in response to the trigger, and thus decrease the obsessive and compulsive activity.

I can also ask you to do set activities between sessions.  One of these is to do the obsessive activity, but very deliberately and while concentrating on what is happening. To use the example of Betty re-checking that her iron is switched off, she would have done the checking and rechecking while being increasingly anxious, while in a “worry trance” as described above, and probably not remembering or concentrating on what she was doing. When she concentrates on checking that the iron is switched off, she will remember doing this due to the concentration, and thus may eventually be able to check only once or twice before moving on to other activities (such as leaving for her appointment).

4. Hypnosis decreases fear, anxiety, and stress

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are used to decrease many types of anxiety and stress (about exams, work, public speaking, etc.).

It can be used to decrease the anxiety and fear that stems from the perception of danger (or something terrible happening) if the compulsions are not done.

Once the fear and anxiety are removed, the obsessions and compulsive behaviour stops, as there is no need to continue.  

Stress can exacerbate OCD, so hypnotherapy can also be used to decrease this, meaning that the OCD does not interfere with normal life.

Clients can be guided to imagine just doing an activity once (e.g. checking if something is switched off, washing hands when dirty). Normally this would create anxiety and fear, but they can imagine this easily while remaining calm while in a state of focus and deep relaxation in hypnosis. They can then practice this in reality (without the fear and anxiety) and realise that the feared terrible events do not occur.

5. Hypnosis helps with underlying core beliefs

Hypnotherapy can also help with any unhelpful underlying core beliefs, e.g. “I’m not good enough” (which translates to “I can’t be trusted to know the iron is switched off”, and thus repeated checks have to be done on the iron), or “I will infect my family with germs” (which means that I must wash my hands and arms repeatedly – e.g. 20 times – every time I enter the house from outside).

These core beliefs may originate from an event (or series of events) in our lives. Using hypnotherapy, clients can examine these events, which could have happened while a child or even in adulthood. When reviewed from an older and wiser perspective, they are seen differently, and the unhelpful belief can often change or disappear.

Will it work for me?

As therapy depends on both client and therapist, I cannot guarantee results. You may be able to get rid of ‘the OCD pest’ completely, but you may also find that OCD does not completely disappear but you can keep it under much better control.

Targeting the underlying fear and anxiety – and any stress in life – is a proven way to help OCD, and I have had great results with this using hypnotherapy.


If you have OCD, you know that it can interfere with your life at home and at work.

Confidential help is available. I am very happy to assist you improve your life, and enable yourself to enjoy daily activities.

Call me – Lisa – for a confidential, obligation-free chat on 0403 932311 today, or send an email to lisa@sunsetcoasthypnotherapy.com.au.  I’ll answer any questions that you may have, and when you are ready we can book a session and get you on the path to greater enjoyment in life and mastering OCD.


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What happens when we stop eating Fast Food?

This is the last post in this short series on fast food. If you’d like to read the other posts, they are available as follows:- post 1, post 2, and post 3.

In the last blogpost, we covered how to use our organisational skills to help decrease (or stop) consumption of fast food.

(“Fast food” is not just what we buy in fast food restaurants. Fast foods include processed foods such as chips, lollies, breakfast cereals, white flour, baked goods, and other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods that people often eat multiple times per day.)

These fast foods have certain characteristics: they are quickly and easily available; they are ready to go right into your mouth. You can eat them rapidly and they’re absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream. (Although such foods as fruit and vegetables could fit the above description, they are not pre-processed.)

Processed fast foods typically contain multiple chemicals and synthetic ingredients. They are calorically dense, highly flavored, and nutritionally barren. Fast foods typically contain extra sugar, artificial sweeteners, salt, colouring agents, and other potentially disease promoting chemicals (1).

Remember that oils are also processed foods, even though we are encouraged to consume polyunsaturated fat. When consumed, oil enters the bloodstream rapidly similar to refined carbohydrates. Anything cooked in oil should be considered a fast food. Beans, nuts, and seeds are whole foods whose calories are absorbed gradually over hours. Calories from oil are absorbed rapidly, and are largely empty calories with insignificant micronutrients and no fibre (1).

If you set up a buffet dinner and asked 50% of the guests to consume a tablespoon of soya, maize or sunflower oil before their meal, and the other 50% of guests to consume an apple prior to their buffet, those who ate the 65-calorie apple will generally eat 65 less calories from the buffet. But those who had the 120-calorie tablespoon of vegetable oil will not usually consume 120 calories less. The oil contains nothing to decrease the appetite control. Vegetable oil may even increase appetite. When added or mixed into food, a 2012 study found that vegetable oil encouraged overeating behaviour (7).

In this post, we’ll look at all the good things that happen when we cut out fast food! If you’ve been putting the tips into action, these positive changes could have already started…

1) Weight loss

As previous emails have said, fast food contains a lot of calories. Reducing or cutting out junk food can significantly reduce our calorie intake, which leads to weight loss. If we do not want to lose weight, we can simply eat more of the myriad of healthy foods available in the shops and markets.

2) Better nutrition

Healthy food contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, good fat, and protein than junk food contains. By decreasing or eliminating fast food, we can consume more healthy food.

3) Reduced health risks

The decrease in weight that most people see from quitting fast foods also helps reverse the risk of any coronary disease, reduces cholesterol, and restores blood sugar levels bringing the risk of type 2 diabetes down (1).

Diets low in fast food contain less saturated and trans fats. These can decrease the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol and diabetes (1, 2,3).  A 2015 study of over 44 000 deaths demonstrated an almost 40% decrease in cardiovascular related deaths for people eating nuts and seeds regularly (one serving a day). The European PreviMed study, which randomized 7216 individuals to nuts or olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet showed a 39% decrease in all-cause mortality in the nut eaters.(6)

There is considerable evidence today that heart disease is not only promoted by saturated fat and increased animal products but also by refined carbohydrates, including white rice, white bread, sugar, honey, and agave nectar.(1)

A decrease in sodium decreases the risk of kidney disease and high blood pressure.

More fibre (from substituting fibre-rich foods for fast food) can decrease the risk of constipation and diverticular disease.

Furthermore, refined carbohydrates may not just lead to being overweight and diabetic but also contribute to dementia, mental illness, and cancer. (1) 

Great nutrition also improves the look and texture of our skin. We can glow with health!

There are plenty of other health benefits noted by research conducted over the years (2).

4) Better immune system

Research has shown that eating fast food with too many calories (and the other substances in that diet) may lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease (4).

By eating a healthy diet we can decrease the chance of this.

5) Improved mood

Recent research found that “there is now over-whelming evidence to support the fact that gut microbes have a major impact on central neurochemistry and behaviour, especially stress related disorders such as depression” (5). Diets low in refined sugars and fat have been shown by this study to help with depression. 

In addition, being health and decreasing the risk of various chronic conditions (as described in the last section) can help with mood. 

6) Better sleep

If we eat foods high in sugar or carbohydrates near bedtime, our blood sugar gets a boost, and we get a burst of energy. This can wake us up. Insulin will bring blood sugar down, and enable us to get to sleep.

However, blood sugar can then drop too low, resulting in release of stress hormones (cortisol, and adrenaline) These correct the blood sugar back to the normal levels, but may also cause us to wake up again.

By avoiding high sugar foods, we avoid this cycle and can have a better night’s sleep.

So, by avoiding (or limiting) the fast food that we eat, we can improve our mental and physical health in all of these ways!

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


Are you interested in personalised help with changing your diet? Maybe you feel that you eat too much fast food? 

If you are interested in finding out more about this (or the other help available), please give me (Lisa) a call on 0403 932311. 

We can have a chat to answer any of your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Fuhrman J. (2018). The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food. American journal of lifestyle medicine12(5), 375–381. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618766483
  2. Huzar, T. (2019) What happens when you eat fast food? Medical News Today.  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324847
  3. Bahadoran, Z., Mirmiran, P., & Azizi, F. (2016). Fast Food Pattern and Cardiometabolic Disorders: A Review of Current Studies. Health promotion perspectives, 5(4), 231–240. https://doi.org/10.15171/hpp.2015.028
  4. Myles I. A. (2014). Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutrition journal, 13, 61. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-61
  5. Dinan, T.G., Stanton, C., Long-Smith, C., Kennedy, P., Cryan, J.F., Cowan, C.S.M., Cenit, M.C., van der Kamp, J-W., Sanz, Y. (2019). Feeding melancholic microbes: MyNewGut recommendations on diet and mood. Clinical Nutrition, 38 (5), 1995-2001. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2018.11.010
  6. Guasch-Ferré, M., Bulló, M., Martínez-González, M. Á., Ros, E., Corella, D., Estruch, R., Fitó, M., Arós, F., Wärnberg, J., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Vinyoles, E., Lamuela-Raventós, R. M., Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Basora, J., Salas-Salvadó, J., & PREDIMED study group (2013). Frequency of nut consumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC medicine11, 164. https://doi.org/10.1186/1741-7015-11-164
  7. The National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) (2012). Vegetable oils promote obesity. Excessive dietary omega-6 may increase our appetite and promote weight gain. http://sciencenordic.com/vegetable-oils-promote-obesity.  
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Mindful hypnotherapy – how to decrease your stress

Research conducted at Baylor University, Texas (1) has shown how a combination of mindfulness and hypnotherapy can decrease the effects of stress, and is even quicker than using mindfulness on its own.

I often use a combination of mindfulness, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other techniques to help clients who are feeling stressed, as I find this works quicker and more effectively than each technique on its own. Clients can also use the techniques privately when needed throughout their day – at work, at home, etc., so no-one else need know that they are feeling stressed.

Mindful hypnotherapy

The researchers at Baylor University, who were from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, called their therapy “mindful hypnotherapy”. They defined this as “an intervention that intentionally uses hypnosis (hypnotic induction and suggestion) to integrate mindfulness for personal and therapeutic benefit” (2).

Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally” (3), whereas hypnosis is defined as “a state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion” (4).

The research team recruited 42 college-age participants with self-reported high stress (via flyers placed around the University). The participants were split randomly into two groups.

Participants in one group were given a weekly 1-hour individual session that included hypnosis, relaxation, and mindfulness. Participants also were given recordings based on that week’s session and asked to listen to it each day, keeping a record of this. The second (control) group did not take part in the intervention.

The Baylor researchers commented that mindfulness can be an effective treatment for stress and anxiety, but treatments are time intensive. Group mindfulness sessions are typically 2 to 2.5 hours long and usually include an all-day retreat as well. They have also not been found to be better than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The researchers considered that if a shorter mindfulness treatment could be developed to still get results that were equal to or better than existing treatments, it could have advantages for anxiety and stress reduction.

At the end of the study, significant results were obtained for the hypnosis and mindfulness group for decrease in stress and psychological distress. The results for mindfulness and psychological flexibility were equal or better than mindfulness in a non-hypnotic context. There was also an increase in mindfulness and psychological flexibility.  The second (control) group did not show any significant changes.

Most participants were very satisfied (e.g. with the number of sessions, the ease of home practice and the clarity of content). The average participant practiced almost every day, and overall satisfaction with the intervention was 8.9 on a scale of 10.

The researchers stated that limitations for the study included the small number of people studied, and that those studied were mainly female (81%), white (65%), and college-students. They considered future studies could investigate using mindful hypnosis for depression and chronic pain.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist who uses a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnosis, I can help you use the power of your subconscious mind to decrease stress and anxiety, and help you create the vision for your future. 

Please feel free to contact me (Lisa) for a chat about your specific circumstances. You can do this by phoning 0403 932311, or to ensure that I am available at a time convenient for you, booking on https://sunsetcoast.as.me/


References

  1. Olendzki, N., Elkins, G. R., Slonena, E., Hung, J. & Rhodes, J.R. (2020). Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 68(2), p151-166.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2020.1722028
  2. Elkins, G. R., & Olendzki, N. (2019). Mindful hypnotherapy: The basics for clinical practice. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
  3. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.
  4. Elkins, G. R., Barabasz, A. F., Council, J. R., & Spiegel, D. (2015). Advancing research and practice: The revised APA Division 30 definition of hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 63(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2014.961870
  5. Simona Stefan & Daniel David (2020) Mindfulness in Therapy: A Critical Analysis, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 68:2,167-182. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2020.1720514

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How to plan the future you want after COVID

This current year has been a challenging time world-wide, mainly due to coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is still being fought in many countries and areas of the world. Many parts of the world have gotten used to (and perhaps even accepted) a temporary New Normal.

Change is challenging, and I would guess that many of you reading this blogpost have had major change in your life this year. Replacing the ‘status quo’ with new behaviour, new restrictions, perhaps increased concern about health, and the difficulties of doing things that we used to do (e.g. international travel, attending sporting events, hugging and shaking hands) can be unnerving.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”– Marcus Aurelius

In this blogpost I want to concentrate on the positives of this situation. Why not use the changes to say to ourselves – “This is a chance to examine what I’ve been doing, and see if it still fits my purpose – see if I still want to do it.” It’s a chance to let go of things that may be holding us back.

In this blogpost I’ll list some ideas of how we can all embrace – and get the best from – planning for the future while living with the New Normal. (The following headings are based on an article by clinical psychologist Emilita Cornain) (1) :-

1.    Allow yourself to grieve for the ‘Old Normal’

We have not been living the ‘Old Normal’ for many months, and may never return to it. Alternatively, we may have been anticipating a return to the ‘Old Normal’ throughout the coronavirus restrictions, and feel disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

It’s OK to grieve for how we used to live.

We have all suffered various degrees of disruption during this year, and unfortunately some areas of the world (and Australia) are continuing to face major disruption to daily life. You may even find yourself going through the five stages of grief (2) for how life used to be.

During this time, and during other times in my life when I have felt very discouraged, one of the sayings that has supported me is:-

This too shall pass” – Attributed to several sources

A saying which supports us through difficult times, and also ‘grounds’ us when things are going very well.

Change is constant, and we can be sure that the current situation, whatever it is, will not last forever.

However, there is little point in dwelling in the past. By all means, we can examine the past and learn from it, but once we have done this, we can start embracing our current New Normal.

We can even plan for our ‘New New Normal’ which is how we will live when the pandemic has passed, looking towards the future.

 2. Create a new plan

When our normal routine is disrupted, we can use that opportunity to change things for the better. As stated above, we can discard the routines and habits that do not suit us anymore. Perhaps they are things that we enjoyed doing a year ago, and we had fallen into a ‘rut’ or habit and simply kept on doing them. Perhaps they are an unwanted habit such as smoking, or too much drinking.

NO MORE !

Research by Wood, Tam and Witt (2005)(3) has shown that when we change our routines, it is easier to make positive changes to other areas of our lives.

Recently, I have seen many clients who wish to quit smoking, stop nail biting, decrease social drinking, and manage their weight better. These clients are using the disruption to their old routines to enable them to create new habits, as their old habits were linked to activities that they may not do any longer.

A great way to plan what you would like to do is to imagine how you want your life to be. Maybe you would like to be slim, and healthy.

  • What would that mean to you? Would ‘healthy’ mean that you could walk for an hour without getting out of breath? Would ‘slim’ mean that you can wear that pair of classic pants from April 2019?
  • What would you need to do to reach that goal? Perhaps you would need to join a gym or exercise at home. Perhaps you would need to change what you are eating?
  • Which of those activities can be started now?

Much like a road trip, we need a clear picture of where we are going, and we can then plan milestones along the way, and plan how to achieve those milestones.

It is also important that we are making the most of new opportunities, e.g. in Australia the Federal Government is offering heavily subsidised undergraduate and postgraduate certificate courses for people whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19. There are also subsidies for those who cannot work at present, and I understand that this is also happening in other countries.

McDonald and Bushey (5) developed the CHOICES Map. This uses the metaphor of a journey, and it consists of seven conversations designed to help explore the question “Where do I go from here?” CHOICES is an acronym for Culture, Hurdles, Options, Inspiration, Choice of Action, Experimentation and Self-Fulfillment. It requires asking and answering specific questions. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Looking ahead, how might my lifestyle be different after the pandemic? 
  • What expectations for my future do I need to let go of? 
  • What options are available for me in the short term and what is my vision for the long term? 
  • Who are the people I want to be a significant part of my life going forward? 
  • How am I going to foster those relationships? 
  • Does my plan for the future allow me to express something important to me? 
  • How can I add ‘experiments’ (trying out new ideas) to my life now or in the longer term? 
  • What practices do I follow in my daily life to foster self-fulfillment?

If you would like some inspiration for what you wish to achieve, the report by Deutsche Bank (8) could also give some ideas of what life may be like after COVID-19.

3. Write it down / create a journal

We can record our experience of living through this time of coronavirus pandemic. We can include what we do, what we are thinking, what we are planning, and anything else relevant. It will be an interesting record that we (and other people) can look back on once COVID-19 is past.

It is worth recording in our journals all the things that we feel grateful for in this situation. Several friends of mine have admitted that they feel grateful for more time to themselves, and for avoiding the daily commute to work during lockdown. This is part of positive psychology. (7)

Of course, many people have suffered during the pandemic – with loss of jobs, and even illness and loss of life. It is worth also including reflection in our journals, of how we found living through this period, what it may have taught us (e.g. of community spirit, and kindness, and also the importance of looking after our health).

We can also use the journal to plan the changes we are making as a result of examining our ‘old lives’. maybe we would like to start new habits, ditch old habits, stop some activities and start others. Use the journal to plan as well!

4. Stay connected in new ways

In Perth (Australia) where I live, we are still social distancing. Its important to remember that we can still connect. We can still meet people for a meal, or for a coffee. Even if we cannot go out to a coffee shop, we can still have a virtual coffee meeting with friends (where we each make a cup of coffee, and talk using the phone or online teleconferencing such as Zoom, Skype, etc.).

I believe that we need to be pro-active in creating the New Normal. Find a New Normal that works for us, whether it is virtual coffee catchup, exchanging the latest personal news via email or SMS, or (where it is possible) catching up with friends in person while social distancing.

If you are in an area that still requires higher levels of isolation, here are a few ideas. (6)

Using phone or online (Zoom, Skype, etc.):-

  • Catch up with family over lunch
  • Have a progressive dinner party with friends (from the dining room to lounge-room floor then dessert in the laundry)
  • Just chat with friends while gossiping over coffee or wine, playing games
  • Book-club anyone?
  • Get a group fitness challenge going
  • Celebrate birthdays! Or, celebrate just because…
  • Have a virtual theme party

Other ways to socialise

  • Write a letter (take your time, and choose beautiful paper and use a coloured pen. Make a work of art!)
  • Chat over the fence
  • Have a balcony or driveway catchup
  • Do grocery shopping for someone in need
  • Support local businesses (e.g. buy food and drinks from a local cafe, buy clothes from a local shop) and share what you have done after wards via phone, social media, or online teleconference.

As restrictions ease, it will become easier to socialise. Until then, its important to keep in contact with friends and family, for their benefit – but also for our own mental health.

5. Create and find pockets of joy

Another use for our journal!

Make a note of the positive items that happen, or that you notice, during the day. It could be as simple as “the sun is shining”, or “my morning cup of coffee tasted great”.

The idea of noting positive things comes from an approach called ‘positive psychology’ founded by Martin Seligman (7).

Look for three things in a person – intelligence, energy & integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two” – Warren Buffet.

Part of this is to concentrate on spending time with positive people who support us. This can be time spent physically with them, or even time spent on the phone, on an online call, or communicating via social media. If we are going through a difficult time, its important to have supporters around us who are positive and upbeat about the situation. It is also important to have people who support us in achieving our plan for the future (see sections 2 and 3 above).

Of course, this doesn’t mean to exclude friends or relatives who are finding it hard to cope with the current situation. They need our help to support their own mental health, and they may need our encouragement to seek out medical assistance as well.

6. Stay informed but not alarmed

We need to keep up to date with news as we adjust to the current New Normal, as well as work towards our ‘New’ New Normal for after the pandemic. To avoid news overload:-

  • Tune into reputable sources such as the recognised news channels. Keep away from the more sensational media outlets (you know who they are!) , and limit exposure to news. Reading or watching the news once or twice per day is probably enough.
  • Place greater emphasis on developments locally rather than globally when estimating your risk of contracting COVID-19. This helps you to be appropriately concerned rather than get caught up in anxiety.
  • Remember the advice – Wash your hands regularly, keep a safe distance from others and keep up with the rules as they change so you know what you can and cannot do. Remember these rules have been very effective at keeping the infection rate low in Australia.

Conclusion

We can use this time to consider what we want in our future, quit habits which do not work for us, and start new habits that we want to help us the future.

On a larger community scale, COVID-19 has highlighted some areas that may need to change – e.g. key vulnerabilities in social safety nets, and benefits such as paid sick leave or good quality healthcare coverage (8).

The pandemic is likely to change us as individuals, families, organisations, and countries. While we are waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, we can use this time to our advantage in planning our future life. This will allow us to make improvements in our personal lives, business lives, and as a community.


I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist who uses a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnosis, I can help you use the power of your subconscious mind to stop unwanted habits, improve confidence, and help you create the vision for your future.

Please feel free to contact me (Lisa) for a chat about your specific circumstances. You can do this by phoning 0403 932311, or to ensure that I am available at a time convenient for you, booking on https://sunsetcoast.as.me/


References

  1. Cornain, E. (4 May 2020) The New Normal: How life has changed due to COVID-19 (and tips to help you cope) https://theskillcollective.com/blog/coronavirus-new-normal
  2. Axelrod, J. (8 July 2020) The 5 stages of loss and grief. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/
  3. Wood, W., Tam, L., & Witt, M. G. (2005). Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(6), 918–933. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.88.6.918
  4. Vijaya Manicavasagar After COVID-19, what will ‘normal’ life be like? https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/after-covid-19-what-will-normal-life-be-like/
  5. McDonald, G.M. and Bushey, M.L. 7 ways to rebuild your life after COVID-19 https://primewomen.com/second-acts/personal-growth/rebuild-after-covid-19-self-fulfillment/
  6. Anon. (16 April 2020). Staying social whilst social distancing: How to remain connected iso-style. https://theskillcollective.com/blog/coronavirus-social-distancing
  7. Ackerman, C.E. (16 April 2020). What is Positive Psychology & Why is It Important? https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-positive-psychology-definition/
  8. Deutsche Bank Research Konzept – Life after COVID-19 https://www.dbresearch.com/PROD/RPS_EN-PROD/PROD0000000000507960/Konzept_%23_18%3A_Life_after_covid-19.PDF
  9. Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

+ Koala asleep in tree

Beat insomnia – how to get a great night’s sleep

Introduction

Most of us have experienced insomnia. The Sleep Health Foundation found almost 60 per cent of people regularly experience at least one sleep symptom (like trouble falling or staying asleep), and 14.8 per cent have symptoms which could result in a diagnosis of clinical insomnia (1).

Current research at Monash University indicates that 46 per cent of respondents so far have experienced poor sleep quality — up from 25 per cent of people just before the pandemic, according to preliminary analysis of the study results (2).

Anxiety is a common cause of sleep problems, and many people are feeling more anxious because of the current COVID-19 situation, as people are concerned about keeping healthy, and avoiding job losses and finance issues. (3)

Some people have even been having ‘corona-nightmares’. They can be due to high stress hormones and increased rumination, which happens when we feel we are under threat, says Dr Cunnington of the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre. Luckily, once life starts returning to normal, sleep disturbances should decrease according to Hailey Meaklim, a psychologist and researcher at St Vincent’s Hospital Sleep Centre.(2)

Insomnia is a “sleep disorder” characterized by insufficient sleep quantity or quality. Insomnia can involve difficulty in falling asleep or in maintaining sleep once it is initiated. 

Dr. Ethan Gorenstein, PhD, Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, USA

Insomnia – some causes and reasons

  • ‘Pseudo-insomnia’
    At the present time (when some people are working from home), Dr. Gorenstein (3) makes the point that if people are working from home, they may get up later in the morning. However, they still go to bed at the same time and cannot sleep. This is not really insomnia – they are just going to bed too early.
  • Not prioritizing sleep
    Some people consider time spent sleeping as a waste, and try to make do with the minimum sleep with which they can function. During sleep, the body repairs itself, and the brain sorts through the memories from that day, so sleep is vitally important.
  • Napping
    Taking naps during the day. If we have to take a nap, it’s best to ensure it is before late afternoon, and that the total time for all naps is no more than 30 minutes per day. Otherwise, we will likely sleep less during the night.
  • Poor sleeping environment
    The bedroom should be quiet, well ventilated, and dark. The bed should be warm, but not too warm. Many people find particularly that if their feet are cold, that they cannot get to sleep. The mattress should be comfortable and the correct firmness.
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol, nicotine
    Caffeine (found in e.g. tea, coffee, chocolate) is a stimulant and it is best if we don’t take it close to bedtime. Alcohol can help us get to sleep initially, but we may well wake up later in the night. People who have insomnia should avoid it before going to bed. Nicotine is also a stimulant, and should not be taken near bedtime.
  • Eating and drinking late in the evening
    This can cause a need to visit the bathroom during the night, and thus waking from sleep. It can also cause heartburn and discomfort, which make sleep more difficult.
  • Failing to relax before bedtime
    Use of iPads and other electronic devices which emit blue light, or otherwise being too active just before bedtime can make sleep more difficult.
  • Stress and worry
    Worry about the day’s events, or forthcoming events, can cause insomnia. In 2020, people may also be anxious about COVID-19, and finances. Worry keeps the mind in thinking mode when it should be relaxing and slowing down. There are methods to resolve this involving relaxation and selective attention (see Methods section later in this article)
  • Too much media exposure
    This relates particularly to the current times, as many people like to keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 figures in their country or in their local area. However, too much media consumption can lead to negative anticipation of problems, anxiety and stress about health and finances. While we all need to keep current with the latest situation and health advice, listening or reading news reports once or twice a day is probably sufficient.
  • Medications
    The National Sleep Foundation (4) states that some medications can cause insomnia or make it worse. If this applies to you, please contact your GP or other specialist to check.
  • Various medical conditions can worsen insomnia
    If you have a chronic condition, please seek medical help to ensure that it is not contributing to insomnia.

Health effects of not sleeping

According to the National Health Service in the UK (5), lack of sleep can cause:-

  • Lowered immunity
    People who are deprived of adequate sleep can have a lower immunity then those who are well rested.
  • Weight gain
    People who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who sleep 7 hours.
  • Irritability, depression and anxiety
    Most of us have experienced this! Lack of sleep can make people more irritable. Chronic lack of sleep can contribute to depression and anxiety.
  • Depleted sex drive and decreased fertility
    Lack of sleep can decrease sexual desire, sexual responses, and secretion of reproductive hormones.
  • Increased risk of diabetes, and heart disease
    Studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep changes the way the body processes glucose, which can make diabetes more likely. It can also raise heart rate, cause an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, straining the heart.

Four stages of falling asleep

We all go through four stages as we fall asleep:-

Stage 1 – Thinking
When we get into bed, we can be thinking of the past, or anticipating (worrying?) about the future.

Stage 2 – Fantasy
As we relax, our thoughts turn to imaginings, which can be pleasant, or not so pleasant (worries, etc.). To be effective in transitioning to the next stage, the thoughts need to be pleasant.

Stage 3 – Hypnoidal
People then enter a hypnotic-type state. There is time distortion (losing track of time),

Stage 4 – Unconscious
Unaware of surroundings, and deeply asleep.

People who have difficulty getting to sleep can find it difficult to move down the four stages into sleep for the reasons given earlier in section headed “Insomnia – some causes and reasons”.

As an example, they may be worrying about the past or planning something in the future (staying in the thinking stage). They may alternatively be in pain (unable to move into fantasy stage due to thinking of their pain).

Methods of overcoming these factors and creating restful sleep

The following is a selection of techniques that can be used to help insomnia. There are many more, so feel free to look up the references at the end of this article.

Please note:  if you have any mental illness, please check with your GP or medical specialist before using the techniques marked ***, or any others which you feel may not be appropriate for you.

  • Encourage yourself to enter the ‘fantasy’ stage of sleep ***
    As stated above, many people get stuck in the ‘thinking stage’ of the 4-stage model above. We can fast-forward to the stage 2 – ‘fantasy stage’ by deliberating relaxing our muscles, and letting our thoughts flow lazily from one topic to another – e.g. thinking of yachts can lead to thoughts of the sea, then thoughts of swimming, then imagining swimming, then temperature of the water, etc.
  • Use peripheral vision ***
    When we want to get to sleep, we can start becoming aware of what we can see out of the ‘corners of our eyes’, and imagine that we can see behind us (which starts moving us into the fantasy stage of sleep). Using peripheral vision activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming influence.
  • Worry time and location during the day
    If we find that we worry about the current COVID-19 situation (or anything else) while trying to sleep, we can choose a “worry” time and location during the day and limit our worry to this time. For instance, “I will worry between 1.00 and 1.30pm, while sitting at the table”. If we start worrying at other times (and if there is no immediate need for action), we can tell ourselves to wait until the scheduled time.
    I have covered other ways to decrease anxiety in the blogpost How to look after your mental health post-lockdown.
  • Keep active
    Reasonable activity during the day can assist with sleep, due to physical tiredness.
  • Keep to a regular routine throughout the day
    The Sleep Health Foundation (6) advises that people who are self-isolating should keep to a regular routine during the day so that their body clock gets into a regular rhythm. This includes being in a light environment soon after waking up, having contact with others at a regular time, and having meals at approximately the same time each day.
  • Do not nap too much during the day
    If we nap during the day we are likely to have less sleep at night. As more people are currently working at home, there could be a temptation to nap if they have not had a good night’s sleep. Some sources state that anything longer than a 30 minutes nap during the day may lead to difficulties sleeping at night. Others recommend keeping any naps to before 3.00pm so they don’t interfere with sleep later on. However, people may need to nap if they require concentration during the day and have not slept well (e.g. driving heavy machinery, or responsible for looking after children).
  • Regular sleeping hours
    We are advised to wake up and get out of bed at the same time approximately, even at weekends, and even if we feel we haven’t slept enough. This sets up a pattern for our brain to start to feel tired at the same time each day.
  • Slow down thinking ***
    We can move our thinking to the fantasy stage by imagining our thoughts slowing down. Only dwell on pleasant thoughts – perhaps imagining a future event going well (if we are worried about it), or remembering a pleasant past event.
  • Use a box for your worries
    If we cannot think of a solution during the day, we can use a ‘box’ to keep our worries until morning. We can reassure ourselves that our subconscious will be exploring solutions during the night. We can concentrate on pleasant thoughts while going to sleep, and tell ourselves that we are glad we do not have to worry until morning.
  • Remember / imagine what it is like to be falling asleep ***
    This also involves a degree of fantasy, and pleasant memories, as we find it pleasant to be falling asleep. It also involves concentration, a feature of hypnosis.
  • Practice relaxation – “body scan” ***
    Relax muscles, starting from the toes, and working up to the head, including the muscles in the face. People sometimes need to do this more than once (i.e. toe to head, toe to head,….)
  • Concentrate on breathing ***
    As we need to pass through the hypnoidal stage before getting to sleep, focussing on our breath can help to move us towards this stage, and thus towards sleep. We can concentrate on the sound of our breath, and the feel of the air entering and leaving our lungs (cool breathing in, and warm breathing out).

This list may seem long, but we can choose one change that we feel would work for us, and try it for a week or so. Then try another. Keep a note of which changes help our sleeping. This will help us to discover any trends, and thus activities that help us get to sleep.


I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist who uses a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnosis, I can help you use the power of your subconscious mind to increase the quality and amount of sleep.

Please feel free to contact me (Lisa) on 0403 932311 for a chat about your specific circumstances.


Please note: If you feel that your insomnia could be due to an underlying medical condition, or otherwise feel that you should seek medical advice, please see your GP or healthcare provider. This blog post is not a substitute for medical treatment, and is general advice that does not take into account your particular circumstances.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020

References

  1. Sleep Health Foundation. (2019, November 22). Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/news/special-reports/chronic-insomnia-disorder-in-australia.html
  2. Jennings-Edquist, G. (2020, June 2). How to get some sleep during the coronavirus pandemic. ABC Life. https://www.abc.net.au/life/how-to-get-some-sleep-during-coronavirus-crisis/12292174
  3. Columbia University. (2020, May 18). COVID Q&A: Insomnia. https://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/covid-q-insomnia
  4. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How medications may affect sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-medications-may-affect-sleep
  5. National Health Service, UK. (2018, May 30). Why lack of sleep is bad for your health. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
  6. Sleep Health Foundation. (2020, February 28). Sleeping tips when staying indoors during isolation period. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/news/sleep-blog/sleeping-tips-when-staying-indoors-during-isolation-period.htm
  7. Sleep Health Foundation. (2020, March 23). Getting good sleep during the COVID-19 Pandemic https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/getting-good-sleep-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.html
  8. National Health Service, UK. (2019, 4 July). 10 tips to beat insomnia. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/10-tips-to-beat-insomnia/

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How to use your brainpower to cut out fast foods

In the last blogpost, you read that it is not lack of willpower that triggers us to eat fast food. 

Fast food is designed to appeal to our inbuilt brain pathways to trigger over-eating, being over-weight, and cravings. 

You now have the knowledge to avoid the “bliss point” foods, and start improving your health and nutrition.

Today we’ll cover the next part of the healthy eating challenge – tips and hints on how to use psychology to replace fast foods with healthier and more enjoyable alternatives.

1) Break the habit

In his TED talk, Judson Brewer (1) explained that the best way to break the habit of eating fast food is to become aware of the mechanics of the craving. How do you feel just before, or when you crave fast food?

Do you feel down? Bored? Stressed? Annoyed?

Analyse the craving, and think of where it is coming from. You might need to think back to what you have been doing, thinking or feeling just before you had the craving. This analysis allows you to examine the craving from an outside viewpoint, and find other ways to relieve the feeling of being e.g. down, bored, stressed or annoyed.

2) Be aware of bliss-point foods and drinks

Bliss-point foods have been processed, with the levels of fat, sugar and salt carefully set to appeal to our brains’ reward circuits. If you think for a moment about the types of processed and fast foods that make you want to keep eating more of them, you’ll get a list of these foods!

Learn our trigger foods. If we bring a list of them to mind consciously, we can admit that they are our triggers. We know the foods that we have found difficult to resist in the past. We are all experts at denying the effect they have on us, and brushing this effect under the ‘mental carpet’!

With this knowledge, we can:-

  • Avoid them (e.g. don’t go past the fast food shop, or if we do, don’t stop!)
  • Replace them with a healthy snack or meal that is similar but homemade (e.g. oven chips instead of chip shop chips). Substitute natural foods for processed fast foods. Substitute water (with a SMALL amount of fruit juice mixed in if required) for sugary drinks including sports drinks and diet drinks.

3) Be aware of stress

Stress may induce food cravings and influence eating behaviours (2, 3, 4). Women under stress have been shown to eat significantly more calories and experience more cravings than non-stressed women (5, 6). Furthermore, stress raises your blood levels of cortisol, a hormone that can make you gain weight, especially in the belly area (7).

Using this research, we can explore the reason for our stress in a compassionate and understanding way.  

We can also use other ways to manage stress:

  • taking exercise
  • doing yoga or meditation
  • taking some deep breaths
  • talking to a friend about what’s bothering us
  • seeking professional help from an anxiety / stress specialist

4) Change your viewpoint

A study in 2013 (8) showed that when people were trained to use cognitive reappraisal when thinking of fast food, their desire for it decreased. (Cognitive reappraisal is where we alter the meaning of a situation so that our emotional response to the situation is changed). 

They were asked to view the craved food as if:

  • they were already feeling very full
  • they just saw the food item sneezed on (yuk!)
  • they could save the item for later
  • It would have a negative effect on them (stomach-ache, weight gain)

So, we can use these techniques of ‘cognitive reappraisal’ to make fast food less appealing.

6) Mindful – slower – eating

This involves eating food more slowly, and not doing other activities while we are eating. It also involves being more aware of what you are feeling emotionally and physically, and what prompts you to eat (e.g. appearance of food, craving, hunger, depression, boredom).

You may have heard of the experiment in eating a raisin (or grape) mindfully. We first pick up the raisin or grape, and look at its texture and shape. Smell it, and think of what its aroma is like. Then place it on your tongue, but don’t chew it yet. Move it around in your mouth and feel the texture. Start to chew it slowly and concentrate on the taste. As you swallow it, remain still and imagine it moving throughout your body.

Of course, we don’t have to eat all foods as slowly as this, but mindful eating involves focusing solely on the taste and texture of the food you are eating and any sensations you feel in that present moment. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, and increases the levels in our body of the anti-anxiety chemical GABA (9, 10).

So that we can concentrate on the food that we’re eating, we can switch off the TV or radio, and make eating our sole activity at the time. Eating mindfully can help us tune into our internal hunger signals and prevent them from being overridden.

Research has also found that when binge eaters practised mindful eating, it reduced binge eating episodes from 4 to 1.5 per week. It also reduced the severity of each binge (11).

So, we can practice mindful eating, concentrate on eating as our only activity when we are doing it, and pay attention to what, when and how much we’re eating.

7) Learn what we’re really eating 

Once we see what’s actually in the fast food that we are consuming, it can help us see it for what it is – processed food with chemicals added.

Many fast food outlets now provide nutritional information about the food that they sell, either in the shop or on their website.

We can look up what is in our favourite go-to snack, and get an unwelcome surprise. We may see a list including fat, sugar, salt, chemicals, and substances that sound like they have come out of a lab (they have!). 


So, in this post we have learnt that there are plenty of ways we can use our brain (or psychological methods) to avoid or decrease consumption of fast foods.

The next part of the healthy eating challenge will cover tips and hints on how to use physical methods (or what we do) to replace fast foods with healthier and more enjoyable alternatives.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


Are you interested in a personalised weight loss program? You have the choice of the Virtual Gastric Band program (which runs over 4 sessions) or the in-depth Pathway to a Healthier You (which runs over 8 sessions).

If you would like more help with weight loss, or simply wish to find out more information, please email me (Lisa) on sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com, or call 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Brewer, J. (n.d.). A simple way to break a bad habit. TED Talks. https://embed.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit
  2. Sinha, R., Gu, P., Hart, R., & Guarnaccia, J. B. (2019). Food craving, cortisol and ghrelin responses in modeling highly palatable snack intake in the laboratory. Physiology & behavior, 208, 112563. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112563
  3. Hormes, J. M., Orloff, N. C., & Timko, C. A. (2014). Chocolate craving and disordered eating. Beyond the gender divide?. Appetite, 83, 185–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.018
  4. Sinha R. (2018). Role of addiction and stress neurobiology on food intake and obesity. Biological psychology, 131, 5–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.05.001
  5. Pacitti, F., Iannitelli, A., Mazza, M., Maraone, A., Zazzara, F., Roselli, V., & Bersani, G. (2011). La versione italiana dell’Attitudes to Chocolate Questionnaire: uno studio di validazione [The Italian version of the Attitudes Chocolate Questionnaire: a validation study]. Rivista di psichiatria, 46(1), 38–43. 
  6. Macedo, D. M., & Diez-Garcia, R. W. (2014). Sweet craving and ghrelin and leptin levels in women during stress. Appetite, 80, 264–270. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.031
  7. Tomiyama A. J. (2019). Stress and Obesity. Annual review of psychology, 70, 703–718. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936
  8. Giuliani, N. R., Calcott, R. D., & Berkman, E. T. (2013). Piece of cake. Cognitive reappraisal of food craving. Appetite, 64, 56–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2012.12.020
  9. Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient science, 2(1), 13–19. https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171
  10. Schnepper, R., Richard, A., Wilhelm, F. H., & Blechert, J. (2019). A combined mindfulness-prolonged chewing intervention reduces body weight, food craving, and emotional eating. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 87(1), 106–111. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000361
  11. Kristeller, J. L., & Hallett, C. B. (1999). An Exploratory Study of a Meditation-based Intervention for Binge Eating Disorder. Journal of health psychology, 4(3), 357–363. https://doi.org/10.1177/135910539900400305
+ Hamburger and chips

Fast Food: Do You Really Need It?

How popular is fast food?

Fast food (and other sugary, fatty food) is popular in Australia and can be a leading cause of weight gain and ill-health. 

Over 9% of Australia adults and 7% of children surveyed in 2017 / 2018 consumed sugary drinks daily (1). These were not specifically from fast food outlets, but the percentage is still very high.

In 2011–12, the adults surveyed were getting 33% to 36% of their daily energy intake from foods high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and alcohol (this was between 5 to 7 serves per day on average) (1). Again, this percentage does not only include fast foods – it would also include those bought in supermarkets (frozen burgers, ice-cream, etc.)

Why do we eat fast food?

Did you know that our cravings for junk food / fast food are actually encouraged by food manufacturers? They spend an enormous number of research dollars on this! Fast food and snacks contain fat, sugar, salt and other chemicals to trick our bodies into wanting more and more, and over-riding our “stop” signals.

This effort works well, because more than 50% of people report experiencing cravings on a regular basis (3). These can be cravings for sugar, salt, fat or caffeine and can often result in weight gain, food addiction and binge eating (4).

The good news is: if you are aware of your cravings and triggers, they are much easier to avoid. It’s also a lot easier to eat healthily and lose weight.

But why is fatty, sugary, salty food so appealing to us? It goes back to the way that some manufacturers design processed food. There is a specific combination of salty, sweet and fatty flavours called the “bliss point”. Howard Moskowitz, an American market researcher, first coined this phrase and is one of the best known researchers who specialise in this area (2).

This salt, sugar and fat affects our brain in a similar way to drug addictions by triggering the reward pathways in our brain, and encouraging the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and pleasure (5, 6, 9). This then encourages us to eat these foods again and again, due to context-dependent memory (7), as our brain remembers what made us feel good, and strives to repeat the experience by eating more of the food providing the “bliss point”, especially if we are feeling unhappy for some reason. 

Studies on rats showed that when fat or sugar was eaten separately, the rats stopped eating when they were full. However when combined in the “bliss point” ratio, the rats ate the fat and sugar containing foods “compulsively”, and   the more they consumed, the more they had to consume to get that same pleasure hit next time (8).

The specific amounts of fat, sugar and salt in foods such as crisps, chips, hot chips and fast food over-ride our natural “stop” signals. It can also include foods which we may not consider salty, fatty or sugary, but are found in fast food outlets – e.g. tomato sauce, dips, and mayonnaise.

The following diagram (6) shows how combining fat and sugar influences the pleasure that we get from eating these types of foods:- 

From: Willner, T. & Moncrieff, F. (2020). Can’t stop eating junk food? Here’s why. Second Nature. https://www.secondnature.io/guides/nutrition/cant-stop-eating-junk-food

As well as being highly engineered to trigger our dopamine response, fast food can also be highly processed and low in other nutrients.

The future

Now that you are aware of this, it can be easier to resist fast food, and save money as well as improving your health.  

So now you know that fast food eaters do not lack willpower! Fast food is using our inbuilt brain pathways to trigger over-eating, and cravings. You now have the knowledge to avoid the “bliss point” foods, and start improving your health and nutrition.

© Lisa Billingham, 2020


Are you interested in a personalised weight loss program? You have the choice of the Virtual Gastric Band program (which runs over 4 sessions) or the in-depth Pathway to a Healthier You (which runs over 8 sessions).

If you would like more help with weight loss, or simply wish to find out more information, please email me (Lisa) on sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com, or call 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019). Poor diet. Cat. no. PHE 249. Canberra: AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/food-nutrition/poor-diet
  2. Moss, M. (2013). The extraordinary science of junk food. New York Times, 24 February. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  3. Gendall, K. A., Joyce, P. R., & Sullivan, P. F. (1997). Impact of definition on prevalence of food cravings in a random sample of young women. Appetite, 28(1), 63–72. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.1996.0060
  4. Gendall, K. A., Joyce, P. R., Sullivan, P. F., & Bulik, C. M. (1998). Food cravers: characteristics of those who binge. The International journal of eating disorders, 23(4), 353–360. https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(199805)23:4<353::aid-eat2>3.0.co;2-h
  5. Johnson, P., & Kenny, P. (2010). Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature Neuroscience 13, 635–641. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2519
  6. Willner, T. & Moncrieff, F. (2020). Can’t stop eating junk food? Here’s why. Second Nature. https://www.secondnature.io/guides/nutrition/cant-stop-eating-junk-food
  7. Brewer, J. (n.d.). A simple way to break a bad habit. TED Talks. https://embed.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit
  8. Johnson, P. M., & Kenny, P. J. (2010). Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature neuroscience, 13(5), 635–641. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2519
  9. Ahmed, S. H., Guillem, K., & Vandaele, Y. (2013). Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 16(4), 434–439. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8
  10. Featured photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
+ woman running down road, other runners in background

Why do people say ‘Being overweight isn’t that bad for you’?

This is part of the Healthy Weight Management Series of articles, tips, blogs and videos which is available on the Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy Facebook page .

Can you be healthy while overweight?

Can you be ‘fit’ while ‘fat’?

Commenting on the idea that anyone who is overweight should lose weight, Nadja Hermann states that:

I respect anyone’s decision to set other priorities and happily accept being overweight or obese. Just because you can change a situation, it doesn’t mean you must. That said, it’s important for that decision to be an informed one (1).

Nadja Hermann, The Guardian, 5 January 2019

Does being overweight directly affect your quality of life? It may not be apparent until a few years have passed. But just because the effects of being overweight are not showing doesn’t mean that they are not there.

Girl sitting on top of mountain with arms outstretched

Research studies on effect of weight on health

One study analysed data from healthy and overweight people (2) to find the long-term consequences of obesity with the specific aim of examining so-called “healthily obese” people. A comparison of healthy people (with normal weight) and healthy (but obese) people showed the obese group had a significantly higher risk of dying or developing cardiovascular disease. The conclusion was therefore that the belief you can be “fat but fit” is just a myth.

Another study (3) followed ‘healthy’ obese subjects over 20 years and found that their risk of becoming ill was eight times higher than that of the healthy normal weight group. The risks included diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleep apnoea, arthritis/joint problems, fertility problems, asthma, back pain, incontinence, gout and stroke. Over half of the ‘healthy’ obese subjects became unhealthy during the 20 year period.

Excess weight can also make you more susceptible to sleep apnea, joint pain, and arthritis and increase your resistance to insulin, which can lead to diabetes (5).

A paper published online on March 16, 2018, by the European Heart Journal studied almost 300,000 people (normal weight, overweight, or obese) without heart disease. After four years, there was a direct correlation between higher body mass index (BMI) and a higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure (5).

In fact, they discovered that the risk increases the more fat a person carries around his or her waist. Within the study, those men who started with a 32-inch waist and a BMI between 22 and 23 (which is considered healthy), and those who added five inches to their waist size raised their heart disease risk by 16%(5). (BMI is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres squared).

It is also worth stating that the BMI may not be accurate for those who are muscular, of short stature, or elderly. For instance, someone who is 5 feet 10 inches and 220 pounds with 12% body fat would be considered obese based on BMI standards. Obviously, someone with 12% body fat is not obese (6).

A study in the Feb. 28, 2018, JAMA Cardiology found that the longer you are overweight, the shorter your life. Middle-aged men (average age 46) who stayed overweight shortened their lives by almost six years compared with those who maintained a normal weight.

It is important to be realistic about our physical fitness, both so that we don’t injure ourselves, but also so that we have a realistic idea of how far we need to go if we want to become fit. In 2013, USA leader of the fat-acceptance movement, Ragen Chastain,  completed a marathon and published an article about it (4). She covered just over 40km in 12 hours and 20 minutes. Her average speed of less than 3.5km (2.2 miles) an hour is much slower than normal walking speed. The marathon had officially ended hours before she crossed the finishing line – the stands removed, the organisers gone. The last participant to complete the race, several hours before Chastain, was a woman in her 70s.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s 1998 report, Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, people who are overweight can be considered healthy if their waist size is less than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men, and if they have no more than one of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol

However, they should not gain additional weight and preferably should lose some weight (6).

Steven Blair, of the Cooper Institute in Dallas,  says that people who are obese but fit (according to cardiovascular measurement such as stress tests) have death rates half that of normal-weight people who are unfit. In addition, improving your fitness level usually results in increased muscle mass, which means your body burns more calories all the time (6).

The good news is that if you take off the excess weight, many of the health issues listed above are reversible, even with just a modest amount of weight loss, according to Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (5).

Healthy eating and regular exercise are good for your health whether or not they lead to weight loss. Losing as little as 5%-10% of body weight is linked to improved cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels. Improving your habits — especially eating more healthfully and getting regular exercise — are more important than the numbers on the scale(6).


Are you interested in a personalised weight loss program? You have the choice of the Virtual Gastric Band program (which runs over 4 sessions) or the in-depth Pathway to a Healthier You (which runs over 8 sessions).

If you would like more help with weight loss, or simply wish to find out more information, please email me (Lisa) on sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com, or call 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/05/truth-obesity-five-fat-myths-debunked

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24297192

(3) http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/65/1/101

(4) https://danceswithfat.org/2013/12/03/my-big-fat-finished-marathon/

(5) https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-you-be-overweight-and-still-be-fit

(6) https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/can-you-be-fit-fat

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Sneaky ways to be successful at losing weight

This is part of the Healthy Weight Management Series of articles, tips, blogs and videos which is available on the Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy Facebook page .

Why do some people find weight loss so easy?

We all probably know someone who can lose weight fairly easily if they gain a few kilos over the party season. They just put their mind to eating healthier foods, restrict their intake of sugar and fat for a while, maybe exercise a bit more……… and they are back to their ideal weight. They really don’t understand the experience that most people have when they try to lose weight! (1)

However, genetics can play a part in how people find it easy to maintain a healthy weight. If your body takes fewer calories to operate, then you could eat the same as a thinner person, and still have calories or kilojoules left over (which are stored as fat). In addition, as you lose weight, your body takes even fewer calories to maintain your new (lighter) weight, and so your weight may plateau.

What factors can affect weight loss?

Did you know that our cravings for junk food / fast food are actually encouraged by food manufacturers? They spend an unspecified number of research dollars on this! Fast food and snacks contain fat, sugar, salt and other chemicals to trick our bodies into wanting more and more, and over-riding our “stop” signals.

The good news is: if you are aware of your cravings and triggers, they are much easier to avoid. It’s also a lot easier to eat healthily and lose weight.

But why is fatty, sugary, salty food so appealing to us? It goes back to the way that some manufacturers design processed food. There is a specific combination of salty, sweet and fatty flavours called the “bliss point”. Howard Moskowitz, an American market researcher, first coined this phrase and is one of the best known researchers who specialise in this area (2).

This salt, sugar and fat affects our brain in a similar way to drug addictions by triggering the reward pathways in our brain, and encouraging the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and pleasure (3, 4, 5). This then encourages us to eat these foods again and again, due to context-dependent memory (6), as our brain remembers what made us feel good, and strives to repeat the experience by eating more of the food providing the “bliss point”, especially if we are feeling unhappy for some reason. 

To make weight loss even more interesting, dieting can cause neurological changes that make you more likely to notice fatty and sugary food than before dieting.(7) It is also harder to ignore the food, as the same brain changes make the food taste better, and give a bigger rush of dopamine (which make us feel great).  Dieting also changes hormones, as leptin (a satiety hormone) goes down, which makes the dieter feel more hungry. Dieting may also affect thinking (8) including self-control (9)

Stress (including lack of sleep) may also make high fat, high sugar foods more attractive to you (10, 11).

So, what are some tips to improve these factors so that we can reach a healthy weight?

  • Realise that factors outside your control (e.g. genetics) may play a part in your weight.
  • Ensure that you are eating sufficient food to satisfy you. It does not need to be fatty or sugary food – fill up on vegetables and some fruit. See Australian dietary guidelines (12) for more information.
  • Decrease stress. We are all subject to stress in daily life, but there are numerous methods of decreasing it, either on the spot when a stressful event happens, or lowering our response to stress in general so we are less likely to react (13).
  • Take action to sleep better (if it is an issue for you) (11, 14).

© Lisa Billingham, 2020.


Are you interested in a personalised weight loss program? You have the choice of the Virtual Gastric Band program (which runs over 4 sessions) or the in-depth Pathway to a Healthier You (which runs over 8 sessions)?

If you are interested in finding out more about these or the other help available, please give me (Lisa) a call on 0403 932311.

We can have a chat to answer any of your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.


References

  1. Mann, T. (2018). Why diets fail. Thin people don’t understand this crucial truth about losing weight. Quartz. https://qz.com/1169082/thin-people-dont-understand-this-crucial-truth-about-losing-weight/
  2. Moss, M. (2013). The extraordinary science of junk food. New York Times, 24 February. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  3. Johnson, P., Kenny, P. (2010). Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature Neuroscience 13, 635–641. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2519
  4. Willner, T. and Moncrieff, F. (2020). Can’t stop eating junk food? Here’s why. Second Nature. https://www.secondnature.io/guides/nutrition/cant-stop-eating-junk-food
  5. Ahmed, S. H., Guillem, K., & Vandaele, Y. (2013). Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 16(4), 434–439. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8
  6. Brewer, J. (n.d.). A simple way to break a bad habit. TED Talks. https://embed.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit
  7. Stice, E., Burger, K., and Yokum, S. (2013). Caloric deprivation increases responsivity of attention and reward brain regions to intake, anticipated intake, and images of palatable foods. NeuroImage, 67, 322-330. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.11.028
  8. Green, M. W., & Rogers, P. J. (1995). Impaired cognitive functioning during spontaneous dieting. Psychological Medicine25(5), 1003–1010.  https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291700037491
  9. Kemps, E., Tiggemann, M., and Marshall, K. (2005). Relationship between dieting to lose weight and the functioning of the central executive. Appetite, 45 (3), 287-294. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2005.07.002
  10. Ambardekar, N. (2019). Why can’t I lose weight? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/why-cant-i-lose-weight#1
  11. Mosley, M. (2017). Michael Mosley: how to have a better night’s sleep. Radio Times. https://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-05-11/michael-mosley-how-to-have-a-better-nights-sleep/
  12. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55
  13. Billingham, L. (2019). Benefits of relaxation and how to do it. Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy blog. https://sunsetcoasthypnotherapy.com.au/2019/03/26/benefits-of-relaxation-and-how-to-do-it/
  14. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.) What to do when you can’t sleep. SleepFoundation.org https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep

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Do media reports make you stressed and anxious?

Introduction

We live in an increasingly connected world. We have 24-hour news from multiple sources – country-specific (e.g. Australian Broadcasting Corporation or ABC in Australia), and international (e.g. CNN). We can obtain the latest news on any situation from multiple viewpoints at any time we wish.

Many people have been following the progress – rise and fall – of COVID-19 cases across the world since the beginning of 2020. Prior to this, we had multiple reports of terrorist attacks in various countries of the world. Recent news has also shown loss of life and multiple injuries through various activities. There is also regular news coverage of local events that cause concern, such as fighting, shootings, and other crime.

We all can get upset and disturbed by news reports, and it is reasonable to feel stress and anxiety when we hear of such events. One of the reasons that bad news affects us so much is because it is potentially threatening to us, and can make us feel that we are losing control in our lives. Stress, anxiety and concern are normal reactions to events which affect us.

How to take back control

One of the ways we can minimise the effect of such news is to take back control of how we react to the news, and take back control of our lives by making positive changes.

Here are some tips to help you decrease anxiety:-

    • Change your perspective. John Tsilimparis, Director of the Anxiety and Panic Disorder Center of Los Angeles, suggests that people with elevated anxiety feel distressed when they are not in control. The solution to this is to concentrate on controlling what you can within your own life, and focus on what is happening to your loved ones and your life, rather than worrying about what may be happening elsewhere in the world which you cannot control.
    • Focus on the things that you can control. Tsilimparis suggests gaining a wider perspective – like a movie director widening the camera lens to see more of the picture (rather than focusing on just your concern, also focus on positive events happening around you).
    • Realise that life is not black and white. Your neighbourhood or country is not either totally safe or totally unsafe, and just because a crime has been reported on the media does not necessarily mean that your neighbourhood has become unsafe. Consider the likelihood of the event you fear actually occurring, and you may find that it is much lower than you first thought.
    • Realise that bad news is popular in the media. The proportion of good news to bad news does not equal the proportion of good and bad in the world. In addition, news reports are often accompanied by images which show the events in great detail, which can cause further distress. Much more negative news is reported than good news, and there are many positive events which are not reported.

    • Be aware of “fake news”. A report by the University of Canberra (1) found that Australian worry more than the global average about whether what they read is true or not. 62% of Australian news consumers say they are worried about what is real or fake on the internet, which is much higher than the global average (55%).  26% of Australians interviewed for the report said they have started to use more reliable sources of news, and 22% said they have stopped using unreliable sources.
    • Limit exposure to news. 28% of Australians interviewed (1) said they are worn out by the volume of news. Most (88%) of those who are worn out by news, also avoid it. Listening or watching the same negative news repeatedly throughout the day may make you feel worse, so limit your exposure. This may involve turning off the automatic news alert on your mobile device, or only checking your device at specific times throughout the day. This could be during your coffee breaks, or at breakfast or lunch. Try to limit exposure to news directly before bedtime, as this can prey on your mind and keep you awake.
    • Talk about your concerns. This can be to relatives, friends, work colleagues, or even strangers. This may allow you to get a different perspective on the issue, help normalize your feelings, and reassure you. It may even lead to positive action to help the issue (see next point below).
    • Get involved in helping your local community. As an example, if you hear that there is a problem with kids drinking too much alcohol in your neighbourhood, you could get involved with a group (or start a group) to educate children about the dangers of alcohol.
    • Express your emotions. Gail Saltz uses a metaphor for emotions of a beach ball that you are holding under water. Your arms will eventually become tired, and the moment that you tire and stop pressing down on the beach ball, it pops up. She states that emotions are like that – it takes a lot of energy to keep them hidden, and the moment that you stop suppressing them, they resurface. It is always better to address what you are thinking and feeling rather than suppress it.
    • Consider if the reported event will have an effect on you. In today’s world we hear of many events which are distressing, but do not directly affect us, and which we may be unable to change. However, if you allow yourself to be overly concerned by these events, it can lead to ‘catastrophising’, which in turn leads to emotional upset due to the connection between emotions and thoughts. If you decide that you cannot influence an event, and it is not directly affecting you, then do not worry about it.
    • Dispute your beliefs. Become aware of your thoughts, and examine them calmly. If you have an anxiety-producing thought, examine it as if ‘from the outside’ and say to yourself “Here I am – thinking anxious, emotional thoughts again. I am going to assess the situation in a calm manner”.
    • Look after yourself. Watch your eating habits, and continue to take the time to prepare healthy food and eat regular meals. Take regular exercise, as exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on mood.
    • Use meditation or mindfulness. If you find it difficult to sleep, you could use meditation, or mindfulness techniques. Try to go to sleep and wake up at approximately the same time each day, as this assists good sleep. It is important to take time to relax, as this will assist you in thinking and reasoning logically about what you may hear in the media.

    • Seek professional help. If you find that despite following the above tips that you are still feeling anxious, you may wish to seek professional help. Professional hypnotherapists can help you work out how to overcome your anxiety by taking an objective and neutral viewpoint, and teach practical strategies that will assist you.

Without a doubt, reported events can absolutely cause anxiety. They take away a sense of control, but by shifting our perspective, we can gain control and decrease anxiety.

As a qualified hypnotherapist, I am trained to assist you with anxiety originating from any situation in your life in a confidential, supportive, non-judgmental way. If you want to know how hypnotherapy can help you deal more effectively with your anxiety feel free to give me a call on 0403 932311 or email sunsetcoasthyp@gmail.com to arrange a no-obligation chat.

References

  1. Fisher, C., Park, S., Lee, J., Fuller, G., Sang, Y. (2019) Digital News Report: Australia 2019. Canberra: News and Media Research Centre. Retrieved on 6 June 2020.
  2. Peterson, T.J. (2016) What to Do When Current Events Cause Anxiety. HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 6 June 2020.
  3. Saltz, J. (2016) How to Manage Your Anxiety Over the Never-Ending Stream of Bad News. Health. Retrieved on 6 June 2020.
  4. Tartakovsky, M. (2018)  Overcoming Anxiety in Today’s Tough, Tuned-in, Plugged-in World. Psych Central. Retrieved on 6 June 2020.

+ woman sitting on couch near window

How to look after your mental health post-lockdown

For most people, the world has changed since the end of 2019. 

We all stayed at home (except for essential trips to the supermarket, and for healthcare). Those with vulnerable health conditions, and the elderly, may have remained in their homes and not ventured out at all. All of this was to keep ourselves safe, but also to safeguard the community in general.

A “new” normal was created of working and socialising via Zoom and Skype, or phoning friends rather than meeting in person. This initially made some people feel anxious and uncertain.

Now, the good news is that many governments are starting to ease restrictions to get the economy, employment and society back to something approaching the “old” normal. It should also help the high levels of anxiety, stress and other mental health problems seen during the lockdown.

But the coronavirus is still with us, and many people may still have fear and anxiety around leaving home, and meeting people again. This has created new words – e.g. “corono-phobia” and “corona-paranoia”– related to the fear and stress of returning to normality. It can be thought of as post-lockdown anxiety – anxiety about further change while COVID-19 is still with us.

If you’re anxious, you’re not alone. Researchers at the Black Dog Institute (1) surveyed more than 5,000 Australian adults during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. They found one in four were very or extremely worried about contracting COVID-19; about half were worried about their loved ones contracting it.

Researchers from Australian National University (ANU) (2) surveyed Australian adults at the end of March, about a week after restaurants and cafes first closed, and with gatherings restricted to two people, and found levels of depression and anxiety were much higher than usual in the community.

They found that the social and financial disruption caused by the restrictions had a much more marked effect than fear of exposure to the coronavirus itself. 

It’s important to realise that these feelings are reasonable. The world has been through rapid change in the past few months. Very few people alive today have experienced anything like this pandemic, and the actions taken to manage it. However, the good news is that we can adapt to change, and there are several ideas and activities that we can do that will help this adaption.

The ANU survey (2) found that restrictions also benefited some of the people surveyed. Around two-thirds of people listed at least one positive impact coronavirus has had on them, such as spending more time with family. 

A recent survey by mental health charity Anxiety UK (3) on more than 700 people in the UK found that the prospect of lockdowns lifting caused more than two-thirds of people to experience an increase in anxiety levels. 

After being inside for a long time, it is naturally going to feel strange and challenging for people to start to return to their pre-pandemic routine. It’s essential therefore that additional support is made available for this group of people.

Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK

For most people, anxiety about the easing of restrictions will only be temporary.

But how do you know if your fears of coronavirus are out of control? And what can you do about it?

Signs that anxiety is out of control

Your anxiety may be out of control if you notice:

  • your fears are out of proportion to the actual danger (for instance, you’re young with no underlying health issues but wear a mask and gloves to the park for your daily exercise where it’s easy to social distance)
  • the fear and anxiety is intense and persistent (lasting weeks to months)
  • it’s hard to stop worrying about coronavirus
  • you’re actively avoiding situations (for instance, places, people, activities) even when they’re safe
  • you’re spending a lot of your time monitoring your body for signs and symptoms, or searching the internet about the virus
  • you’ve become overly obsessive about cleaning, washing, and decontaminating.
  • you’re avoiding seeking medical care due to fear of contracting coronavirus
  • you’re debilitated with fear

Post-Lockdown Anxiety

This can include:-

  • worry about increased risk of catching the virus through returning to usual activities – using public transport, meeting people face-to-face, going shopping, returning to work, etc.
  • worry about how to do activities you haven’t done for several months – e.g. cooking and entertaining guests, getting up early to reach work in time, sales meetings with prospective clients
  • activities that used to be stressful, but that you haven’t done for a while – e.g. working in the office under the watchful eye of the boss, driving to work in the rush hour, having less control of your work day due to frequent interruptions in the office
  • sensory overload – e.g. traffic, noise, people chatting on the train and in the office

These activities may be worse for someone who was feeling anxious about them before the coronavirus situation. Ironically, living in ‘lockdown’ may have been positive for such people (e.g. those with social anxiety or fear of germs), as they could avoid activities that caused anxiety. They may also have to become ‘desensitised’ to outside / social activities all over again.

The ANU survey (5) found around half of Australians were at least moderately concerned about becoming infected with COVID-19 as restrictions eased.

If you are anxious about leaving your home, you may be wondering if you have developed agoraphobia. Agoraphobia (6) is a fear of or worry about having a panic attack in a place that you can’t escape from, like public transport, crowds or queues. It can include a fear of being in open spaces, enclosed spaces, or anywhere where help would not be available if you had a panic attack.

However, if the above paragraph does not apply to you, and you fear leaving home or feel uncomfortable in public spaces because of the risk of infection with COVID-19, it is more likely that you have anxiety around life after lockdown.

Tips for people who are feeling anxious

  1. Use the skills and techniques that have worked previously for you. If you have experienced anxiety previously, you will know which techniques work for you. Use them! You can also try any new techniques that you feel could help you, but start with the tried and tested techniques.
  2. Practice mindfulness.
  3. Take regular exercise.
  4. Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep. No-one feels good if they are tired!
  5. Reassure yourself that it will get better. For most people, the anxiety will get better as the threat of COVID-19 passes. If anxiety doesn’t go away, it can be treated
  6. Control the media you read and listen to, and how much time you spend on it. Some media outlets are more sensational than others. Choose to pay attention to (read / watch / listen to) media which has balanced coverage. Don’t spend too long on this – checking once a day is probably enough. If there is an important COVID-19 development meanwhile, you will hear about it from a friend or relative!
  7. Think logically about the risk. Over 90% of people infected with coronavirus in Australia have already recovered. The number of cases is also still extremely low in Australia. Even in countries with higher rates of COVID-19, the numbers are generally coming down.
  8. Do not concentrate on your body. When we pay too much attention to our bodies, it can make us notice things we wouldn’t normally notice – aches and pains etc., which then makes us more anxious.
  9. Take things slowly, at your own pace. You do not have to jump into activities “with both feet”. Don’t feel that you need to restart doing all that you used to do. Take it one activity at the time. Maybe start going for a takeaway coffee and walk with your friends twice a week for a few weeks, then re-start going to the gym, then start inviting friends back to your home after a few more weeks, etc.
  10. Focus on what you can control. This can be by choosing some activities from this list, and using them to improve your health.
  11. Follow government advice. This relates to social distancing, hand washing, etc. For Australians, this advice can be found here and is usually included in daily news bulletins on various TV and radio stations.
  12. Get help. Seek advice from your GP, psychologist or a hypnotherapist who specialises in anxiety. There are also community services like LifelineSANE Australia, or Beyond Blue. There are plenty of programs to help with anxiety.

References

  1. Newby, J., O’Moore, K., Tang, S., Christensen, H., Faasse K. (2020). Acute mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. British Medical Journal preprint. Available here.
  2. The Australian National COVID-19 Mental Health, Behaviour and Risk Communication Survey. Available here.
  3. Coronaphobia and life after lockdown – Anxiety UK [Internet]. Anxiety UK. 2020 [cited 18 May 2020]. Available here
  4. Anxiety UK survey indicates a further rise in anxiety levels can be expected with easing of lockdown restrictions – Anxiety UK [Internet]. Anxiety UK. 2020 [cited 18 May 2020]. Available here.
  5. Dawel, A., Newman, E., and McCallum, S. (2020). Coronavirus lockdown made many of us anxious. But for some people, returning to ‘normal’ might be scarier. Available here.
  6. HealthDirect. Agoraphobia. Available here.
  7. Newby, J. and Werner-Seidler, A. (2020). 7 ways to manage your #coronaphobia. Available here.
  8. Butterly, A. (2020). Coronavirus anxiety: How to cope with life after lockdown. Available here.
  9. YourMD. (2020). Post-lockdown life: How to look after your physical and mental health. Available here.
+ closeup of cigarette butt

Ditch your smoking habit

Some habits masquerade as our friends, but they are in fact our enemies!

It is sometimes hard to recognise these ‘so-called friends’, as they are so clever at appearing to be useful and attractive in our lives.

Just suppose that you had a friend who offered to:-

  • console you when you are depressed
  • keep you company when you are bored
  • calm you when you are stressed
  • keep you company when you go to social events
  • help you feel confident
  • always be available when you need them

Pretty good friend, aren’t they? Who would not want a friend like that?

However…after they have been your friend for a few years, you might realise that they have been:-

  • worsening your health (affecting your lungs, making you more likely to get diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, etc.)
  • costing you money
  • making you look older than you really are
  • limiting where you can go to socialise (if you want to interact with them)
  • affecting your appearance
  • shortening your lifespan

Ugh! Not such a great friend after all. You wouldn’t put up with this from a human friend, so why put up with it from smoking?

There is evidence that smokers are generally more likely to get respiratory tract infections, like chest infections, and there is evidence that they may be at higher risk of COVID-19 and its complications. People with poor lung health and other conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer (which can be caused by smoking) are also at higher risk of complications if they do become infected with the virus (1)

Smoking (cigarettes and e-cigarettes) also involves putting your hand to your mouth repeatedly, so smokers may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, as they are touching their face and mouth more often. It’s not known for sure, but it’s also possible the vapour from e-cigarettes may be able to spread the virus (either in the air or as it settles on surfaces). Sharing any type of tobacco or smoking product (for example, cigarettes, e-cigarettes or shisha/waterpipes) can also increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 (1).

The Australian federal government has also increased tobacco excise by 12.5% EVERY YEAR since 2013 (2). This applies to both cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.

Cigarettes now cost around $1 each, $20 for a packet of 20 cigarettes, meaning that an average 40 per day smoker will spend $280 per week or $14,600 per year – the cost of a modest house mortgage – on something that is doing them harm.

Retrain your subconscious mind

This is easy to do –  by breaking the beliefs, associations and triggers related to the smoking, and replacing them with what you want to do instead.

cigarette

Make today the day that you take action to ditch smoking.

In a hypnotherapy session we will uncover the reasons why you started the habit, and why it has continued. We will then plan the new healthy alternative behaviour that you want to do instead, and create positive suggestions to reinforce your desired new feeling, thoughts and behaviour.

Easy and successful therapy

The vast majority of clients do not have any smoking withdrawal symptoms, and they report that they are extremely pleased and proud that they have stopped.

If you are wondering what a hypnotherapy session is like, please see my other blogpost.

Why should I use hypnotherapy instead of the other methods for quitting smoking?

About 90% of people who try to quit use “cold turkey”, although only 5 – 7% succeed with this method. (3)

If you use patches or gum to come off cigarettes, you are still taking the nicotine into your body. Hypnotherapy allows you to break the beliefs and psychological habit of smoking, and to take back control of your behaviour. As part of the hypnotherapy, we will work together to create positive statements which you can use to sustain your success as a non-smoker.

“Hypnosis is the most effective way of giving up smoking, according to the largest ever scientific comparison of ways of breaking the habit.” (4)

Published in New Scientist

Hypnotherapy allows you to break the beliefs and psychological habit of smoking, and expecting to smoke in specific situations. Hypnotherapy will enable you to get back in control by talking to your subconscious mind and breaking the link between smoking and apparent happiness. As part of the hypnotherapy, you can create positive statements which you can use to sustain your success.

References

  1. Quit Coronavirus (COVID-19) and smoking
  2. Piotrowski, D. (2019). Cigarettes soar to $35 a pack after a sneaky 12.5% tax hike – and you won’t believe how much a smoker now spends each year on their habit. Daily Mail
  3. WebMD Ways to quit smoking
  4. Matthews, R. (1992). How one in five have given up smoking. New Scientist, vol. 136, issue 1845.

© 2020 Lisa Billingham, Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy