Stress and anxiety. Arguments over food, travel, and politics. A blitzkrieg of commercials marketing fresh deals every week, with Mariah Carey’s 1994 chart-topping Christmas album playing ad nauseam in stores over entire hemispheres.
Welcome back to the annual winter holiday season.
This time of year – the “happiest season of all” – can often bring whirlwinds of emotions that easily overwhelm the love and cheer we are meant to be surrounded by. A 2015 survey from Healthline reported that 62% of people feel more stress during the season than other times of the year. 44% of people surveyed said they felt “somewhat stressed” during the winter holidays. Another 18% admitted to feeling “very stressed”. Demands and expectations regarding travel, cooking, gift-giving, cleaning, preparation, pressure from others to appear in good spirits, not to mention inadvertent weight gain from holiday festivities and sunlight that fades earlier and earlier each day the further north you go or live.
In 2020, however, these stressors are further burdened by other factors. The United States just endured what may be deemed the most stressful election in the country’s history. COVID-19 cases are reaching record-breaking numbers on a near-daily basis. Millions of Americans are still unemployed, struggling to afford monthly bills, let alone holiday gifts.
Mitigating stress during the holiday season has never been more important than it is this year. Although some seasonal stressors are predictable or avoidable such as eating, drinking, or spending to excess, others are not easily avoided or identified. One method to reduce stress and improve mental health during the holiday season, though, may arise from one not-so-predictable source: hypnotherapy.
Christine Deschemin, a Harvard MBA and Hong Kong-based Hypnotherapist, argues that the practice of hypnosis can not only reduce stress from long-lasting anxieties and fears but that the practice of self-hypnosis – performing hypnosis upon oneself – is more common than it is often perceived.
“Hypnosis is a naturally occurring state of awareness,” says Deschemin, who has used hypnosis and hypnotherapy to help individuals, including athletes and business executives, overcome challenges and stress to achieve their goals.
At a glance, the ability for us to put ourselves into a hypnotic state to help overcome stress sounds comical, although, surprisingly, many of us do so every day without even realizing it. The daily moments when we seem to “zone out” or “operate on autopilot” are actually our minds allowing our bodies to function while in a somewhat-hypnotized state, tuning out the world around us. The next time you curl up with a book, watch a movie, or even perform household chores like cleaning dishes or folding laundry, try to pain attention to just how frequently you “zone out”. Each occurrence is an example of self-hypnosis.
“Self-hypnosis can provide tremendous relief for those suffering from anxiety, phobias, or PTSD without using drugs,” Deschemin continues. “By leveraging the mind-body connection, it can alleviate anxiety and stress symptoms while promoting self-regulation.”
To put it simply, practicing hypnosis on oneself can not only grant some immediate relief of symptoms brought on by stress and anxiety, but it also provides a clearer path for how to do so repeatedly in the future, as well. Though many people are still skeptical about the practice of hypnosis or hypnotherapy, Deschemin offers reaffirmation in the technique’s use across a number of fields, from pre-surgery preparation to childbirth, but also pain management.
“Hypnosis is the only mind-body technique used in operating theaters,” says Deschemin. “There is more research on that topic [than ever before]. Athletes have used it to achieve peak performance [when facing] stress. If you are skeptical, you can listen to a hypnosis downloads app such as UpNow from the comfort and safety of your home.”
Deschemin isn’t the only certified hypnotherapist with this mindset. Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon is the Founder & Director of The Center for Integrative and Functional Health and Wellness in Bloomingdale, IL.
“Clinical hypnotherapy can help create a sense of peace, wellbeing, and harmony within so that you can deal with your challenges in a more positive and confident manner,” says Dr. Harris-Newon. “The hypnotic suggestions when undergoing hypnotherapy should be targeted to specific triggers and emotional responses the client has in response to the holidays. For the clinical hypnosis to be most effective, the hypnotic suggestions should be stated using the Six P’s- they should be Personalized, have a Payoff (‘you will feel better and better’) be stated in the Present tense, should be Positive, Plausible, and there should be a Promise (‘and as you release this stress, you’ll begin to feel really good about yourself’).”
Both Deschemin and Dr. Harris-Newon agree that the secret to successfully regulating one’s emotions, especially in the face of stress, lies in practice. Just as athletes do not only stress when competing, stressors do not wait until we are in a positive state of mind to weigh on us. Undoubtedly, many have already begun stressing over the upcoming holidays.
“The holiday season will be very different,” Deschemin continues, “because of the pandemic, we might not be able to congregate with our loved ones and those living abroad might feel even more lonely. The pandemic has laid bare our vulnerabilities…[which can] change the body’s physiology and lead to a series of changes noticeable by everyone around you.”
By this, Deschemin explains that stress (in this case, holiday stress) not only affects how our bodies physically feel, but how our emotions cause our bodies to react to them. If one notices themselves exhibiting physiological signs of stress such as shaking, rapid breathing or heartbeat, or fumbling words, these can be signs of increased stress. Other physical symptoms of stress like insomnia, fatigue, or changes in appetite, can also help identify triggers of stress. In order to better identify and manage these symptoms when they arise, Deschemin offers a checklist of advice.
“First you need to increase your own awareness. Becoming aware of these changes can help you understand that you are experiencing a state of acute stress. Second, you need to understand why you are feeling stressed. Sometimes the answer is obvious. But at other times, we might not realize that a situation is causing so much stress. Third, do a reality check. We experience stress when we perceive a danger. While we might dislike or disagree with something or someone, they might not represent a fatal danger. This step is extremely important because reframing the situation might take off the stress altogether. Four, focus on what you can control. There are a lot of things that we can influence. Decide to concentrate on them now and get ready to feel a sense of relief.”