Fear---the great unraveler. It's an irony that the very state of mind that is meant to protect us can also unhinge us. FDR, in his inaugural address, said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It's a great idea, philosophically, but a bit cavalier for the person who awakens suddenly at three in the morning paralyzed by fear, their mind filled with worst-case scenarios.
I tend to take a back door approach to fear. Rather than trying to confront it head-on, I look for ways to set the stage so that it has less room to exist. If we fight fear, we are engaged with it, and it becomes our major focus. If we shift that focus to something more compelling, fear fades into the background. Does it ever go away entirely? No, nor should it. Fear has protected us since we were children; it's how we learned not to touch that hot stove, or run into the street, or do myriad other things that could have hurt us. So rather than thinking of fear as an enemy that we must rid ourselves of, we can be grateful for the many times it's safeguarded us.
But it is not safeguarding us when we wake up overwhelmed at three in the morning. When I work with clients in my office I help them into a state of relaxation through hypnotherapy. There's no
great mystique about hypnotherapy...what it does is offer easy access to relaxation. I regularly record about ten or fifteen minutes of our session, during which I speak directly to my client,
in monologue, helping to induce a deepening state of relaxation. This state is a wonderful experience; it's similar to the pleasant feeling of almost falling asleep, but not quite. Kind of like a deep
daydream in which conscious awareness is accessible but there's no need for it. This easy, receptive state is where relaxation comes to the foreground and fear recedes. The sense is that it could be summoned if desired, but there's no desire.
Fear, like anything repeated, becomes habitual. Most people facing life-threatening illness are inundated with thoughts of fear.
That's the reason I record the session, with the instruction that the client listen to the recording every time they feel incapacitated by fear, insofar as it's practical to do so. I ask them to listen every night before bed, so that they fall asleep to relaxing thoughts which will often permeate their dreams. I ask them to listen to it if they awaken in the night; a most vulnerable
time. Recognizing the fact that the mind holds one thought at a
time, the purpose of the recording is to override thoughts of fear with thoughts of relaxation. This is a double-win because relaxation is an essential component in the body's ability to heal, plus it simply feels good. It replaces an acidic, constricting state of mind with one that allows the body to release tension. Since
it's a state that's already been experienced by the client, the
usual sabotaging fear chatter ("you just made it up") has no
room to exist. It isn't a fantasy or wishful thinking; it's a comfortable feeling that is familiar.
The recording is especially helpful in expediting replacement of the new behavior for the one you want to leave behind. It's short
and you can listen to it as often as you want. In fact, before long you're likely to have inadvertently memorized its content. The key factor is that you're substituting something pleasant for something unpleasant. I have yet to meet a person who prefers
being in a state of tension, especially one which provokes terror!
A recording that immerses you in relaxation is appealing in itself, becoming even more so through repetition.
Usually on hearing the first words of the recording, a client will drop back into a state of relaxation. Often they will fall
asleep. The deeper the relaxation, the better. Conscious awareness is not necessary for relaxation; in fact it's often a barrier. Also, the immune system functions at its best when we are relaxed, allowing it to do its work unhindered by mundane busyness and stress. The more the recording is listened to, the more it becomes part of our thinking, until the new thinking becomes habitual. This is how we substitute the habit of fear for the habit of relaxation.
Where do you get a recording if you don't have plans to visit a hypnotherapist's office? Make one yourself! This is not a daunting
process: no one understands your likes, hopes and dreams better than you. Record a message to yourself on your smart phone or a small handheld device. You can play it back ad infinitum
(assuming you remember to keep it charged!). Talk to yourself as if you were telling a child a story. Use words like "remember" ...."Remember when you were six years old and you loved to swing in the old apple tree in the backyard...." Remember beachcombing, searching for sea shells...." Use words that are comforting to you, that evoke sensations you love. Often these
will have to do with the elements: the breeze on your face, in your hair; the fragrance of fresh mowed grass; the warmth of the sun; the softness of a down comforter. Use your imagination---literally: What can you imagine that feels soothing to you? You know this better than anyone. Fool around with the recording; make some mistakes; erase; get tired of the wearisome process
of editing, and proceed. In a short time you will have told yourself a bedtime story. Hearing your own voice speaking to you
in gentle tones is a deeply healing experience. Your recording is a
tool to help you give that to yourself.