Hypnotherapy: building resilience and overcoming anxiety

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are great tools to support us in developing resilience and helping us overcome our fears and anxieties.

So, what are hypnosis and hypnotherapy and how do they work? Hypnosis is a naturally occurring, altered state of awareness. Hypnosis itself is not a treatment, but it enables a mental state that can facilitate a variety of treatment strategies. Almost everyone will have experienced this altered state of awareness – and probably many times – though they are unlikely to have called it hypnosis.

For example, have you ever caught yourself daydreaming and not noticed routine things happening around you? Have you ever been absorbed, reading a good book and not noticed someone speak to you, or not noticed how much time had passed?

Experiencing hypnosis can be similar: it is a narrowing of the focus of attention and is usually underpinned by a pleasant feeling of deep relaxation. You might say that a trance state is to consciousness what a telephoto lens is to a camera.

Hypnotherapy is a form of therapy in which the use of hypnosis forms the core aspect of the treatment. It’s a form of therapy used to readjust and to reprogram the subconscious mind.

How does hypnosis work? There are many theories as to how hypnosis works and research suggests that, when we enter hypnosis - this altered state of awareness - positive, beneficial suggestions can be directly “embedded” into the uncritical subconscious part of our mind, bypassing the more critical faculties of our conscious mind.

This altered state of awareness, or consciousness, is largely characterized by a state of suggestibility, showing an increased ability to produce positive changes in motivation, habits, lifestyle, health, perception and behavior as well as modifying physical sensation – often used in pain relief.

Let me be more specific in explaining how it works: let’s assume that the brain works like a very sophisticated computer. The upper part of the brain has two separate sides which we call hemispheres. In computer terms it seems that each hemisphere is programmed differently.


The left side is our logical side and seems to be responsible for our logical, rational, critical, analytical, abstract and mathematical type functions – the important thing is that it’s not programmed to understand emotions.

The right hemisphere is our emotional side and is programmed to be responsible for our emotions, feelings, instincts, intuition and imagery – and aids in the understanding of such things as metaphor.

When we enter a hypnotic state, there seems to be a shift in brain function from left to right – so, using the computer analogy again, we sort of “log on” to the right hemisphere.

What Is Anxiety?

In a nutshell, anxiety is our body's natural response to stress. It's a feeling of fear or apprehension about what's to come. For example, going to a job interview, or perhaps giving a speech – or the prospect of losing your job. Excessive anxiety may be triggered by either a single big event, or a build-up of smaller stressful situations — for example, a death in the family, work stress or financial worries.

Anxiety is, therefore, a normal, albeit unpleasant, part of life. Furthermore, whereas stress is something that will come and go according to the external factor causing it, anxiety is something that can persist whether or not the cause is clear to the person experiencing it.

What is important is the recognition that anxiety is normal and exists due to a set of bodily functions that have existed in humans since we lived in caves and fought off sabre-toothed tigers! I’ll explain this in a little more detail:

Back then, we were equipped with an internal alarm system designed to protect us from the dangers surrounding us in the wild – commonly known today as the “fight or flight” response. This system would make us hyper-alert by giving us a boost of adrenaline that would increase the heart rate and boost the amount of oxygen going to our limbs, so we were better able to fight or run from danger. The typical “butterflies in the stomach” feeling is, quite simply, this mechanism kicking in, but instead of being used to avoid immediate danger, it is often wrongly and inappropriately activated in a person during normal, everyday situations when stress has built up, often unknowingly.

So, one way of thinking about your anxiety is to imagine your stress levels as being like a bucket of water. If we keep adding stressors to the bucket (even tiny ones like the school run or commuting to work), over time it fills up until one day it overflows. This analogy can be a useful way of looking at anxiety because it explains why sometimes it can seem to come out of the blue, with no significant trigger. So, what we need is a leaky bucket with lots of holes in to let stress out and reduce your overall stress levels. Each one of these holes could be something positive that you do to manage your anxiety, such as yoga, exercise, reading or maybe listening to music.

how can hypnotherapy help?

Hypnotherapy can help us manage our levels of anxiety in several ways – in its most fundamental and simplest form hypnotherapy uses suggestion. By repeatedly suggesting to the client, whilst they’re in a hypnotic state – often subtly by the use of metaphor - that they will behave in a certain way – maybe ditching old, unhelpful habits or developing new, healthy habits, the conscious, critical part of the brain – that left hemisphere – is effectively side-stepped and we work with the right hemisphere – that creative side that is responsible for emotions, feelings, instincts, intuition and imagery.

 let me give you a few examples:

  • Hypnotherapy can help us learn how to relax better – it is impossible for an anxious mind to exist in a relaxed body. By learning to relax – and I mean to really relax – physically, psychologically and emotionally – we start to gain more control over certain aspects of ourselves – and when we can do this, we can manage and control our anxiety. So, developing the ability to physically relax is a first and big step to overcoming anxiety.


  • Secondly, hypnotherapy can help in changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Self-talk is that thing we all do at times – that little voice inside our head telling us we’re not good enough; that we’re always getting it wrong; that we’re a failure. And this can be hugely damaging. Hypnotherapy can bolster our self-confidence. It can help us believe in ourselves. It can help us trust ourselves – and we all know what it’s like when we’re confident – we feel like we can achieve anything!


  • Hypnotherapy can help us to visualise and experience positive outcomes as if they’re actually happening: by visualising and experiencing the outcome we want – say for example at a job interview or on the sports field – or even delivering a business presentation successfully, we are rehearsing it. We are rehearsing success, and the more we practice it and expect it, the more likely it is to happen. We can go into almost any situation with total confidence and perform optimally.



Building resilience

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy can be used to help us develop and build our resilience. Below I offer six tips for building resilience, all of which can be mastered when acquired and developed under hypnosis. Of course, hypnotherapy is not essential in developing resilience – but it can be very powerful in supporting our efforts!

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and failures. It enables us to adapt well in the face of adversity.

But my advice is don’t wait for adversity to strike before you think about building resilience – start now! Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.

What’s interesting is that research has shown that resilience is not extra-ordinary – it’s actually ordinary and ordinary people commonly demonstrate resilience.

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress – but it means they can cope better with it and bounce back more quickly – and this is where hypnotherapy can help.

I’ve got 6 top tips for building and developing resilience; here they are:

Mark’s Top 6 tips for building resilience

  1. Realise the ways you’re already resilient.

Most of us have some degree of resilience – maybe more than we think. Think about the three toughest times in your life; how did you get through those times? Reflect on those times and how you got through them. Give yourself credit for how you coped and the actions you took. You probably already know more about being resilient than you realise.

People who face some adversity in their lives become stronger. Of course, it depends on a lot of other factors — how big is the adversity, how much support is available? — but by learning to cope with stress and having that experience, we gain confidence and we gain preparation; we sometimes forget that. We sometimes focus on how we’re broken rather than how we’re strong. Focus on the resilience and see yourself as someone who is even better prepared for life than the average person because you’ve already lived so much of it.

  1. Build self-esteem and Positive Beliefs in Your Abilities

Having confidence in your own ability to cope with the stresses of life can play an important part in resilience. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

Research has demonstrated that your self-esteem plays an important role in coping with stress and recovering from difficult events. Regularly remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments.

When you hear negative comments in your head, practice immediately replacing them with positive ones, such as, "I can do this," "I'm a great friend/father/partner," or "I'm good at my job."

Becoming more confident in your own abilities, including your ability to respond to and deal with a crisis, is a great way to build resilience for the future.

  1. Nurture Yourself/Take care of yourself – be compassionate

When you're stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis.

Focus on building your self-nurturance skills, even when you're troubled. Make time for regular exercise and for activities that you enjoy and find relaxing – this helps you “switch off” for a while and shift your focus, lowering your stress levels.

  1. Don’t catastrophize - avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems

You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations. In hypnotherapy we use re-framing techniques to see things from a different perspective – e.g. don’t refer to a problem; refer to a challenge.

Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

  1. Accept that change is a part of living – embrace change

Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you'll be better equipped to respond when faced with a life crisis.

Resilient people often utilize these events as an opportunity to branch out in new directions. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.

  1. Take your sense of humour seriously

We’ve all heard the phrase that laughter is the best medicine. Humour helps us keep a balance between the serious things in life and the less serious – it keeps us grounded. Laughing in the face of adversity can be profoundly pain relieving, for both the body and mind.

There are many reasons why playful humour helps us survive: for one thing, laughing reduces tension to more moderate levels. And psychologically, choosing humour can be incredibly empowering: playing with a situation makes a person more powerful than sheer determination alone does. The person who toys with the situation creates an inner feeling of ‘This is my plaything; I am bigger than it . . . I won’t let it scare me.’

I’m not suggesting we adopt a Pollyanna-like optimism; that’s not realistic - but humour can actively confront, proactively reframe, and at times transform the tragic.

So, start today. Use my top 6 tips for building resilience.

Mark D. Leahy BSc (Hons) Psych, PgDip, MSc (Distinc) Clin Hyp, GMBPsS, DBSCH

Clinical Hypnotherapist


Tel: 07824 554418

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“Thank you for helping me through a very tough time. I have recommended you and will continue to. Your knowledge and expertise are insane(!) and it’s been a very interesting process. I feel very close to being myself again. Best wishes, R.”
R.S. from Worcester


Dear Mark,

Firstly thank you so much for your wise words and good wishes after my procedure.

You have been most helpful and kind throughout my consultations.
I found with your help I was able to feel less anxious whilst waiting for the Ablation and, on the day, go in to the hospital with more confidence than previously. During the four-hour procedure I was impressed with my calm stillness. Indeed, the consultant actually congratulated me on my ability to stay still!

I am still, almost daily, practicing my self-hypnosis and finding it particularly helpful when I become over-tired.

Thank you so much for everything!
Kindest regards”

V.H. from Malvern


“Dear Mark,

Thank you very much indeed for the hypnotherapy sessions. I found them really helpful (and enjoyable) and my IBS has improved loads since we started. I'm enjoying starting my day with a bit of self-hypnosis and feeling more relaxed and comfortable - I really appreciate the benefit”

G.S. from Towcester


“After only one visit, Mark made a significant alteration and improvement to a deep-rooted fear response and lack of self-belief, whereby my loved ones and friends made comments over the following days and weeks to what a huge difference in my confidence and self-esteem I was suddenly displaying. Several months later, my confidence is only increasing further and I put that singularly down to Mark’s empathy, time and skill. I am incredibly grateful to him and would highly recommend his work to anyone!”

A.H. from Herefordshire


“I was recommended to Mark by my trainer who had been to see him previously. We knew that I had trained as much as I could for this event and as I was quite in touch with my ‘mind over matter’ motto I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain in having a session with Mark. Not knowing what to expect I was surprised at how quickly I relaxed and went in to a hypnotic state of mind. When I was ‘re-awakened’ I felt excited and more ready than ever for my event! I used the techniques which Mark discussed with me and had embedded into my subconscious throughout my session, during my event which really helped me to keep my focus.”

J.D. from Bedfordshire

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Clinical Hypnotherapy in Malvern, Cheltenham and Bedford

Tel: 07824 554418 
Email: mark@hypnotherapyuk.clinic

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