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Too stressed to meditate? A new treatment combining hypnosis with mindfulness has delivered promising results and may be a faster, easier way to chill out than traditional meditation
Researchers from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, explored the feasibility of an intervention called "mindful hypnotherapy" as a calming technique for highly stressed people.
Mindful hypnotherapy is a novel integration of two practices: mindfulness, a type of meditation that involves focusing on awareness of the present moment, and hypnotherapy, which uses hypnosis to relax an individual's conscious mind so that suggestions for symptom reduction may be introduced to the subconscious mind.
Published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, the randomized, controlled pilot study, titled, "Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness,"[i] hypothesized that adding hypnotic suggestion during meditation can deliver more impactful results in less time than a typical mindfulness routine, which often requires months of practice and training in order to achieve deeper states of relaxation.
Head researcher Gary Elkins, Ph.D., director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University, believes this new approach to treating anxiety and symptoms associated with high stress could be a valuable therapeutic option for stress disorders.
"Combining mindfulness and hypnotherapy in a single session is a novel intervention that may be equal to or better than existing treatments, with the advantage of being more time-effective, less daunting and easier to use," he stated in a news release.[ii]
No Surprise: Americans Are Stressed
According to a 2019 Gallup poll, feelings of anger, stress and worry in the U.S. have reached their highest levels in a decade.[iii] The year 2020 has seen greater challenges for much of the nation, leaving a record number of individuals feeling stressed out and uncertain about the future.[iv]
Conventional clinical interventions for symptoms of high stress may involve long-term cognitive behavioral therapy, often in combination with mood-regulating pharmaceutical prescriptions. Holistic approaches may encourage the adoption of stress-regulating practices like mindfulness meditation, which, Elkins noted, can be effective, however the required time commitment -- more than 24 therapy hours -- can be a barrier to adoption for many individuals.[v]
Clinical hypnosis, another integrative stress therapy, is "a state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness [with] enhanced capacity for response to suggestion"[vi] that is induced in a therapeutic setting.
When mindfulness meditation is practiced after hypnotic induction, in combination with verbal suggestions for greater mindfulness, the combination has been called "a natural marriage with excellent prospects."[vii] The Baylor research team explored these prospects for stress relief in a pilot study on highly stressed students on the Baylor college campus.
Mindfulness: A Path to Deeper Self-Awareness
Despite the promise that both meditation and hypnotherapy have demonstrated in extant research, no prior studies have explored the integration of mindfulness treatment with hypnosis. To fill the scientific gap, the Baylor research team devised a study to determine the feasibility of mindful hypnotherapy (MH) as a novel treatment option, and to investigate the impact of MH on stress, psychological distress and mindfulness compared to controls.
Participants in the study were college-age (18 to 21), primarily female (81%) and Caucasian (65%), who identified as highly stressed, with no diagnostic indicators or history of borderline personality disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia. A total of 42 recruits completed the study.
Participants were randomized into two groups, with 22 in the MH intervention group and 20 in the control group, which received no therapeutic intervention. Baseline stress measurements were taken using assessments designed to measure four constructs of psychological distress: depression, hopelessness, anxiety and anger. Upon completion of the eight-week study period, these assessments were repeated for both groups.
The MH group received eight weekly one-hour individual therapy sessions at the Mind-Body Medicine Lab at Baylor University, wherein hypnotic induction was performed with suggestions for achieving greater mindfulness. Participants were also given self-hypnosis audio recordings for each weekly session and were asked to practice these 20-minute recordings at home once daily and record their practice in a treatment journal.
Over the course of the eight-week study, the material covered in MH sessions progressed from present-moment awareness into nonjudgmental awareness of the five senses, then nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts and feelings. Other covered material included compassion for self and others, awareness of personal values and meaning in life, integrating mindful awareness and how to transition to a long-term mindfulness practice.[viii]
Mindful Hypnotherapy May Significantly Reduce Stress
Upon completion of the study, participant feedback was clear: mindful hypnotherapy was considered a "highly satisfactory intervention" for managing periods of intense stress.[ix] The overall satisfaction rate for MH as a stress intervention was 8.9 on a scale of 10. Participants were largely compliant with at-home practice guidelines with 84% practicing every day. A low adverse event rate (4.5%) was also noted.
MH group members were pleased with multiple aspects of the practice, including the number and frequency of sessions, the ease of using at-home hypnosis CDs and the clarity of session content. Large effect sizes were observed relative to areas of life contributing to stress, the level of psychological distress experienced and the benefits of being mindful.
Control group participants, who received no intervention, had no significant difference between baseline stress measurements and post-study stress levels. Elkins hopes to continue MH studies on larger numbers of people and explore the potential of MH as a therapy for other psychologically affective disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder and chronic pain.[x]
Mindfulness Retrains Your Brain for Health
Hypnosis may only have a brief history as a therapeutic mechanism, but it has shown great promise as a low-risk/high-reward healing modality. Hypnotherapy has been used to help with smoking cessation,[xi] lessen chronic pain[xii] and benefit treatment-resistant depression.[xiii] Mindfulness-based interventions have also demonstrated usefulness in the effort to break nicotine addiction in college students,[xiv] and may be helpful in the management of chronic pain and fatigue,[xv] further illustrating the crossover potential for these modalities in the treatment of pain and addiction.
The therapeutic benefits of adopting a mindfulness practice are more than just a new-age construct; it's scientifically validated fact. Thanks to neuroimaging advancements, meditation has been shown to enhance gray matter concentrations within brain regions involved in executive functioning[xvi] and contribute to beneficial alterations in the neural circuitry that regulates self-awareness, emotional processing and present-moment awareness.[xvii]
With no known health risks presented by meditation, and no special training or equipment required, the benefits of beginning a mindfulness practice are achievable to anyone with a desire to develop deeper states of relaxation and mental clarity. For more articles on mindfulness, hypnotherapy or other holistic ways to manage stress, consult the GreenMedInfo.com research database.
[i] Nicholas Olendzki, Gary R. Elkins, Elizabeth Slonena, Julia Hung, Joshua R. Rhodes. Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2020; 68 (2): 151 DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2020.1722028
[ii] Baylor University. "Mindfulness combined with hypnotherapy aids highly stressed people, study finds: 'Novel intervention' may be as effective -- or more so -- as existing treatments." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200615184150.htm
[iii] Gallup.com, Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report. https://www.gallup.com/analytics/248906/gallup-global-emotions-report-2019.aspx
[iv] American Psychological Association, Stress in America 2020, Stress in the Time of Covid-19, Volume Two. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/stress-in-america-covid-june.pdf
[v] Baylor University. "Mindfulness combined with hypnotherapy aids highly stressed people, study finds: 'Novel intervention' may be as effective -- or more so -- as existing treatments." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200615184150.htm.
[vi] Nicholas Olendzki, Gary R. Elkins, Elizabeth Slonena, Julia Hung, Joshua R. Rhodes. Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2020; 68 (2): 151 DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2020.1722028
[vii] Lynn, S. J., Barnes, S., Deming, A., & Accardi, M. (2010). Hypnosis, rumination, and depression: Catalyzing attention and mindfulness-based treatments. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 58(2), 202-221. doi: 10.1080/00207140903523244
[viii] Nicholas Olendzki, Gary R. Elkins, Elizabeth Slonena, Julia Hung, Joshua R. Rhodes. Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2020; 68 (2): 151 DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2020.1722028
[ix] Nicholas Olendzki, Gary R. Elkins, Elizabeth Slonena, Julia Hung, Joshua R. Rhodes. Mindful Hypnotherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Mindfulness: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2020; 68 (2): 151 DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2020.1722028
[x] Baylor University. "Mindfulness combined with hypnotherapy aids highly stressed people, study finds: 'Novel intervention' may be as effective -- or more so -- as existing treatments." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200615184150.htm.
[xi] Timothy P Carmody, Carol Duncan, Joel A Simon, Sharon Solkowitz, Joy Huggins, Sharon Lee, Kevin Delucchi. Hypnosis for smoking cessation: a randomized trial. Nicotine Tob Res. 2008 May;10(5):811-8. PMID: 18569754
[xiii] Joseph Meyerson, Joseph Myerson, Andres Konichezy. Out-of-illness experience: hypnotically induced dissociation as a therapeutic resource in treating people with obstinate mental disorders. Am J Psychother. 2009;63(2):133-46. PMID: 19711767
[xv] Tara Sampalli, Elizabeth Berlasso, Roy Fox, Mark Petter. A controlled study of the effect of a mindfulness-based stress reduction technique in women with multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. J Multidiscip Healthc. 2009;2:53-9. Epub 2009 Apr 7. PMID: 21197347
[xvi] Holzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S.W. (2012). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191(1), 36-43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006