Alchohol- An assassin to mood and mental wellbeing

As a Therapist, I am increasingly meeting clients that are struggling to moderate the amount of alcohol they are drinking. And I don’t just mean at the weekends or special occasions! For greater numbers of people, having that ‘odd glass of wine’ during the week is getting out of hand and many are worrying about the amount of alcohol they consume- as a treat, as a reward and also as a coping strategy. In fact alcohol is such a major part of modern society and how we socialise, that it isn’t surprising hear more and more people (increasingly women) concerned about their tendency to reach for that ‘well–earned’ drink.

wine glass

The impact alcohol consumption can have on our health is well understood:

  1. It has been linked with higher rates of seven types of cancer
  2. It impacts the heart- causing it to enlarge and has been linked with heart disease
  3. It can increase the chance of Diabetes
  4. Can play a role in increasing blood pressure
  5. Affects the immune system- causing us to pick up and stay ill from infectious illness
  6. Increases likelihood of Pancreatitis and liver disease
  7. Can affect fertility
  8. Can lead to weight gain

But as part of the #Stoptober campaign, I’d like outline what is less widely known- how it can impact our mental health:

Firstly drinking affects sleep. Yes, we may find it easier to drop off to sleep after a drink but alcohol disrupts sleep cycles. Specifically, REM (rapid eye movement). When we have drunk alcohol, our normal REM cycles are disrupted. It is these vital cycles that have been associated with learning, memory, concentration and mood. It is no surprise then that long term disruption to sleep increases the likelihood of mental ill-health including chronic stress, depression and anxiety.

Secondly, alcohol affects the chemistry in our brain. Regular drinking lowers the levels of Serotonin– a chemical that helps to regulate your mood, motivation, coping and happiness.

For some alcohol can be seen as a way of helping them cope with difficult situations and emotions, or as a means of reducing stress or anxiety. This is as a result of the initial surge of Dopamine which tricks you into thinking that you feel great by stimulating the brain’s reward center. However, once this Dopamine ‘high’ has subsided, Serotonin has been depleted. In the short term this can lead to a low or anxious mood (often the next day). Longer term, there is strong evidence of its linkage with a range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, risk-taking behaviour, Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia and higher rates of suicide.

If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, would like to cut down or to stop, Hypnotherapy may be able to help you find the motivation and resources to do so. Please get in touch to book a free, no obligation consultation on 07951776608 or elizabeth@freshleafhypnotherapy.co.uk. There are also a range or resources you may find useful:

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Alcoholsupport.aspx
https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/how-to-reduce-your-drinking/how-to-cut-down/how-to-stop-drinking-alcohol-completely/

5 Great Pre-Sleep Tips for a Super-Human Tomorrow

women silhouette

With ever-increasingly busy lives and consistently greater demands on us modern humans, very rarely do we stop to consider how our activities before bedtime might affect our tomorrow. Often crashing into bed, exhausted and over-loaded. But what if we came to understand that our pre-sleep activities might work to our advantage. Enabling us to be more efficient, creative, focused, confident, calmer and just that little bit more Super-Human the next day.

Below are some excellent suggestions for improving your Super-Human tomorrowness that are based on the latest research findings and validated by experiences within private practice

1. Detox Begins (as early as you can during the day)

We all understand the importance of a good nights’ sleep for physical health but when it comes to mental health, sufficient, healthy REM (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) cycles are hugely important for cognitive processing, problem solving and memory consolidation as I outline in a previous blog ‘You are What your Sleep’. When we are short on REM, memory is impaired, our attention falters and our ability to successfully think through a problem hindered.

So priority one has to be cutting out those stimulants which interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Caffeine is sleep enemy number one. Found not just in Coffee but Tea and Chocolate and let us not forget the other baddies- sugar, alcohol narcotics and certain foods containing a chemical called Tyramine which in turn triggers the release of noradrenaline, a brain stimulant, keeping us alert.

Other examples of foods to avoid include bacon, cheese, nuts which can keep us awake at night.

Eating a large, heavy meal too close to bedtime may also interfere with sleep. Spicy or fatty foods can cause heartburn or indigestion which leads to difficulty in falling asleep and discomfort and waking throughout the night.

If our bedtime is 10pm a great goal is to cut out caffeine at around, cut out alcohol completely and be selective in what snacks we chose before lights out

2. Turn off the Blue Light (2 hours before sleep)

Neuroscientists understand the importance of smart phone screen time before bed for a good night’s sleep. This is because the stream of photons omitted from the device tells brain to ‘stay awake’ and not to secrete Melatonin which we need in order to feel sleepy. This is damaging because the active brain cells need to rest but also very importantly, we need sleep to allow our supportive cells ‘glial cells’ to clean up the toxins that the neurons produce. If we don’t get enough sleep, these toxins cannot be broken down and build up remain there.

Let us also not forget the importance of those REM sleep cycles for memory consolidation, creative insight and cognitive processing. For the vast majority of us is 7-9 hours’ sleep is about right. By setting a timer to activate our blue light filter on our devices a couple of hours before bed (there is a setting for most phone to do this) and resisting the urge for one last check your emails or Social Media sites in that last twilight hour before lights’ out we can prioritise sleep again and all the positive advantages resulting from it.

3.Treasure-hunt the Positives (Before lights out)

Being positive might sound a little new age, but the impact it has on us is no myth. Neuroscientists are adamant that our brain can be shaped at a cellular level by the way that we think. If we consistently think in a positive way, we strengthen the connections between brain cells and create a circuit of positivity which becomes our brain’s default mode. The term for this is Neuroplasticity. It is now widely understood that we can deliberately rewire our brain by how we think and behave, both positivity and negatively. It figures then, that if we go to bed thinking about how dreadful our day has been and everything that has gone wrong, we strengthen a pathway of negativity which cycles around the brain in a loop, day in day out. Whereas if we reflect on everything that has been positive at the end of the day, the positive circuitry is strengthened.

How do we do this?

Make a note of at least 3 (more if you can find them) positives about your day and what you are grateful for. However small and trivial. Even a bad day can be coloured by positives….  “My car broke down and I was really late for work but it was lovely how that man stopped to offer me assistance and I could then get the car into the garage”.

Rehearsing the positives is a skill which takes enormous practice but like any skill, the more we practice, the easier it becomes and the more physically embedded it becomes in the pathways within our brain.

4.Send you Subconscious on a Mission (Lights out and eyes closed)

We understand far more about the conscious part of our brain than we do the subconscious, but what we do understand is that if we assign our conscious brain a task before sleep or Hypnosis for that matter, the subconscious will work hard during our REM sleep cycles to find a way of moving forward.

A challenge or a problem that we have been consciously battling with to come up with an effective solution can be actively passed to the subconscious during sleep. The subconscious is creative, innovative and pragmatic and we often see it at work with those ‘Ah ha’ or ‘Eureka’ moments when we come up with a solution to a seemingly incomprehensible problem out of the blue when we least expect it. This is because the roaming brain, whether it be asleep, day-dreaming or in a hypnotic trance sets off on a journey to find solutions to issues when we are not consciously thinking about them anymore. Once the train has left the station, there is no going back so to speak.

If we have had a challenging day and there is some problem or issue that we may face in the future, a great tip is to consciously engage the subconscious. Sounds confusing right? But in actual fact all we need to do is spend a small amount of time before drifting off to sleep focusing on that issue, bringing to mind possible courses of action, reviewing the positives and negatives of each then ‘turning off’ the conscious switch. By that, I mean, actively telling yourself ‘I have thought about that issue, my options, the pros and cons of each and now I am handing it over to you, subconscious. I am going now to focus on step

5.Relax with Hypnosis

Playing a Hypnotherapy recording as you drift off to sleep has the wonderful effect of putting you in the optimal brain region for sleep. The Left Prefrontal Cortex. Doing so promotes a peaceful sleep with healthy cycles of REM. Remember, the sleep cycle responsible for problem solving, insight and solution formation.

Hypnosis can also have the powerful additional advantage of producing Serotonin (our feel good, coping hormone) and allowing interference from our Conscious Critical Faculty, a brain area associated with resistance to new ideas and change, to quieten down. This in turn allows our thought energy to be directed to the higher, intellectual regions, The Cortex. If we can calm down our ‘Chimp Brain’ as it has been referred to, we can become more creative, solution-focused and objective and our Subconscious can open up to the positive advantages of Suggestion and Visualisation inherent in Hypnotic trance work.

In a nutshell, for a more Super-Human you tomorrow (motivated, focused, rational, confident and calm): Wind down the body and the mind and navigate your subconscious resources towards your end goal.

An Alternative Approach to Getting Through Life’s Challenges

We all know life can be a rollercoaster for both adults and children. One minute things are going great, the next minute, we’re thrown a curve ball that can set us back. Making us feel unhappy, stressed or worried, and sometimes affecting our physical well-being and our sleep.

It’s no surprise then that more and more people are choosing alternative strategies for overcoming life’s challenges, with Hypnotherapy becoming a popular choice.

Hypnotherapy is a very natural technique, using relaxation, positive suggestion and visualisation. In a very relaxed state, the emotional area of our brain becomes less aroused, allowing the intellectual regions to focus on solutions. The trance state also releases neurotransmitters; chemicals that help us cope better, feel motivated and more positive.

Adults may work with a Hypnotherapist for a number of sessions for a range of issues, from Anxiety, Low Mood, Sleep Problems, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Migraines. Not forgetting reducing obsessive behaviours and overcoming phobias.

Elizabeth Newton of Fresh Leaf Hypnotherapy provides a free initial consultation to all clients and offers condensed Hypnotherapy sessions with children. ‘Children over the age of about six can respond very well to Hypnotherapy. There are no negative side effects. Consequently increasing numbers of parents are seeking out a natural intervention for common issues such sleeping problems, anxiety, self-esteem, bed-wetting (nocturnal enuresis), fears of Doctors and Dentists and nervous habits like nail biting and thumb sucking. It can also be a useful technique in helping children overcome academic exam and performance nerves, including driving tests.

Life is not a dress-rehearsal and we deserve to enjoy it to the full whether we are big or little!

Published in Salad Days Magazine (May/June 2017)

You are what you………….Sleep!

So many times are we told that sleep is SO important for us and those old mantras ‘It’ll be alright in the morning’ or ‘Sleep on it!’ are all too familiar. But what IS actually going on during this mysterious phase of our day which require us to place so much emphasis on a ‘good nights’ sleep?’

As a Hypnotherapist, an important part of my role in helping clients get a handle on their lives or achieve their goals is normalising their sleep patterns. In therapy, for many people, this is often the first place I start. If I can get you back to sleeping properly: falling asleep relatively quickly, staying asleep throughout the night and enabling you to get up at the desired time the next day, then one of my most important tasks is done. But why? Why is it so important that we sleep well from a mental wellbeing perspective?

We know more about the brain than ever before and advances in Neuroscience and brain scanning devices have enabled us to open up the black box of sleep and decipher what is actually happening. Sleep as we know is a circadian rhythm, part of our internal body clock. It is controlled by the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus in a region of our ‘primitive’ brain called the Hypothalamus.  Changes in light levels and environmental cues stimulate the release of certain brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters which facilitate sleepiness.

But like our waking physiological state, sleep has rhythms and cycles too. Over the course of a night our brain fluctuates from periods of relative inactivity to working with almost a ‘turbo charged energy’. But what is going on in the ‘turbo phase’? Let’s first understand the stages of sleep before we understand the importance of this one, highly crucial stage for mental health:

The brain cycles through four distinct phases during sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, (non rapid eye movement), and 4, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep makes up about 25% of your sleep cycle and first occurs about 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Because your sleep cycle repeats, you enter REM sleep several times during the night. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep or ‘Paradoxical Sleep’ as some as described it as the body is virtually paralysed, but the brain is incredibly active. During this stage the brain is operating at almost a ‘wakeful’ state of arousal suggesting this phase of sleep has a specific function. This is especially likely, given that REM is essentially ‘rationed’, limited to only around 20% of our total nightly sleep. 

It is thought that each REM cycle becomes progressively longer, up to 90-120 minutes. It is for this reason that we need long, uninterrupted periods of sleep.

But what do we think is happening during REM? Brain waves become rapid and it is now widely understood that we replay and process the mental ‘baggage’ from the day in either a clear or a metaphorical way, giving rise of course to dreams. Essentially it is thought that we move stressful memories from our limbic system (Amygdala, Hippocampus, Hypothalamus) into the intellectual mainframe of our brain. Extracting memories, rationalising and resolving decisions. Allowing us to wake the next day with a sense of resolution to that ‘troublesome issue the day before. If we have insufficient sleep therefore, we have limited capacity for REM and reduced ability to resolve and rectify any stresses and strains from the previous day or come up with creative new solutions to move forward. In the short term, severe sleep deprivation can result in hallucination and paranoia, over a sustained period, sleep deprivation has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, risk-taking behaviour and suicide.

Additionally, we understand that sleep deprivation leads to reduction in decision making ability, learning, memory, problem solving and emotional control. It’s no surprise then that children spend a much greater proportion of their time in REM sleep with babies, interestingly, spending up to 50% in REM suggesting brain growth and learning with new neuronal connections being formed. This is evidenced again by research demonstrating we spend more time in REM after days learning new skills.

Hypnosis has been referred to as the creation of an artificially induced REM state allowing new patterns of thought to be rehearsed without the interruption from the Conscious Critical Faculty. Perhaps it is no surprise then that many of my clients come round from trance reporting they feel much brighter, clearer and able to think straight.
If you’re wanting to understand how you can improve your own sleep without Hypnotherapy you may find the following links useful:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-sleep-better
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/insomnia/Pages/bedtimeritual.aspx
Elizabeth Newton- Clinical Hypnotherapist
HPD, DSFH, AfSFH (Reg),
www.freshleafhypnotherapy.co.uk

Why daydreaming could be good for your mental health

‘Stop daydreaming’ we’ve all heard those words from one time to another but now, there is evidence to suggest that daydreaming can actually be good for your mental state and that it has interesting parallels to the state of deep hypnotic trance.

Our understanding of brain waves has come a long way since the invention of the EEG (Electroencephalograph) by Hans Berger in 1924. Brain waves are electrical pulses that fire between our millions of brain cells or ‘neurons’, communicating endlessly across different regions of our brain. These brain waves change as we vary our tasks and activities throughout the day. Over any 24 hour period our brain cycles through gamma, alpha, beta, theta and delta states as the electrical activity across our neurons varies in frequency and altitude.

When we are relaxing, we are typically in an alpha brain wave state. The onset of the hypnotic state is also characterised by alpha brain wave patterns. Daydreaming and deeper levels of hypnotic trance are interesting. During both of these states, our brain waves shift to theta, which is quite different from just normal restfulness and relaxation. Theta is a hypnagogic state- a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. When we are in theta yes we are deeply relaxed, but our brain does something amazing- the subconscious mind becomes accessible and more influential than it is in alpha (relaxed) or beta (normal wakeful/thoughtful). Thoughts and troubles that have been bothering us seem to ‘quieten down’ and our ability to self-programme seems to increase. We are familiar with ‘self-programming’ during daydreaming when a thought or new idea just comes to us from what seems like nowhere. We understand that it is actually coming from our subconscious brain.

The theta state of daydreaming in deep trance is associated with intuitive, imaginative and creative thought and deep relaxation. It is not surprising then that it is powerful in lowering anxiety, lowering stress and is harnessed by skilled hypnotherapists to enable therapeutic change.

So, next time you’re commuting on the train or passing time, allow yourself time to daydream. Don’t be tempted to play with your phone, read your book or feel like you have to fill that vacant time with something. Allow yourself a little time just to let your wonderful roaming brain, find its theta state.

It is worth noting that there have been several studies linking rumination to depression and that spending high levels of time ‘thinking about things’ can actually exacerbate depression. If your mood is low and you have a tendency to ruminate you may wish to explore ways to break the rumination cycle. The following link is a good place to start https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201306/the-seven-hidden-dangers-brooding-and-ruminating.