Hypnosis is a technique that practitioners have used for centuries to treat various mental health conditions. It may be effective in treating anxiety, depression, and fear in some people.
The method involves a highly trained therapist using therapeutic words, phrases, or techniques to help a person enter an altered state of consciousness. Hypnosis may involve guided relaxation, self-talk, visualization, or music.
The idea behind hypnosis revolves around altering a person’s brainwaves, allowing them to tap into resources within themselves that they cannot reach when fully conscious. Research shows that the approach can help some individuals manage their anxiety.
Keep reading to learn more about hypnosis for anxiety, fear, and depression, plus some alternatives that may also benefit some people.
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and fear that may cause someone to sweat, feel tense, and experience a rapid heartbeat. Those with anxiety disorders have anxiety that does not go away. It interferes with daily life and leaves people feeling overwhelmed.
Hypnosis may help individuals with anxiety because it eases them into a relaxed and calm state.
In a 2016 study, scientists scanned the brains of 57 people undergoing hypnosis. They found changes in the areas of the brain that allowed for greater emotional control and reduced feelings of self-consciousness.
One 2017 review found that hypnosis has a significant, immediate, and prolonged effect on anxiety in people with cancer. It was especially beneficial for those with procedure-related anxiety.
Hypnosis works best at reducing anxiety when combined with other psychological interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy.
Hypnosis can reduce the fear that individuals experience. Measurable qualities of fear include blood pressure and heart rate.
The technique may lower blood pressure by easing the mind and body into a relaxed and calm state. Once the hypnosis relaxes their body, they can redirect their mind away from focusing on their fears.
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects how someone thinks, feels, and handles daily activities. There are many forms of the condition, but common symptoms include:
- persistent anxious or sad mood
- loss of interest
- difficulty concentrating or sleeping
Hypnosis is an effective method of alleviating the symptoms of depression. Those with major depression have a decreased heart rate variability (HRV) — the variation in the time between consecutive heartbeats. According to one study, HRV significantly increases hypnosis, which may mean the technique could treat depression. However, the researchers used a very small sample size, so scientists need to carry out more studies to confirm these findings.
According to a meta-analysis of hypnotic interventions, using hypnosis for depression is potentially as effective as other well-known psychological interventions such as CBT and interpersonal therapy.
Besides hypnosis, other forms of therapy may help people with anxiety and other mental health conditions. These treatments have varying success among those with anxiety, depression, or extreme fear.
CBT is a form of talk therapy. It uses structured psychotherapy across a specific number of sessions and focuses on the present rather than the past.
The approach helps individuals identify what is most important to them and work towards achieving these goals, no matter the obstacle. As the name suggests, the cognitive model is the basis of CBT, meaning that the way someone views a situation is more critical than the situation itself.
CBT borrows techniques from many other forms of psychotherapy, including:
- acceptance and commitment therapy
- compassion-focused therapy
- solution-focused therapy
- positive psychology
- motivational interviewing
- interpersonal psychotherapy
CBT may benefit those with anxiety and depressive disorders. However, it can be more effective for some than others. For example, CBT
IPT can often help people cope with major depressive disorder and may offer an alternative to medication. It could also help with anxiety disorders such as social phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Learn more about interpersonal therapy.
Meditation is a form of mental training, requiring the individual to calm their mind. It allows people to increase feelings of calmness and physical relaxation, cope with illness, improve psychological balance, and enhance their overall health and well-being.
Some meditation approaches include:
- mindfulness-based training
- mindfulness-based intervention
- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
- mindfulness-based stress reduction
Meditation is particularly effective for depression and potentially more so than other therapies. Under some circumstances, this approach is as effective as prescription medications.
However, for anxiety disorders, meditation is only moderately effective. It also works better for some forms of depressive and anxiety disorders. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction may improve symptoms of depression and PTSD.
Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment that practitioners use to help people face their fears. Often, when someone is afraid of something, they avoid it. Exposure therapy works by breaking the pattern of fear and avoidance by “exposing” individuals to the things they avoid and fear in a safe environment.
Various forms of exposure therapy exist. One of them involves in vivo exposure, where the individual directly faces the feared situation, object, or activity in real life. Imaginal exposure is another variation, where an individual vividly imagines the feared situation, object, or activity. Virtual reality technology is also an option when in vivo exposure is not possible, such as for someone with a fear of heights.
Exposure therapy helps with anxiety disorders, including:
Hypnosis is a form of easing the mind and body into a relaxed and calm state. It may help some people with symptoms of anxiety, fear, and depression.
However, individuals who experience anxiety disorders may see the best results when combining hypnosis and other psychological interventions.
The interventions that may help with anxiety include CBT, interpersonal therapy, meditation, and exposure therapy.
CBT, interpersonal therapy, and meditation are all potentially useful in addressing forms of anxiety and depression, while exposure therapy aims to help individuals confront their fears and treat anxiety.