Can Hypnotherapy Help to Relieve Anxiety?

woman having hypnotherapy
Hypnotherapy is an alternative therapy for anxiety. Alain Shroder/ONOKY/Getty Images

Hypnosis is a mind-body technique sometimes promoted as an alternative therapy for anxiety. Also referred to as "hypnotherapy," hypnosis involves achieving a trance-like state of mind during which the hypnotized person experiences deep relaxation, focused attention, and greater openness to suggestion. How it works is poorly understood, but it has been associated with changes in heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.

Although there is a lack of research on hypnosis and anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder), hypnotherapy is associated with a deep state of relaxation and several studies suggest that practicing hypnosis may ease anxiety to some degree.

Research on Hypnosis and Anxiety

To date, few studies have explored the use of hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety disorders (a class of conditions marked by frequent, excessive or irrational worrying often accompanies by physical symptoms). In a 2010 report from Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, researchers sized up the available research and found that hypnosis shows promise as a safe and effective treatment for anxiety. They also found "compelling evidence" that hypnosis may help manage anxiety-related health problems, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

Some studies also suggest that hypnosis may help people deal with anxiety triggered by certain stressful situations.

For instance, a 2006 study from Anesthesia and Analgesia shows that hypnosis may alleviate anxiety prior to undergoing surgery. In tests on 76 surgery patients, the study's authors found that participants who underwent hypnosis were significantly less anxious upon entering the operating room (compared to members of the control groups).

Other research suggests that hypnosis may help relieve anxiety among people undergoing dental procedures or colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening.

Using Hypnosis for Anxiety

Hypnosis is typically induced by a hypnotherapist, but self-hypnosis techniques can also be used. Your mental health care provider or physician may also be able to refer you to a hypnotherapist, or help you to incorporate hypnosis into your treatment program for anxiety.

Using hypnosis may help reduce anxiety related to specific situations (such as public speaking). However, if you frequently experience anxiety or any symptoms of an anxiety disorder (such as constant worrying, irritability, muscle tension, and restlessness), it's important to work with a mental health professional to treat your anxiety. Using hypnosis as a substitute for established anxiety treatment may have serious health consequences.

Sources

Hammond DC. "Hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety- and stress-related disorders." Expert Rev Neurother. 2010 Feb;10(2):263-73.

Elkins G, White J, Patel P, Marcus J, Perfect MM, Montgomery GH. "Hypnosis to manage anxiety and pain associated with colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening: Case studies and possible benefits." Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2006 Oct;54(4):416-31.

Moore R, Brødsgaard I, Abrahamsen R. "A 3-year comparison of dental anxiety treatment outcomes: hypnosis, group therapy and individual desensitization vs. no specialist treatment." Eur J Oral Sci. 2002 Aug;110(4):287-95.

Saadat H, Drummond-Lewis J, Maranets I, Kaplan D, Saadat A, Wang SM, Kain ZN. "Hypnosis reduces preoperative anxiety in adult patients." Anesth Analg. 2006 May;102(5):1394-6.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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