Imagination is essential to human growth – it helps us build empires, write books, create new inventions, learn and develop, to shape what we want to be when we grow up. It is also what helps us to access the state of hypnosis and develop new motivations and influence the workings of the body*. Imagination is perhaps our finest psychological tool. But, like any tool, it can be misused, and it’s misuse of the imagination that causes worry.
*Results may vary from person to person.
Now let’s first be clear that worrying has its place. If someone you’ve never met before suggests you invest all your life savings in their fail-safe scheme, then you really should worry if this is the right move for you. If a friend downs a bottle of wine and then insists they are sober enough to drive, then worrying about their and others’ safety would be a perfectly correct response.
In both these instances your imagination may kick in full blast and create mental scenarios of what could go wrong. You might picture yourself losing your savings, or your friend crashing in a drunken stupor. And, hopefully, you will then take appropriate evasive action. To this extent, worrying is useful, and even essential.
But some people so overuse this element of imagination that they drain themselves, and often those close to them, of energy, enjoyment and positive focus.
Interestingly the word ‘worry’ comes from an old English word meaning ‘to strangle’ and so it was said that hunting dogs would ‘worry’ their prey, such as sheep, to death. Anyone who has ever suffered from chronic worry will relate to that. It can feel just like being suffocated when the anxiety induces shallow breathing and the body and mind are starved of oxygen and energy as a result.
The problem with chronic worrying is that, instead of being a useful aid to avoiding what’s worth avoiding – like rash investments, harmful relationships, or drunk driving – it becomes a barrier, preventing us from doing things that really would be worth doing. For example, worriers might not go to a party because they worry how they come across; not go for a job promotion because worry prevents them even trying; spoil close relationships by over analysing and worrying that things are all going to go horribly wrong; they may even worry when they don’t worry enough! Like any potentially useful tool, worry needs to be used sometimes but not as if it’s the only tool in the toolbox.
Worrying has other worrying consequences! Your imagination directly affects not only your psychology – how you think and feel – but also your physiology. Imagine eating your favourite food for a while and your mouth will water. That’s an example of how your imagination can immediately affect your salivary glands. You can imagine being in a beautiful place and your breathing may slow down, blood pressure decrease and muscles relax the more you picture it fully. Your imagination has hypnotic effects on your mind and body.
Where else do we find the imagination affecting psychology, motivation and physiology? I just answered my own question – by worrying, of course! Worrying has consequences not just in lost opportunities and wasted time but on a physical level.
Now worrying wouldn’t be so bad if it always led to positive solutions. In fact, that in a way is what problem solving is: we examine the problem; we imagine consequences of different actions; we devise a plan; and we carry out the plan. Result! But people who chronically worry….. will they like me? will I make a fool of myself? will I end up sad and lonely? will people think I’m stupid at the interview?… and so on… are caught in a two-pronged trap.
Firstly, they are worrying about the kind of things that cannot be ‘solved’ in the immediate sense. For example, we can influence, but not completely control, whether people like us or not. Ultimately, what someone thinks about you may have more to do with them than you. What worriers need to learn to do is relax with uncertainty. If I’m going to give a speech to a hundred people, I can’t be certain they will all like me, but I can be comfortable with not knowing and, as long as I do a reasonable job, not care too much. if they like me or not.
Secondly, people who worry too much experience a kind of mental paralysis. Instead of worries leading to solutions, they just worry. They don’t actually plan and act to solve the worry… Worriers effectively hypnotize themselves into feeling that what they imagine could happen definitely will happen. This then hasa powerful but negative effect on what they experience and how they act in the gloomy future they’ve imagined.
To stop misusing imagination to drown ourselves with worry, there are three main options we can use do to overcome this:
- Examine the worries and see if we can actually solve them. For example, if I worry I’m getting too fat – I can either just fret about it or I can use that worrying to generate motivation to get me eating and exercising better – so I’m now actively problem solving the worry.
- Challenge the worry. If I’m worried that no one will like me at a party, I can challenge that idea. How realistic is my fear? By the law of averages some people will like me, a few may not, some will be indifferent or the party spirit may make everyone well disposed toward everyone! Now I’ve presented a few alternative possibilities to myself that aren’t negative. This is something worriers often forget to do.
- Change how I feel about the worry. If I’m worried that my house is a bit scruffy, I can solve that worry, and switch it off, by decorating. But if my worries are more vague and not something that can be tackled directly in the here and now, it’s more helpful to change how I feel about the situation. Perhaps I worry that I upset someone years ago, someone I no longer see and so it’s harder to practically solve that worry.
‘Trying not to think about it’, as we all know, doesn’t really work. It’s much more useful to practise thinking about it while feeling okay. That does work. Relaxing while having worrying thoughts completely changes the effect those thoughts have on you.
Remember too that worry is stimulating physically. It raises blood pressure and fills your system with adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. This happens because worrying signals that there is a threat out there (a real one, not just something we dreamed up). So our bodies get pumped up to run or fight. This is why worrying will stop you sleeping.
Through hypnosis I can help change how someone thinks and eliminate worries altogether*. For example, since worrying is essentially self-hypnotic, I gently turn it into a different type of more positive self hypnosis. I will also show you other ways in and outside trance to overcome a worrying mind and use all that freed up mental energy to better effect.*
And perhaps you can already let your imagination run better now and see what comes to mind when you really think about questions such as just how much pleasure can I actually stand to have 24-7, 365 days a year? What would happen if I was just not able to stop myself having positive thoughts? What good reasons can I have for just smiling all the time? How much laughter can I take each day without pulling a stomach muscle?
*Results may vary from person to person.