Party time! Do you love it or dread it? Autosuggestions, affirmations, visualisations and self-hypnosis to overcome social anxiety, shyness and lack of confidence


It’s getting to that time of year when lots of social events, parties, business socials, lunches, kids parties, pub get-togethers and the like start to loom on the horizon. Many folks look forward to such events with glee and excitement. But a considerable number of people start to get anxious and full of dread at these prospects, feeling not so confident in social environments, tongue-tied, self-conscious, nervous, awkward, clumsy, blushing, and so on.. and quite often they can’t wait for the whole darn period to be over and done with, so that they can retreat back into their usual routines..  If you are one of the many people who suffer from social anxiety, whatever form it takes – you don’t have to despair – something can be done about it. You can develop more confidence and self-assurance, feel more at ease and relaxed around other people, and speak and act with more grace, ease and eloquence – and start to enjoy yourself!

Using techniques of visualisation, self-hypnosis, positive self-suggestions and affirmations, you can start to build new confident social circuitry in your brain, and with a little practice and persistence, you can gradually erase those old anxious habits your unconscious mind has got into.

First of all, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for about 15 to 20 minutes. Sit down in a comfortable chair. Relax your body as much as possible. Close your eyes. Now just become aware of your breathing, noticing the in-breath and the out-breath. Allow yourself to breathe slowly and deeply. With each out-breath, imagine that all your thoughts, cares and worries are flowing out of your mind, and all tensions are flowing out of your body.

Now, think of a social situation that you might find yourself in in the near future that you might feel a little anxious about – it can be real or imagined. Picture yourself in the situation. Think of how you would like things to go – how you would like to feel, act, speak and think in that situation – everything going as well as you can possibly imagine.

Here are a few things you can visualise for yourself:

1) Imagine yourself just before the event: * Feeling positive and looking forward to the event * Looking forward to getting to know new people * Looking forward to relaxing and enjoying yourself.

2) Imagine yourself in the situation: * Feeling calm, relaxed, happy, self-assured, confident * Feeling good about yourself * Your breathing calm and relaxed * Your whole body feeling relaxed and at ease.

3) Visualise yourself in the situation: * Standing or sitting up straight, with your head up and your shoulders relaxed * Moving about in a relaxed, open, easy manner * Approaching and joining a group of people * Smiling and making eye contact with people * Asking another person questions about themselves; responding with interest; sharing information about yourself and/or your interests; focusing on the other person/people; chatting in a calm, relaxed manner.

4) Imagine the following thoughts going through you head (repeat them silently to yourself now): * I feel relaxed, confident and at ease * I feel good about myself * Everyone looks friendly here * It’s going to be fun to meet new people and find out about them * I can easily approach someone and say hello and introduce myself * It’s easy to ask someone questions about themselves and get a conversation going * I can easily approach a group, listen to what’s going on, and join in the conversation.

5) Spend a few minutes seeing yourself, in your mind’s eye, at the social event and imagining things going in the best way possible and visualising yourself feeling, acting, speaking and thinking in your ideal way. (Try to come up with words, feelings and images of your own that best suit you and your personality – and keep them positive!)

Now let the thoughts, feelings and images of that situation fade from your mind for now and just allow yourself to relax and feel calm and peaceful. Bring your awareness back to your breathing process, noticing the in-breath and the out-breath as you relax down deeply into your chair for a few moments. Now start to take some deeper breaths, bringing your awareness back to your body, to the room or surroundings where you are sitting. Imagine smiling to yourself inside and feeling calm, relaxed and confident. When you are ready, open your eyes and have a stretch before getting up and resuming your day.

Practice the above exercise a few times over the week (or two) before the next social event you are due to go to – and start to notice an increasing positive transformation in yourself and your confidence!

For further help and guidance about hypnotherapy, personal coaching, relaxation skills, emotional therapy, mindfulness techniques and cognitive-behavioural therapy (including cognitive emotional behaviour therapy) – for social anxiety or any other issues you may have – contact Amanda Jackson-Russell at AJR Hypnotherapy (see above right for contact details), based near Epsom in mid-Surrey, UK.

(P.S. Apologies – I meant to post this article a bit earlier, before Halloween – so I hope you have managed to survive intact in the meantime..)


Be Ready to Create Your New Life, Your New Way of Being, in 2015

Gradually the days begin to start earlier and a little brighter, giving us glimpses of new starts, tentative hopes of new enterprises, positive changes, moving forward into ways and projects that we have been dreaming of but have not yet got underway..  The weather still gets in the way, up and down, unpredictable, challenging our intentions and persuading us sometimes to sink back into lethargy and “hibernation”, not wanting to galvanise ourselves and get going with our plans for the future..

Christmas.. Winter.. Short days, long nights, gloomy dark mornings, oppressive early evenings, cold and clammy weather, defrosting the car, walking in the sleet and rain, standing in the freezing cold for a bus..

For Nature, Winter is a time to rest, take stock, regenerate, nurture the tiny seeds that hold the promise of new growth, conserve and consolidate energy, nurture the inner living spark, readying the ever-present potential to move forward, spring into action, grow and shine, when the time is right..  And we can learn and heed many lessons from Nature’s wisdom – taking time to nurture our inner selves, be patient, pace ourselves, reflect on the times just past, appreciate our achievements (and simply our being-ness and our survival..), dream and plot and plan for what we envisage or wish to be ahead of us.. Then gradually..  finally..  as the energies become stronger..  we start to notice the mornings are becoming lighter, the days longer, the weather (more or less..!) becoming a little more forgiving, a little less harsh..

And, before you know it, you wonder where the days and weeks have gone..!  And, believe it or not, we are now in the rapid run up to the Spring Equinox – well okay, there is still a little way to go yet..  And there have been so many jobs to do and stuff to attend to after the brief respite (or not!) of the so-called Festive Season, that all of a sudden, weeks have gone by and we are well into 2015..!!  Can you believe it?  Already nearly 2 months into the New Year..  and more than that, 15 years into the New Millennium!?  Well, isn’t it about time we started to get our act together to get going on co-creating the New World, New Earth, that many of us have dreamed of and planned for?  It may be a grand cooperative vision of a new harmonious, supportive and blissful all-encompassing Community on Earth.  Or is may be a personal vision of self-respect, self-expression, self-love and self-appreciation, and expressing our own, individual, unique, beautiful, creative way of being, giving, functioning and living.  Or perhaps, and maybe more likely, it is somewhere on the myriad of states and stages in between..

What is in your dreams, intentions and inner visions, urging you to set in motion?  The impending Spring Equinox could be seen as a beckoning for you, and each and all of us..  an encouragement to start to see and have trust in new beginnings, new (and old) hopes, new projects, renewed motivation..  More and more, you start to see the signs that Nature provides, here and there..  and as you look, consciously, searching out, noticing, paying attention… the signs are there more and more..  Snow drops and crocuses pushing through the damp and barren soil, birds starting to sing earlier and earlier in the day, blue skies starting to appear more frequently, the temperature outside not requiring quite so many layers of clothes or gloves, the pale sun gradually becoming stronger with each day, maybe even signs of baby birds emerging from their nests, tiny blossoms daring to push through on the branches of trees and hedges..

The Seasons and Nature are great reminders of the cycle of life, providing us with their example of the natural course of things..  and, if we pay attention, giving us the teachings, the lessons, of how to let go of the past, the dead, worn out and gone.. and to consolidate and conserve our energies and resources..  rest and regenerate..  self-heal..  nurture..  and then, once again, when the time and conditions (opportunity) are right, to spring forth into action into our renewed lives, with new energy, trust, strength, hope, courage, faith, vision, inspiration, creativity and renewed momentum..!

Are you struggling to make the changes you want or need to make?  Can you see a glimmer or slight prospect of new beginnings, new ways of being, new hopes, new dreams, feelings of peace and fulfilment, thoughts of accomplishment, balance, cooperation, harmonious relationships, self-respect, uncovering and giving light to your talents and gifts, greater health and wellbeing, expressing your creativity and inner truth..?  But you can’t quite figure which way to go, what steps to take, how to shake off your fears, doubts, insecurities, feelings of inferiority, fatigue, inertia, muddled vision..?

If you are struggling with any of these issues or others, do give me a call or send me an email, and just maybe we can work together to find a new way forward for you.  See above right for contact details.

Amanda Jackson-Russell, BSc, PhD (Neuroscience), Hypnotherapist (MNCH (Reg.)), Emotional Therapist/EFT Practitioner, Relaxation & Meditation/Mindfulness Instructor (BWY Dip), Spiritual Healing Facilitator & Counsellor (MNFSH), Reiki Master Practitioner & Teacher (Usui Shiki Ryoho System of Natural Healing).

Stressed? Anxious? Meditation and mindfulness may improve the way the brain handles stress


Daniel Monti and co-researchers, at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, investigated methods of reducing stress in patients with a diagnosis of breast cancer. 18 patients who were not currently in active treatment were assigned to one of two groups: 1) those to take part in a mindfulness-based art therapy course; and 2) those to take part in an education programme (serving as an “active control” group). Those patients in group 1) underwent an 8-week mindfulness course that combined meditation exercises that stressed awareness of breathing and emotions with expressive art exercises to provide opportunities for self-expression. Patients in both groups were assessed before and after the programmes according to a symptom checklist. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was also used to assess cerebral blood flow before and after the study programs.

The researchers found that the patients who underwent the mindfulness programme had significantly increased blood flow to areas of the brain associated with controlling emotions and regulating stress. In addition, these increases in cerebral blood flow correlated significantly with reduced stress and anxiety as indicated by the symptom checklist. The findings suggested that the brains of those patients who underwent the mindfulness programme worked in a different way to those patients in the education programme control group. The former patients also reported feeling better.

The researchers speculated that methods that change the way the brain handles stress could help improve the quality of life for cancer patients. In addition, it is fairly widely accepted that most people could benefit from lowering their stress and anxiety levels. The findings of this study suggest that a programme of mindfulness could help do this by changing the way the brain deals with stress.

The conclusions drawn from this study obviously cannot be extrapolated to a great degree, as this was a small study, using a specific intervention of mindfulness, meditation and art therapy, versus an education programme (“active”) control group. Nevertheless, the findings showed that a programme that incorporated mindfulness was able to alter the brain and, correspondingly, improved the way in which a group of potentially high-stress patients handled stress.

For information on how hypnotherapy, meditation, mindfulness, relaxation skills, self-hypnosis, EFT and/or cognitive therapy can help manage and reduce stress and anxiety, contact AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey. See above top right for contact details.

Monti, DA, Kash KM, Kunkel EJS, et al (2012). Changes in cerebral blood flow and anxiety associated with an 8-week mindfulness programme in women with breast cancer. Stress and Health, 28 (5), 397–407.

Relaxation Skills Training (Applied Relaxation) and It’s Benefits – Part 2

In my blog entry of 30th April 2013, I discussed the benefits of Relaxation Skills Training (or Applied Relaxation) in comparison with attending the occasional yoga, Tai Chi or meditation class (which are great places to start learning relaxation skills). Here, I will describe the training in a bit more detail. For anyone who is looking to reduce or more effectively manage their “stress”, overcome panic attacks or phobias, break out of a cycle of anxiety or habitual worry, manage a stress-related illness, control exam anxiety, overcome performance anxiety, improve their work efficiency, reduce their levels of physical tension, or even enhance their creativity, this will explain the stages of relaxation skills training and the rationales behind them, so you can decide whether this is something that could benefit you.

As I mentioned in the earlier article, many people may have never experienced a state of deep relaxation. Even during sleep, the body and mind do not necessarily relax completely. In fact, contrary to experiencing relaxation during sleep, many people in our busy Western society either have disturbed sleep or difficulty sleeping, or find that even with a reasonable amount of sleep, they may have rather “active” dreams and wake up feeling less than rested or even exhausted!

Yet deep relaxation is usually the body and mind’s only respite from the constant drip, drip, drip of adrenaline and other stress hormones into our systems from the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response and chronic stress/anxiety/tension states). In deep relaxation, the sympathetic nervous system is toned down or even switched off temporarily, allowing the other arm of our autonomic (automatic or “unconscious”) nervous system – the parasympathetic nervous system – to gain the upper hand for the time being. This part of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for rest, repair and recuperation – allowing body tissues to repair themselves, cells to build up energy stores, our hormone and immune systems to balance and strengthen themselves, body organs to have respite from the effects of chronic stress – in essence facilitating our body’s self-healing abilities. In addition, deep relaxation allows our thinking (analytical) mind and mental stress/anxiety circuits to rest and enables parts of the brain involved in relaxation, memory, creativity, learning and other nurturing activities to become stronger.

Relaxation skills training involves a number of stages, and the number and extent of the different stages can vary depending on a person’s existing skills and experiences, and their particular needs and inclinations. However, broadly speaking, the format of the training will have the same basic elements. Firstly, your body and mind experience deep relaxation, perhaps for the first time, so that you, your body and your mind know what they are aiming for (your “goal” – a relaxed state). And you then practise one or two, or more, relaxation techniques, so that you learn to elicit the relaxation response for yourself, and your body and mind get more and more familiar with this state through repetition of the practices (the body and mind/brain learn pretty much everything through practice and repetition until the state, or new skill, becomes a “habit”). The next stage is to learn to elicit the relaxation response at will (on demand, as it were) – sometimes called cue-controlled relaxation. You learn this first in the clinic room, then you practise doing it at home to reinforce this part of your new skill. When you feel comfortable and confident with being able to bring about relaxation “on cue”, you are ready to go to the next stage. This may involve rehearsing relaxation and maintaining that state while in hypnosis and while imagining situations that normally or previously might cause you anxiety or stress (this stage is sometimes called “hypnotic desensitisation” – you desensitise to the anxiety or stress situation by imagining it happening while in deep relaxation). The final stages – depending on your needs – often involve practising using your relaxation skills out in the real world (“exposure therapy”), first in low-anxiety/stress situations, then gradually, as you build up your skills and confidence more and more, in higher anxiety/stress situations, until you experience feeling relaxed more and more of the time, and finally you find you rarely experience anxiety or stress any more in day-to-day situations.

Of course, you won’t extinguish your ability to feel anxiety, fear or stress completely – and nor should you want to – as these responses, in appropriate (eg. life-or-death) situations, are vital to our survival. But – and this is the point – you will be able to have control over such feelings in situations where they are inappropriate and counter-productive.

As you can probably tell from this description, the art of relaxation takes practice and persistence if it is not your current usual state. But much of this is up to you and done at your own pace and in your own time (as “homework”) – so it needn’t take an endless number of clinic sessions. And the benefits will last a lifetime, and will probably extend your life, productivity and quality of life immeasurably too!

If you think you might benefit from relaxation skills training, meditation/mindfulness training or hypnotherapy and you’d like to book a consultation or find out more about skills training or therapy, or if you have any other questions, please contact me at AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey by email or phone (see top right of this page).


Research shows that mindfulness may change how the brain deals with emotion

In recent years, research evidence has been accumulating to support the notion that mindfulness practices can have wide-ranging beneficial effects on our mental, emotional and physical health. An example of one such study is described briefly below (the full text can be found in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal, Vol. 8, Issue 4 [April 2013]).

Jacqueline Lutz, of the University Hospital of Zurich Psychiatry Department, and colleagues wanted to find out whether and how mindfulness could affect the brain during emotional arousal. Their working definition of mindfulness was “an attentive, non-judgmental focus on present experiences”. They randomly assigned 49 subjects, who had no prior or existing neurological or psychiatric illnesses, to either a mindfulness or a control group. The theory was that, when subjects anticipated or viewed pictures with negative emotional content, those who were instructed in and practised mindfulness would show increased activation of areas in the brain involved in regulating emotions. The researchers also wanted to know whether mindfulness might be associated with decreased activation of regions in the brain known to be associated with emotional arousal, such as the amygdala and insula.

Lutz and colleagues used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanning to measure real-time activity in the brains of the study subjects. During fMRI scanning, subjects in both the control and the mindfulness groups were shown cues that indicated whether each individual picture they were about to view would be “positive” (pleasant), “negative” (unpleasant), “neutral” or “unknown” (meaning there was a 50:50 chance it could be “positive” or “negative”). Because mindfulness strategies are often used with the intention of helping to address unpleasant emotional events, the mindfulness group was instructed to apply aspects of mindfulness (eg. non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations) while viewing only the unpleasant and unknown images.

The study found that, compared with the control group, subjects in the mindfulness group displayed decreased activation in the amygdala and other regions involved in processing emotion when they were shown the negative pictures. They also showed increased activity in brain structures associated with emotional regulation when anticipating negative pictures. The findings of this study suggest that even a short and simple mindfulness intervention has the potential to help regulate emotion.

So what does this mean for you and me? Most people are not familiar with the intricacies and “esoteric” language and implications of scientific research, and so they often find it difficult to interpret such findings in terms of their health, wellbeing and everyday lives. But basically, studies such as the above are increasingly accumulating evidence to show that many of the exercises used in activities such as meditation, relaxed abdominal breathing, mindful yoga, chi gong, and related practices that help us to detach from daily stresses and simply focus on “the present moment”, can have wide-reaching positive effects on the way we deal with life’s stresses, emotional turmoil, traumas, worries, fears, and so on, helping us to find a calmer, more objective and centred perspective, so that we can regain a healthier mental, emotional and physical balance in our daily lives.

Mindfulness training, mindful meditation, mindfulness-based hypnotherapy (MBHT)TM, relaxation skills training, stress management, self-hypnosis, cognitive-behavioural techniques, emotional therapy, and traditional hypnotherapy are available at AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey, with clinics serving the mid-Surrey areas of Ashtead, Leatherhead, Bookham, Epsom, Tadworth, Ewell, Cobham, Esher, and surrounding areas. Please email or phone (see above right for contact details) for more information or to book a consultation. Amanda Jackson-Russell, proprietor of AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey and Energessence Natural Healing; BSc, PhD (Neuroscience), Dip. CBH/HPD, MNFSH, Reiki Master, EFT Practitioner, Stress Management Consultant, Yoga/ Relaxation/ Meditation Instructor.