Habit or Addiction?

I was recently asked to be part of a radio discussion about social media addiction. There has been so much in the news recently about social media, particularly Facebook, and people trying to decide whether to delete their accounts and whether they feel they can do without that contact. How easy is it to stop the habit of checking your Facebook account or is it an addiction?

Pat Duckworth, Royston Hypnotherapy, Addiction

Pat Duckworth with Chris Mann, BBC Radio Cambs


We use the word addiction a bit too freely. It is a serious medical condition that can ruin lives.  It’s often used in a way that demonises the behaviour of young people. When I was young, parents were worried that kids would be addicted to television. Now they are worried about social media.

So what does it mean to be addicted? You can become addicted to anything that affects the reward circuitry in the brain. It’s not about the substance or the behaviour, it’s about the way the brain responds through changing structure and releasing hormones such as dopamine and endorphin. A person experiencing an addiction carries on repeating the habit or behaviour regardless of the negative consequences.

Someone with a social media addiction would feel compelled to check their social media sites frequently and be unable to control the amount of time they spend online. This is likely to be accompanied by feelings of anxiety. The negative impacts could include:

  • Losing track of time
  • Procrastination
  • Stress
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Being emotionally unavailable

Stopping the behaviour for a short period of time may be quite easy. The challenge is not going back to it or taking up a new addiction to replace it.

If you recognise any of this in yourself or someone you know, the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem and that you need help. Don’t let it ruin your life.

If you think you have just developed a habit that is wasting your time there are some steps you can take to break the habit:

  • Leave mobile devices outside the bedroom so they do not disturb your sleep.
  • Turn off message alerts
  • Limit your exposure. Decide how much time you are going to look at the website and stick to it
  • Delete sites from mobile devices so you don’t get tempted. Or make them password protected to make it harder for you to access the sites quickly

If you need help, don’t put it off, contact me now

What do you predict for 2018?

As I look back over 2017 I realise what an unpredictable year it was. Who could predict all the major events that happened in the world in the past twelve months?

Happy 2018

And if I review my own year I know that I couldn’t have forecast half of what I have experienced back on 1 January 2017. I have been to so many different places this year, worked with amazing clients and met some wonderful people. There were bumps and obstacles along the way but they passed and life went on.

Also, if I had used my experience of 2016 to predict what would happen in 2017 I would have been way out. You can’t use your past to predict your future.

So my thought as we approach 2018 is that it is good to have a plan and a vision for the new year. It is good to set intentions and resolutions, and take action to achieve them. But build plenty of wriggle room into your plans for all the good stuff that is going to surprise you.

A final thought from Abraham Lincoln ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ What do you want to create this year?

Contact me if I can help you with your resolutions or plans.

A very Happy and Peaceful 2018 to you and your loved ones.




Are you feeling anxious?

I am feeling anxious about you. So much has happened in the last 12 months that has raised levels of anxiety. First there were all the issues raised around the Brexit referendum. Then there was the American Presidential election.  Now we are in the process of another General Election which is stirring up fears around elderly care, the economy and immigration. All of that against a background of terrorist incidents and war in other parts of the world.


Anxious? Need help?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you were feeling a bit anxious but do you know what? It isn’t doing you any good and it’s not making the situation any better.

Our human brains formed when we were cave people and the environment around us was dangerous and life threatening. We had to forage and hunt every day just to stay alive. Add to that there were predator animals that wanted to kill us. Our brains became very sticky for bad news as a survival mechanism. That’s why your brain notices negative information far more than it notices positive good news.

When you watch scary stuff on the TV news or read it in newspapers, your brain imagines you having to deal with that scary situation. In response, your brain releases the hormones that prepare you for fight or flight or freeze. Those hormones inflame your system. That’s ok if you only get anxious in short bursts and not too often. Persistent levels of anxiety can lead to physical symptoms such as poor sleep, lack of concentration, weight change, headaches and raised blood pressure.

So what can you do about? Firstly, acknowledge bad stuff happens but it is not personal to you. It’s not the stuff that is happening that causes the anxiety, it is the thoughts that you have about it.

Secondly, stop reading news reports and listening to or watching the news, particularly in the evening and before you go to bed. There is nothing you can do to make those situations better so stop exposing your brain to them. Remind yourself of all the good things that are happening, the millions of people who will go to sleep safely tonight, the beautiful babies that have been born, the things of nature just outside your window.

Thirdly spend a few minutes each day calming your body and your mind by just focusing on your breathing. If you can, make your out breath longer than your in breath for even more relaxation. Even better, go for a walk and breathe deeply.

If you need more help, contact me today so I can find out more about what you are experiencing. You are welcome to book a free 30 minute consultation with no obligation.

Are you feeling SAD?

The clocks have gone back, the trees are turning colour and Christmas decorations are appearing in the shops. Autumn is here and for some people this is the season of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Are you feeling SAD?

Are you feeling SAD?

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Lack of energy and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Poor quality or interrupted sleep.
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in normal activities
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings, irritability and low mood
  • Cravings for carbohydrates leading to weight gain.

These symptoms are the result of lower light levels during the winter months which causes an increase in the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night), and a reduction of serotonin (the Happiness hormone). These changes disrupt your internal body clock which regulates important bodily functions such as appetite, digestion, sleep quality and mood.

I have experienced mild symptoms of SAD since I was a teenager. Every year it creeps up on me and I wonder why I suddenly feel miserable and have no energy.

One way to boost your exposure to natural light and reduce the effect of SAD is to use a full spectrum light box.  These lights provide summertime levels of light and have been shown to be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases of SAD.  Light boxes are available from specialist retailers.

If you are experiencing mild symptoms there are other practical things you can do to improve your mood:

1 Take a 30 minute brisk walk outside around the middle of the day.  The exercise will make you feel better and you can get the best of the daylight.  Research has shown that a 15 minute walk can significantly reduce daytime snacking.

2 Boost your mood with healthy food. The food you eat can have a negative of positive effect of your mood and can increase or decrease mood swings. Some simple guidelines:

  • For an energy boost include lean proteins in your diet such as: cheese, milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, beans, fermented soya products (miso, tofu and tempeh), white poultry and seafood.
  • Avoid eating simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and sugary foods. These foods will cause your blood sugars to spike and fall rapidly causing mood swings. Instead eat complex carbohydrates including vegetables and fruit.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine suppresses the production of serotonin and stresses your nervous system. Remember that caffeine is not just in coffee, it is also in black and green tea, chocolate and energy drinks.
  • Consider taking a vitamin supplement. At this time of year you may need to supplement your diet with vitaminB12 and D. Vitamin D is predominantly made by your body when it is exposed to natural sunlight which is in shorter supply during the winter months. Low levels of Vitamin B12 in the blood have been linked to depression, though the exact cause is still unknown. You can top up by eating fish, shell fish, fortified cereals, eggs, yoghurt, and milk.
  1. Maintain your social contact during the winter months. People with strong social contacts tend to stay happier and healthier and cope better with life’s challenges. Being on social media is not sufficient so contact your friends and arrange a regular get together. If your friends live at a distance, could you enroll for an evening class or get involved in a hobby group?
  2. Commit a random of act of kindness every day. Showing kindness and compassion to others is an excellent way of boosting your own feelings of well being and strengthening your emotional resilience.
  3. Do something that makes you smile or laugh for five minutes three times a day as this will help to boost your levels of serotonin and immunise you against stress. You could watch a funny video on YouTube or your favourite comedy on the television. But the best method is to have a laugh with a member of your family or a friend or colleague.

If you are experiencing prolonged or intense symptoms of SAD it is important to consult your medical practitioner.

For practical techniques to help with SAD contact me to find out how I can help you.

For more information on SAD see http://www.sad.org.uk/

Are you mindful when you eat?

When clients come to see me for weight loss, I ask them ‘How fast do you eat?’.  Most of them tell me that they eat quickly, often with the TV on.  I explain the importance of eating slowly and without distractions so that you can hear the messages that your body sends you when it has had sufficient to eat.

Last week I had an extraordinary experience.  I persuaded a friend to experience mindful eating with me.  I cut up some salad vegetables and feta cheese in bite sized portions and put them into two containers.  My friend agreed to put on a blindfold and then I gave him his food.  I did the same.  We agreed not to talk while we were eating.

It was hard not to talk but it became very meditative.  When we had finished we were both very calm and peaceful.  We had both really tasted and enjoyed the food.  The texture and sound of the food also became more apparent.  I stopped eating before the container was empty because I knew I had eaten enough.

I recommend eating with your eyes closed or blindfolded as an experience.  If you want to eat slowly and mindfully:

  • Eat at a table
  • No distractions – turn off the TV, put away the mobile phone or Tablet.
  • Put down your knife and fork between every mouthful
  • Keep the food in your mouth and chew slowly
  • Notice the ‘satisfied’ feeling and stop eating

This is a good start to losing unwanted weight.

The wonder of the placebo effect

The term placebo has often had negative connotations in the past.  It is almost as if something that helps the body heal itself naturally is somehow cheating or suspect.

Pills or placebo?

Pills or placebo?

The word placebo comes from the Latin for ‘I shall please’.  Most of us have experienced the placebo effect while taking traditional medicine.  If you have ever bought a branded medicine instead of a generic alternative, some part of your mind was convinced by the packaging or the extra cost that the branded medicine would work better.  If you believed it enough, it probably did work better.  That is the placebo effect and we all experience it.

In recent years there has been lots of research into the placebo effect in the area of pharmaceuticals.  It has shown that the size, colour, shape and the name of medications has an effect on their efficacy.  Even the smell has an effect.  Researchers found that if they wiped TCP antiseptic around the top of a bottle of tablets, the tablets were more effective!

The attitude of medical practitioners also has an impact on their patients.  The more the practitioner builds trust and rapport with their patient, the more the patient is likely to respond positively to treatment.

Bestselling author and speaker, Dr David Hamilton, has carried out a lot of research in the area of the placebo effect and you can read his thoughts at http://drdavidhamilton.com/?page_id=8

So, in my opinion,  we should be much more open to understanding and using the placebo effect to aid our natural healing processes.

Want to Lose Weight? Change Your Mind!

If you have resolved to lose weight this year, the chances are that you have been looking at diet books and weight loss clubs and wondering what will keep you motivated and whether you can keep weight off in the long term.  So many people lose weight on a diet only to put on more when they start to eat ‘normally’ again.

In a new book published this month*, Dr Deborah Cohen sets out two forces that are driving obesity in the modern world.  One is the availability of cheap food, large portion sizes and food advertising.   The second major force is our human nature, the fundamental limits to our self-control and the unconscious ways that we are hard-wired to eat.

Dr Cohen says, “Because our moods and desires change throughout the day, many people claim their weight problem is the result of emotional eating.  They say they eat when they are stressed, lonely or anxious  – whenever they are not at their best.  Yet others claim they eat too much when they are happy’.

When I work with clients who want to lose weight we talk about establishing a different relationship to food.  I always start by asking them to eat slowly so that they really notice what they are eating and can recognise the signal that their body has had sufficient and is satisfied.  I also help them to discover techniques for recognising emotional hunger and dealing with it.

If you really want to lose weight in the long term you need to change your mind first.  It is the only way to long-lasting change.

*’A Big Fat Crisis; The hidden forces behind the obesity epidemic and how we can end it. ‘ by Deborah A Cohen, MD., Nation Books,  Jan 2014

World Hypertension Day, 17 May

World Hypertension Day was set up to highlight the health issues associated with high blood pressure for example greater vulnerability to preventable stroke, heart and kidney diseases.  High blood pressure affects 1 in 3 people but almost 50% of people don’t realise that they have the condition.  This is particularly worrying because hypertension causes 62% of all strokes and 49% of heart disease cases.
Hypertension is often referred to as ‘the silent killer’ because it may cause no symptoms for a long time.  Most common symptoms are: 
  •  Chronic headaches
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Blurry or double vision 
  •  Drowsiness and general tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
If you any combination of these symptoms or think you may have high blood pressure it is important to consult your doctor.  
A complementary approach to the treatment of high blood pressure is Hypnotension ©.   The Hypnotension approach aims to help anyone with primary/essential hypertension to lower their blood pressure naturally.  The treatment puts the client back in control by identifying and addressing the lifestyle factors that contribute to hypertension.  Each client is assessed and a treatment plan devised to effectively address the factors that contribute to the client’s high blood pressure.
You can find Hypnotension practitioners in the UK, Australia and many other countries. 

Sleep – why is it so important?

This weekend in the United Kingdom, we moved to British Summer Time and lost an hour’s sleep.  I’ve blogged about sleep a lot but I’m not apologising – it’s important.   I run courses designed to help people overcome sleep problems and when I mention this to other people I can guarantee that they say “I wish I could come on that” which just shows how common sleep issues are.
Common problems are short or interrupted sleep and these can be caused by a variety of issues such as stress, life events, environmental factors and medication.  Adults sleep on average about 7 hours a night and this can become less as we grow older.  This is much less than people slept in pre-industrial, pre-electric lighting times.  
Prolonged periods of short or interrupted sleep can lead to physical and mental health problems.  One problem relates to weight control.  Lack of sleep elevates the creation of the hormone ghrelin*.  This forces up the consumption of carbohydrate by up to 35-40% which can lead to weight gain.  Individuals with restricted sleep tend to be heavier.
Poor sleep can also affect the immune system.  Natural killer cell activity is down by 28% after one night’s disrupted sleep.  Levels of cancer are higher in people with disrupted sleep and shift workers.  A study of medical students in America, who work long and irregular hours, have shown that it impairs performance and can lead to accidents at work and at home.
There are some simple things you can do to get a better night’s sleep.  Start with your bedroom environment and make your bedroom a sleep haven.  Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and well ventilated.  Remove the TV and computer from the bedroom.
If it is worry or stress that is keeping you awake, there are lots of techniques that you can learn to use such as breathing techniques, visualisation and meditation. Consider seeing a hypnotherapist for some help.
Sleep well!
 *Sleep: A Very Short Introduction, 2012 by Stephen W Lockley and Russell G Foster

Dealing with Horrible Bosses

The recently released comedy film, Horrible Bosses, proposes an extreme solution for dealing with  a boss who bullies you, makes sexual advances or is just incompetent.  The three friends coping with these horrible bosses are unable to quit their jobs so theyplot to kill them.  Inevitably their plans go wrong but, being a movie, it all truns out well in the end.

If you are having problems with your manager at work, you’re not alone.  In a survey by MIND earlier in the year,  respondents identified work as their highest source of stress and 48% were scared to take time off sick.  20% believed that if they mentioned their stress levels to their boss they would be first in line for redundancy. So what can you do? 

If you are being bullied, you should check your company’y policies on bullying in the workplace.  Is there a Trade Union or Staff Association that you can consult?  Is there a welfare officer that you can talk to in confidence.  If you are strating to get symptoms of stress (eg palpitations, higher blood pressure, poor sleep, loss of appetite etc) you may need to talk to your doctor or another health professional.

There are a couple of simple NLP techniques that you could try to reduce the impact of the experience.  If, when you think about your boss, you see an image of him/her that is big and close to you, try making that image smaller, turn it black and white and push the image as far away from you as possible so that it becomes less and less important.  To completely get rid of the feeling, you can add a red nose, Mickey Mouse ears and a spinning bow the to the image 

For some people, when they think about their boss, they hear their voice loud and close to them making derogatory remarks.  If you experience that, move that voice further away by reaching out your arm and putting the voice at the tip of your thumb.  For extra effect change the sound of the voice to Mickey Mouse – it will definitely feel less serious!