The Life Doctor: Eleanor Bailey

LOOK INTO my eyes. You can control your life. Repeat after me: "I am feeling very relaxed. I will always buy my lovely Independent On Sunday."

Hypnosis is easy. Yet it is shrouded in mystery and the fear that, afterwards, you will tear all your clothes off every time somebody says "turnips". This is unfortunate. In fact we all regularly trance ourselves; we constantly auto-suggest negative thoughts. "I'm too fat", "I'm not clever enough", "I'm a smoker". This is what we should really be alarmed by. A little positive hypnosis can only be helpful.

I visited hypnotherapist Susan Hepburn at her Harley Street Clinic. She was working on my stress levels. "Hypnosis," she explains "is the transition between the conscious and the subconscious state. I am the catalyst to change, putting suggestions into the subconscious mind. It's easy to re- install self-belief which has become suppressed." It is a theory behind many therapies - that we start off with all the confidence we need, but somewhere along the line, thanks to parents, friends, life and the media we ended up the shrivelled mass of neuroses that made Bridget Jones the publishing phenomenon of the decade.

Key to success in any kind of therapy is that the therapist should be empathetic. Many therapists you wouldn't sit in a pub with, let alone share innermost secrets. Fortunately Hepburn is not like that. She nods understandingly and even seems interested. She sits me down in a reclining chair and turns on the vibrator. No, really. The whole chair vibrates, forcing muscles to relax. She speaks in a slow deep voice. There is a window on my forehead, the window to my inner self. The tensions inside me flow out through it. I am sitting in a wonderful place that I associate with total calm. Once I am fully blobbed out, she begins the suggestion process, instructing my subconscious to think differently. I will feel in control of my life.

It's familiar stuff, but the point is that it can work. Hepburn says she has at least a 99 per cent success of increasing confidence rate. But it's almost not surprising, because anything that shuts out the rubbish you've been saying to yourself all these years is going to do some good. Hypnotherapy has been shown to help in controlling blood pressure. From at least the 1880s it was used to relieve pain and as an anaesthetic. It can improve sleep, reduce stress, help depression, calm emotions and open blocked creativity.

When it comes to empathy, no-one understands your problems better than you. So why not try it DIY? The difference between professional hypnosis and, say, meditation is that, as well as relaxing, you are put in the positive. With smoking, for example, write down beforehand why you smoke, where you smoke, what emotional needs it fulfils and how those needs could conceivably be met differently. If you smoke as a work break, you could perhaps get a cup of tea instead. Next, think up positive statements. For example: "I am a non-smoker. I am feeling good about my achievement. I can see myself throwing the packet out of the window and love how good that feels." It will be more powerful if you do it every day and at the same time.

Imagine your body drifting, floating, deeper and deeper for total relaxation. Talk yourself through it. Speak in a monotonous or relaxing voice. Breathe slowly and deeply. Slowly relax every muscle in your body. Imagine yourself in your calm place. Feel, see and hear it. When you are disengaged from your actual surroundings, slowly say your positive statements to yourself, reinforcing them in an authoritative but calm voice. When you are ready (or bored), bring yourself out by counting backwards from ten and telling yourself that you are returning to a state of full consciousness.

You should notice a feeling a greater wellbeing and serenity. At the very least you will no longer be anxious about mentions of turnips.

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