As a human being living on this earth, it’s normal to deal with some level of anxiety—I mean, practically everyone I know pops a Xanax from time to time—but mine is worse than average, to say the least. It’s persistent and unreasonable and sometimes makes it a challenge for me to function at full capacity. At certain times in my life, my anxiety has propelled me forward because I’m afraid of what will happen otherwise, but most of the time it causes me to shut down. This is not ideal.
I dislike talk therapy, avoid discussing my feelings in too much depth, and have tried just about every anti-anxiety drug on the market to no relief. This is how I ended up seeing a hypnotist.
When I walked into Theta Spring Hypnosis to meet with founder Alexandra Janelli, I didn’t know what to expect. I also didn’t care. I’ve done meditation before, and I think hypnosis is only marginally more “woo woo” than what’s now become a medically recognized Thing You Must Do. I knew that there would be no mind control involved and that Janelli has been called “an expert in stress management and relaxation,” so with that in mind, I was down for whatever.
I sat in a very comfortable chair, and Alexandra and I got to talking. After discussing my struggles for a bit, she told me that I was living and operating in a state of fear, which reminded me of “Donnie Darko.” It is also definitely true. She asked how long I’ve been experiencing this kind of debilitating anxiety; I said forever. For example, when I was seven, I had a panic attack in a Chinese restaurant because I was afraid of death by drowning and could not be consoled. I was nowhere near water at the time.
Alexandra said that having anxiety for as long as you can remember is almost better than developing it later on—I’ve been so anxious for so long that I’ve learned how to work with it. We talked a lot about me and my problems for a while before the actual hypnosis began, which is very important for Alexandra’s practice. “In order to have the highest success rate with new associations to be created, a client and the hypnotist must determine the type of hypnotic suggestions that would resonate the most for the desirable change,” she explains. “It’s imperative in my job to listen for empowering words the client is using, ask the right questions, and even help them get in touch with deeper emotions and thoughts through perspective-shifting questions.”
So, those “hypnotic associations?” That’s what hypnotism is all about. It’s about taking those core emotions, the bad ones, and reframing them in a more positive, productive way that takes you out of the ‘victim’ state of mind, the sense that these things are happening to you and that you can’t do anything to stop them. Alexandra refers to the way people function with this equation: Thought + emotion = action. This was a revelation for me—you have a thought, you feel an emotion, and then based on that, you do something. Makes sense!
Here is what happened: I laid back in the reclining chair and was given explicit instructions to breathe (which I was already doing, but probably not well enough). The way the hypnosis started off was a lot like meditation—deep breaths, focusing on Alexandra’s voice instead of the stuff inside my head, relaxing my muscles from head to toe, that “feel your weight in the chair” thing you’ll recognize if you’ve ever spent some quality time with OMG I Can Meditate.
There were some visualizations; I was meant to imagine myself walking up stairs, but I’m not great with visuals so I mostly just thought about all the times I’ve walked up stairs in my life. Everything she said to me was pleasant and supportive and soothing, a lot like the meditation I very occasionally do, except tailored specifically to me with affirmations that Alexandra and I agreed would be helpful to me. My session involved her telling me that everything is going to be OK, which I loved. I’d really like for someone to follow me around at all times, telling me that everything is going to be OK.
Here is what didn’t happen: I did not fall completely under Alexandra’s control. I did not divulge any important government secrets. (I also do not know any important government secrets.) She didn’t swing any pocket watches or pendulums in front of my face. She did not tell me, “You are getting very sleepy.” I wasn’t in a “trance,” in fact, I felt way alert and receptive to what Alexandra was saying to me, which were all nice things. The hope is that those positive affirmations will work their way into your psyche through the hypnosis, which she describes as “a deep state of relaxation with an acute focus, which allows a user to open their subconscious to create change.”
I left Alexandra’s office feeling like I had a new lease on life, a sensation that quickly dissipated after I waited 15 minutes in line for a kale salad. But the mantras that she drilled straight into my subconscious have sprung up in my day-to-day—one of the big ones is “zoom out,” a reflection of my tendency to think that literally everything at all times is the end of the world, which then leads to a fight-or-flight reaction that never ends well. Minor disagreement with boyfriend? I’m moving out. A little bit under the weather? I have terminal cancer and will be dead within the week. Oh, the human brain! (Mine, to be more specific.)
As a willing participant, I did actually find the process beneficial to my often very negative train of thought, but if you’re skeptical, or don’t want to see results, it won’t happen. You gotta believe! But I don’t think it was hypnosis alone that brought me back to my senses, though it definitely helped to put those more positive associations into my head. It was also the way I talked about what the hell was going on with me and my crippling anxiety, and having that bounced back to me so that I could see it through someone else’s lens, which is far more productive than thinking everything to death. Zoom. The fuck. Out. Perspective is everything.
(Also, Alexandra has an app coming out, so if you want to try hypnosis without spending all of your money—it’s expensive!—give it a try. You really don’t have anything to lose, except your friends might think you’re weird.)