By: Macaela Mackenzie
If the word "hypnosis" calls to mind swinging clocks and party tricks, sorry to burst your bubble. According to Scott Sandland, CHt, a clinical hypnotherapist in Newport Beach, Calif., the mind control misconception is actually the exact opposite of what hypnotherapy strives to achieve. Hypnosis helps you be more in control of yourself, not less, he says. "If Hollywood tried to make a show about what hypnosis was really like, it would just be some fairly relaxed people who eat healthy and aren't afraid of public speaking," he says.
Hypnosis induces a state of focus that may help you tackle everything from your workout goals to your fear about that upcoming root canal. "One of my favorite things about hypnosis is that it's about opening up a dialogue with that part of your mind that drives your behaviors and feelings," says Sandland. "It's about connecting the dots from where you are now to where you'd like to be." And research suggests he may be right. Here are five science-backed ways hypnosis may improve your health.
No matter how badass you feel in your daily life, a fear of the dentist can take down the best of us—according to expert estimates, up to 15 percent of the population suffers from serious dental anxiety. Rather than risk a mouth full of cavities, consider trying hypnotherapy to get over your phobia. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that dental-phobes had reduced activation in the areas of the brain associated with fear when they were hypnotized.
Hypnosis highly relaxes you and shifts your consciousness in a way that helps you bypass your critical conscious mind and access the subconscious, says Delia Chiaramonte, M.D., associate director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Then you can start putting suggestions into your subconscious, which is what drives your actual behaviors and motivations," she says.
Hypnosis may help you break a bad habit or pick up a healthier one, and smoking certainly ranks among the top habits to drop. "If we were only driven by our conscious mind we would say 'I want to stop smoking,' and then we just wouldn't have any more cigarettes," says Dr. Chiaramonte. "But our subconscious controls the craving. Hypnosis can help you break those subconscious behavioral connections and associations."
While hypnosis won't magically make quitting easy, research shows that it may set you up for better success in the long run. According to a 2013 study, people were less likely to experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms after just one group hypnotherapy session.
Hypnosis may be a helpful tool to add to your fitness arsenal—specifically when it comes to shedding pounds. Here's how it works: "The hypnotherapist might ask you to call to mind a time when you felt really confident and great," says Dr. Chiaramonte. Then they'll ask you to do a simple, physical behavior—like touching your fingers together—to serve as what hypnotherapists call the "anchor." "The therapist will then tell you to imagine yourself in the body you want to have and perform that anchoring behavior in order to call to mind that feeling of confidence when you think of your goal," she says. "That can help increase your motivation."
When stress sets in, hypnosis may help. "Hypnotherapy is an excellent tool for helping people get out of stress states and get back into a state of mind that allows them to perform better and enjoy the process of succeeding," says Sandland. In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, people who listened to a self-hypnosis CD over the course of 12 weeks reported a decrease in negative coping behaviors such as pessimistic thinking and perfectionism.
This is a use that Sandland says is becoming more and more prevalent. "Helping people overcome pain without the use of opiates is one of the greatest things we can do to improve quality of life for the individual and their family," he says. Similar to helping relieve stress, a 2014 study on hypnosis for chronic pain management found that not only did patients get a better handle on pain management after hypnosis, but they also reported better sleep and a greater sense of control. According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis may help with more acute pain as well.