Health, beliefs, and hypnosis…

Reading time 7 mins

The news media are giving lots of attention to the possible bird flu pandemic with dire predictions of, according to one scientific model, 142 million deaths worldwide! (This article was published in August 2007).

Despite our intellectual and critical thinking abilities we human beings are impressionable…

…especially to messages that are repeated over and over again. Read, watch, or listen to enough of these articles suggesting dire consequences for the human race and it’s easy to become hypnotised into believing that your chances of surviving the pandemic are pretty slim.

Hypnosis and the media

In traditional hypnosis the hypnotist lulls the subject into a relaxed state and then repeatedly gives messages or suggestions along a particular theme. The constant repetition of these messages has the effect of overcoming the subject’s critical thinking ability with the result that the suggestions are accepted by the ‘inner mind’ or unconscious mind and become the subject’s ‘reality’.

The hypnotist has changed their beliefs…

Does the similarity between this and the media occur to you?

Beliefs affect our health

There is a huge amount of scientific evidence for how our suggestibility affects our health:

1. Pink or blue capsules?

In an experiment at the University of Cincinnati, a group of students volunteered to take part in an experiment on stimulants and sedatives. They were randomly given either pink or blue capsules. Shortly afterwards over half the students reported symptoms of drowsiness and over one third of them reported feeling more stimulated.

The ‘simulated’ students averaged a 61 percent increase in pulse rate and a 71 percent increase in systolic blood pressure! Pulse and blood pressure dropped in the ‘sedated’ students, too, though to a lesser extent. Although they were not told which were which, the students given the pink capsules said they expected to feel stimulated while those given the blue capsules expected to feel sedated. In both cases the capsules were inert. They were placebos. They contained nothing that would affect mood or physiology!

2. The drug that worked both ways!

Stuart Wolf, a researcher at Cornell Medical Centre, induced vomiting in a group of patients by giving them syrup of ipecac. Ipecac is used to induce vomiting in emergency rooms in patients who have overdosed on harmful substances. One of the test patients later developed persistent nausea from other causes so the staff told him that a new drug had become available which was remarkably effective in relieving nausea. On being given this new drug he experienced relief within just 15 minutes. Another patient treated with the new drug had relief within 20 minutes.

The drug was, of course, ipecac – the drug which was created to induce vomiting not relieve it. But, because of their impressionability to the messages from the medical staff, the patients believed it would relieve their nausea, it did.

3. Diazepam and anxiety

At one stage Valium (diazepam), was the drug of choice for relieving anxiety symptoms. It was one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world and was being given to more than 30 million Americans a year.

At least 30 double-blind studies have concluded that Valium is no more effective than an inert placebo in relieving anxiety symptoms.

4. Fooled you!

Back in the 1950s the medical profession came up with the new way of treating chest pain resulting from coronary heart disease – the Mammary Ligation operation. In this the patient’s chest was opened up and one of their coronary arteries was tied off! Early results were most encouraging with about 75 percent of patients reporting considerable improvements, including the ability to tolerate exercise and improved results on electrocardiogram tests.

However, there were sceptics among surgeons and an experiment was undertaken. A group of patients was selected. Half had their chests cut open and sewn up again with no other intervention. The other group had their chests opened and their arteries tied. The benefits were the same in each group! (Some 10,000 operations later the Mammary Ligation operation was finally abandoned as having no medical benefit).

The Placebo Effect

What each of these four examples have in common is how suggestible we are. And how, as a result, the Placebo Effect works. The Placebo Effect describes how our belief that something will affect our health, for better or worse, is translated into a physiological response.

In other words, how our beliefs or expectations affect our mental and physical health.

Estimates suggest that the Placebo Effect accounts for around 40 percent of all health improvements! In other words, 40 percent of the time spent on health improves because of our belief that something will benefit us rather than because of the inherent qualities of the actual pill or portion or therapeutic procedure.

So if you believe strongly enough that, say, chopping up herbs or frogs legs or bats’ wings and rubbing them in or eating them or sprinkling them over your head by the light of the full moon is going to cure you, if you truly and deeply have an expectation that this will help, then it’s likely that it will. Such is the power of belief.

Beliefs can help or harm

Our beliefs or expectations can work either way – they can improve our health or impair it. If you expect that you are going to remain well, you will increase the likelihood of this. If you expect that you are going to become ill, you increase the likelihood of attaining this result. (Incidentally, research over the last 20 years has plotted in some detail the electrical and chemical manner in which our thinking affects our bodies – I will come back to this in a future newsletter.)

Building beliefs through hypnosis

The process of developing beliefs or expectations has lots of parallels with hypnosis. We are hypnotised in two ways: by information from outside and by how we think.

There is a one category of beliefs which occurs as a result of an instant, one-off shock experience.

But most of our beliefs or expectations about our health are the result of a gradual drip-drip process. Allowing ourselves to be exposed to a steady and relentless stream of negative messages numbs our ability to think critically so that we passively accept these negative messages as ‘truth’ and, worse still, as being relevant to our own health. As the old saying says ‘beware of what you get used to’.

Negative hypnosis from others

The everyday life of most people, especially in the developed world, exposes them to an endless stream of messages of ill-health: the news media, social media, television programmes, magazine articles, advertising, and the opinions of parents and friends all bombard us with suggestions about ill-health.

Consider the effect of a few weeks spent reading newspaper or magazine articles about the symptoms of particular diseases, watching television programmes about doctors and illnesses and accidents and hospitals, or chatting with friends about the latest illnesses which are affecting the neighbourhood…

Taken in isolation, such messages are relatively easy to reject. But the relentless stream of these messages makes them insidious and powerful.

We get used to accepting such messages. We accept ‘that’s the way things are’. And they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Develop a critical attitude

To protect your health-supporting expectations and beliefs it’s wise to develop a critical attitude towards these negative messages.

So, for example, when you hear that a particularly virulent form of the common cold is affecting people in your locality you might make a choice about whether or not this is relevant to you. Otherwise you may be unconsciously and passively awaiting your turn to ‘catch it’.

Or, when a media article suggests that a particular illness is affecting 15 percent of the population, you might begin to wonder about the 85 percent who are unaffected and seek to ensure, proactively, that you are in that group.

Limit the number of negative hypnosis messages

Another option, of course, would be to make things easy on yourself and decide to not expose yourself unnecessarily to bad news – thus reducing, very considerably, the number of negative hypnotic messages you are exposed to.

Negative self-hypnosis

Make a choice that you are going to stop the negative self-hypnosis! Notice your habitual thoughts and, when you find yourself dwelling on ‘silly thoughts’ of illness, immediately replace them with health-enhancing thoughts.

They need to be nipped in the bud immediately. If you dwell upon or ‘entertain’ them you give them power and credibility. The moment a negative thought occurs replace it. This is quite important: you replace rather than block the negative thought. If you simply blocked it you create a vacuum which will quickly be filled by the same thought, again. Blocking negative thoughts makes them more powerful! The NLP swish pattern is ideal for replacing negative thoughts. Use the swish for a few days and soon the process will become automatic.

Reinforce your new thinking with action

Support the thought switching with health-enhancing action. This will add to the credibility of your new replacement beliefs and expectations. You could, perhaps, engage in an exercise programme, or dietary change, or a change in your work routine which will reduce the amount of stress or pressuring you experience. This doesn’t need to be a life-changing process: merely some change in routine which reinforces your determination to build a health-enhanced future for yourself.

Be critical of the impressions you expose yourself to

Consider this… worst-case scenarios suggest that if the bird flu affects humans it could be as bad as the 1918 pandemic.

Back then about a third of the world’s population developed flu – and of these 3 per cent died. In other words one person in a hundred died. If we have another pandemic where will you be? In the 1 percent? Or in the 99 percent?

Because if you did not immediately put yourself in the 99 percent, and are not taking active steps to support this expectation, now would be a good time to start raising your expectations.

A final thought on bird flu and the media

  • If the scientific computer model is an accurate prediction then 217 in every 10,000 people in the world will die from bird flu.
  • Yet the World Health Organisation suggests that figure will be more like 11 in every 10,000 people. (Guess which prediction the media prefers?)
  • To put this into perspective consider this: here in the UK road accidents account for 5 deaths in every 10,000 people. Deaths which result from being in hospital account for nearly 3 in every 10,000!
  • So the chances of dying from bird flu are roughly double those of travelling by road – or four times the chances of contracting a fatal illness as a result of going into hospital to have your health improved… (It’s a funny old world, isn’t it!)

(Incidentally, this article was published in August 2007 when the media and the experts were warning us that the impending ‘bird flu epidemic’ would be catastrophic…  So much our faith in the the media and in ‘the experts’…)

Related articles (March 2006) (March 2008) (August 2008) (November 2008)  (January 2009)  (September 2009) (January 2011)

©  Reg Connolly – copyrighted, all rights reserved – but you can freely pass this newsletter on to friends as long as you do so in its entirety, include this message and link:

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