When struggling with emotional or physical stress, using self healing methods is one of the most effective tools you can use to overcome these problems and to start on the road to recovery. No one knows you or the nature of your problems better than you do, and likewise no one has such unrestricted access to your thoughts and feelings. Who better to diagnose and treat your difficulties and to help you to heal?
With self healing you don’t need to open up your private thoughts and feelings to anyone, and you don’t need to worry about what others might think of you. And best of all? It’s completely free, and you can do it wherever you are, whenever you like. Here then we will look at some basic self healing techniques that you can use to get yourself on the road to recovery. But note – we are all different and every situation is different. Fortunately as your own ‘psychotherapist’ you have the ability to recognize this and to immediately tell what works for you – so use the ideas here that you find helpful and reject those that you don’t. This way you will be taking full advantage of the benefits of self healing.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that many professional therapists employ to help patients overcome a range of psychological difficulties. What makes CBT so attractive to health institutions however is not only its proven success rate, but also its flexibility and the part that the patient plays in the process. CBT works by recognizing the important role of the thoughts in effecting behavior and emotions and on ruminations that can be either damaging or empowering. To take an example, if someone came to a cognitive behavioral therapist with a fear of public speaking, then the therapist would ask them to listen to their inner monologue and the thoughts they were having with regards to public speaking. Most likely they would find that their thoughts contained phrases such as ‘I’m sure to choke’ or ‘it would be so embarrassing if I forgot my speech’ and this would actually be damaging to their performance. Of course it’s understandable that people would have these concerns in such a situation, but ultimately those thoughts aren’t helpful – they don’t help the individual to find better ways to perform and at the same time they prevent them from focusing on the matter in hand. At the same time though, people will tend to find that they believe these thoughts on a very profound level so that it damages their self esteem and their performance suffers. This is what we call a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ – if you believe something strongly enough you end up acting in such a way that it becomes true.
Thus the idea of CBT is to provide tools and skills that you can use in order to change these thoughts. Because CBT is so client-driven this means that most of the work is done by the patient who keeps a diary and gets given homework by their therapist. This can even take place over e-mail without any need to meet the therapist one on one at all and that of course is partly why it’s so affordable and practical.
It also means you can use some of the techniques yourself now. These include using ‘mindfulness’ to simply sit quietly and listen to the contents of your thoughts – are they helpful? Damaging? How could they be better? To challenge those statements – by dropping yourself in the deep end to prove that they aren’t true. Try ‘choking’ on stage for real for instance and if you do you’ll likely find the crowd are supportive and this will teach you that you don’t need to worry. And use positive affirmations – repetitive statements that can boost your mood and improve your outlook. If you’ve feeling down about your last relationship then repeat to yourself ‘I’m independent and I will find someone better’. It might sound corny, but after a while your brain will become accustomed to thinking that and it will become habit instead of the bad habits you previously held. Your ‘default thoughts’ then will become more positive. Try leaving post-it notes and messages around the house for yourself that can cheer you up.
Another three-lettered acronym! NLP this time stands for ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ and is a powerful set of tools that mimic the successful speech patterns and insights used by the most effective psychotherapists. Self-directed, these techniques can then be used to help yourself to change your thoughts and your feelings and to use subtle suggestions to improve yourself.
One way to do this is with self hypnosis. Using what is known as the ‘Milton Model’ of NLP, your aim is to create a script that uses open suggestions to try and ease you into the idea of being more confident or happier. For instance then you would tell yourself ‘I may start to enjoy the feeling of power and confidence that washes over me’. This uses the vague ‘may start’ rather than ‘will’ which makes the unconscious part of the brain more susceptible (it tends to reject ‘commands’ and ‘instructions’ which is why hypnotism is entirely focused around suggestion). Other elements of self hypnosis may also work – for instance using pacing and leading – in pacing the script simply observes what is happening (you are sitting down, you are breathing in and out) and then in leading these statements become suggestions (you are starting to relax). Because the initial statements were true this makes the subsequent statements seem more likely to be true as well.
Another NLP technique that can be used therapeutically is ‘reframing’. In reframing you are changing the way you look at an idea or a memory by changing the context (if you broke your arm it’s bad for your fitness and comfort, but you could look at how it allows you to catch up on reading) and the way that you perceive the image in your mind. For instance by imagining an unpleasant scene in your mind to have a colorful border around the edge of it this can actually alter your perception and help you to feel more cheerful.
Some times the best way to self heal is simply to give yourself some time off and some ‘you’ time. Going on holiday can often give you the change of scene (and weather) necessary to feel good about yourself again, while just making sure to get some time in the evening for a hot bath or a book is also advisable and can go a long way to helping you stay on top of the things life throws at you.
Anchoring is a technique used and promoted by many a self-help guru. This strategy takes cues from behavioral psychology, which is psychology that looks at associations created in our brain and how they affect behavior. The most famous example of behaviorism at work was the study by Pavlov in which dogs learned to salivate when they heard a bell because they associated that bell with food. This demonstrates how a stimulus can have any reaction that you see fit, and this is something that you can use in order to create certain reactions. With anchoring the idea is to learn to associate a feeling or another stimulus with a positive emotion – for instance you would learn to associate the touching of two fingers together with feelings of happiness and euphoria and this would then give you access to that feeling whenever you needed it – which of course has great therapeutic value. To do this you need to practice feeling emotions of happiness, or power, or confidence or whatever else you want to learn (using memories of times you did feel those ways, or using imagination) and then to really feel those emotions well up – then at the same time to touch the two fingers together or to act out whichever ‘trigger’ it is you want to associate with. The more you repeat this process the more you will cement the connection and the more powerful it will be when you want it.
People often have the wrong idea on meditation and think that it is necessarily a set of techniques that you have to learn, or that it is always ‘spiritual’ in nature. However the reality is that there are many different types of meditation and there are many types that are well suited for self healing no matter who you are and no matter what difficulties you’re going through in your life. The idea with meditation is simply that you are having some time for quiet reflection and to be aware of your thoughts. In the case of CBT as we have already seen for instance this can mean simply ‘observing’ your thoughts passively as a way to gain more insight into your own sometimes negative thought processes. Other people might use meditation to focus strongly on an idea, memory or emotion and this way they can explore themselves. One of the most common forms of meditation of all however is to try and let go of all the day’s stresses, of all concerns for the future and all worries regarding the past and to this way feel more free from stress and worry. This can be achieved by simply focusing on something that occupies your inner monologue – such as breathing, or a ‘mantra’ which is simply a phrase repeated over and over in your mind. There are many ways you can use forms of meditation for self healing and this is something that many people can benefit from.
Lots of therapists and counselors recommend externalizing emotions and thoughts and on generally expressing them as a form of catharsis and as a way to vent and feel some kind of release. This is a technique that you can use yourself and that can be useful in a variety of situation. For instance some people find that it helps to write a letter to someone you want to say something to, or an impartial party who you can admit your guilty secrets to, and then tear this up and destroy it. Another similar technique is called ‘the empty chair’ and in this exercise you simply talk to an empty chair and imagine that there is someone sitting in it that you want to talk to.