Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS as it’s often known, is a condition of the digestive system, with symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation and feeling bloated. IBS affects between ten and fifteen per cent of people at some point in their lives. Its exact causes are still unclear, but we do know that IBS can be triggered or exacerbated by long periods of stress. The pain and discomfort of IBS, and the fact that it's hard to predict when you will experience a flare up, can really interfere with your quality of life, and many people find it an upsetting and distressing condition to deal with at times. While there is no single, one shot cure for IBS, there are a variety of treatment options for it, and hypnosis is one of them.
A large number of studies have verified that therapeutic hypnosis can be highly effective in alleviating the symptoms of IBS, and, what’s more, in contrast to other treatments, hypnosis has no side effects. In a 2001 study at the University of Manchester in England, 250 patients with IBS were given twelve sessions of hypnotherapy, and when they were interviewed five years later, 71% of them reported that they experienced lasting improvements in their condition.
Hypnosis can help with IBS in a number of ways. Firstly, regular deep relaxation counteracts the stress response. When you’re under stress, due to certain pressures or worries in your life, the brain perceives that there is a threat to your safety, and it switches on your fight or flight response, just as it might do if a lion was hungrily eyeing you up in the wild. When this happens, your adrenal glands release adrenaline, which switches on certain responses in the body, such as sweating, quicker breathing, accelerated heart rate and so forth, gearing you up for the action you need to take to escape from danger. And it also switches off other responses that are not essential to survival in the short term, such as your sex drive, your immune system, and your digestion, because you really don’t need to be making love, or munching popcorn when you’re running for your life from a lion.
This is fine in a short term situation, of course, but if you feel stressed for hours, days, weeks, or even months, your adrenal glands will be constantly side-lining your digestion. So what was an adaptive response - switching off non-essential functions for short term survival - becomes maladaptive as the immune system, sex drive and digestion stop functioning properly.
When you relax deeply, you counteract all this. Your immune system works better and your stomach begins to get the oxygen and blood it needs in order to work better. Deep relaxation is the antidote to ongoing stress. Hypnosis has been used for many years to help manage pain, accelerate healing, and to calm down inflammatory conditions of all kinds. For example, when people intensely visualise their immune system working better, by picturing healthy, strong white blood cells fighting off small, weak germs and bacteria, their white blood cell count measurably increases within a few minutes. With hypnosis and visualisation, people can learn to directly influence their own bodies, including alleviating the discomfort of IBS. As well as helping you to enter a profoundly deep state of relaxation, therapeutic hypnosis will use healing imagery and hypnotic suggestions to guide your mind to soothe and heal your gut, so that you can experience a much greater sense of calm and comfort inside.
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