Headaches can be caused by many triggers including alcohol (especially red wine), certain foods (such as meats that contain nitrates), poor sleep, poor posture, skipped meals, and stress. The most common type of headache is known as “tension headache” that causes a dull, aching pain or pressure on the forehead, sides, or back of the head. Migraines are another type of common headaches. Headaches also can be caused by many other problems including a concussion, infections, or even a tumor.
Treatment of headaches is one of the most widely studied applications of hypnosis. Hypnosis can be used to help with headaches through reducing or preventing the effect of the triggers, as well as to help address the discomfort caused by the headaches. It should be noted that patients often need to apply hypnotic techniques for several months in order to gain full benefit from this very effective approach in treatment of their headaches.
Psychological stress is the most common trigger of physical symptoms, including of headaches. Two thirds of my patients with physical symptoms improve greatly with use of hypnosis to achieve a state of relaxation. Previous blogs have described how such relaxation can be achieved through imagining of a safe, relaxing place. Another way patients can be trained to relax themselves involves imagining a sailboat sitting on the tip of the sternum (breast bone) just above the stomach. With each inhalation the sailboat rises, and then falls with exhalation. Watching the sailboat for a few moments can lead to a profound sense of relaxation.
Next week’s blog will be devoted to a discussion of how hypnosis can help with insomnia. Improved sleep can lead to many benefits including a reduction of headaches.
Interactions with the subconscious can help patients identify foods that may trigger their headaches. Subconscious exploration for this purpose can be helpful because oftentimes patients are socially influenced with their food and drink choices, which can lead them to underestimate their possible negative effects. For example, consider a teenager who abuses alcohol during parties. This patient may choose to drink alcohol in order to fit in with his peers. On the other hand, the subconscious typically does not care about social factors. Thus, the subconscious may state that the patient should not drink because this can hurt him, rather than be concerned about his friends’ reactions.
There are many hypnotic techniques that can be adapted to help improve headaches. A simple one involves asking patients to imagine their headache as a particular color, and then changing that color in their mind’s eye to the color of their head when it feels well.
Alternatively, patients might be asked what creature might be causing their headaches. A commonly cited creature is a woodpecker who is pecking at a patient’s head. Patients then can be asked what the creature would rather be doing. For example, the woodpecker may prefer to peck at a delicious tree. The patient is then coached to imagine such a tree and to notice how their headache improves when the woodpecker flies there.
Yet another approach involves the patients imagining control panels in their minds that they can manipulate in order to reduce the intensity of their headaches.
Hypnosis can help in the treatment of headaches through helping to reduce the effect of their triggers as well as to improve their associated discomfort.
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