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Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019

How I overcame my hypnophobia using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

By Private Therapy Clinic

Here is the full video summarising all of Poppy’s sessions with Dr. Daniela Rossi. Poppy discusses how she overcame her anxiety disorder which involved being terrified she was going to die while falling in to sleep (hypnophobia). Using strategies which helped Poppy challenge her thinking and change her behaviours she finally overcame her fear and is now sleeping really well.

If you’d like an assessment session like Poppy’s over hypnophobia, please call for an initial consultation.

Video Transcript

Hi, I’m Poppy. I’m going to talk to you about my anxiety.

So I usually get anxiety attacks or panic attacks when I’m just about to go to sleep so it’s to the point in which I’m lying in bed, I start to cry and overthink everything and think “Oh gosh”. My brain’s going like a million miles an hour but it’s not’s actually that specific point but it’s leading up to the point in which I’m about to go to sleep. But going from awake to sleep, as you slipped into sleep, I feel like that is me dying which sounds so silly but it really feels like my body is kind of giving up and I’m dying. So I’m sure you can imagine that being awful because every single time I go to sleep, I feel like that’s my body dying so I get shortness of breath, I start panic and get very dizzy and disorientated and my heart starts beating irregularly and palpitations and feels like it’s coming out my chest. And when I’m really tired, it’s really difficult because – I’m sorry. When I’m really tired, it’s really difficult because I’m so exhausted but every time I slip into sleep, I kind of job myself awake to try and like kickstart my heart if that makes sense. It sounds so irrational, and I realize it is so irrational but the physical symptoms is so real so I’m just thinking “Maybe I am dying” and then I panic and jump out of bed to try and kick start a system that I think I have any control over.

But it was quite funny because my friend said to me this afternoon, when I was telling her about I haven’t seen her in a while, she was saying how – It was quite sweet that I thought that I had any say in my death which was quite funny, and I’m quite glad she said that because it just makes you think “What am I talking about?” But it is just very complicated because I know it’s so silly. But because the physical symptoms is so obvious, I can’t breathe, I feel like my body’s dying, I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack.

I just find it very difficult to go to sleep because every time I go to sleep, I’ll jolt just myself awake so it’s like I’m drunk off and then just drop myself awake again. So I think I need to stop my head going a million miles an hour and think that really, I don’t have a say in my own death quite frankly but I would really like some help if possible in trying to cope with the anxiety and cope with the irrational fear that I’m going to die every time I go to sleep because I’m really tired. Please help me. I hope that’s what you needed to know because yeah, that’s it, irrational fear death in my sleep. Please help me. Thank you.

Hi! I will be talking to you about my first session with Dr. Daniela Ruci. So majorly, when I got there, I felt quite at ease within the first couple of minutes because she was so lovely and kind and friendly. So that was really nice because I’ve been to a lot of places before where you just don’t feel comfortable with the person so then, it’s quite difficult to explain quite difficult things to them so that was really nice because I knew I’d be relaxed and be able to speak to her openly.

So we first started by going back to when the time when my anxiety first started and what was going on then, what stresses may contribute to the fact that it started such as family life, relationships, my university work, stressing situations which had contributed to it. And then worked around some family life, family history because I worry about my health a lot so I was just trying to see where that came from and what if my family had some issues with their health. Maybe that’s why I also worry a bit. It was nice to make a mental map of my anxiety as well so I could kind of relate everything to each other and see how it came about and how I could work on each section to move forward. So I’m really looking forward to the next session with her because she was very kind and really helpful and I feel very positive about it. Thank you.

Hi, in the next session, we went to the how I feel threat is happening and I perceive that thought which turns into anxious thought. So I experience anxiety which then brings on physical symptoms and then, my response may be irrational because my brain is kind of created my body to produce its physical symptoms and then, I act upon them. So it’s about thinking about my brain creating a scenario and then, it turning into something that feels quite real. And Daniela taught me how to try and ride the wave as opposed to fight it because you can’t ever stop a wave. You have to kind of just learn to go along with it. So don’t avoid the situation but learn to cope with it when it does arise. And you can do this avoidance or distraction technique. I can sometimes make a problem a lot worse, and it turns into like this vicious cycle that’s not real.

So the way to combat this is through breathing which I found is really, really helpful because breathing is so simple in the way that you do it for birth to death. And if you ground yourself and use it as an anchor, it can be really helpful when in difficult scenarios so that can prevent the mind wandering off and cut straight on now and not be distracted by other things.

Another analogy she used which I found really, really good was that I was the rider on a horse, and my brain was kind of the rider and the horse was my body. And I’ve got to learn to ride the horse, control it but not fight it because in effect, it’s the horse that’s going to get me to places so I need to learn how to control that and work with it as well. So I hope that makes a bit of sense.

Hi. So in the last couple of sessions, we focus a lot about imagery and how brain’s so amazing in the fact that they can just create these scenarios, create these scenes. And if we can create those scenes, we can also create scenes of calm as well as anxiety. So a lot, well, most anxiety is created by myself in my head. And if that is true, then surely, I can create the opposite. I can create the calm sensations and realize that it’s all a figure of my imagination because I have quite a vivid imagination. Well, an extensively vivid imagination. I find it very easy to kind of snowball with things until I’m getting into a state where I’m really anxious, really not feeling good, and it’s about learning how to kind of prevent that snowball from happening but also, perhaps snowball it into a positive thing. And recently, Dr. Ruci asked what I can control in my life, and it took me a little while to take that in because I just couldn’t think of anything that I could really control in my life because you can’t control some things. And for example, if you control someone else’s actions, that wouldn’t be a positive thing. I wouldn’t say that I could do that but I just thought about that kind of thing. I really couldn’t think of anything that I did control. And then, we came up with that you can control what you say, and you can control how you act to a certain extent obviously because emotions are very powerful. And sometimes, they can control you which is possibly what is happening in all of these cases where I’m really anxious. So to some extent, you can’t control your mind in how it acts but you can control how it creates things and the imagery that it forms by itself so you kind of have to learn to accommodate those images and consider them and realize if they are valid or if they are a bit negative and not going to help you in any way.

So one of the images that we created – She said “When do you feel like you were so scared but also, you had some pleasure from that too?” And I said when I went skydiving because I always say, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole entire life. But I also say that I was absolutely terrified. And we used that because when I was up in the plane, I was absolutely terrified watching people jump out of the plane in front of me. But – And then, when they said “Are you ready?”, I just kind of went “Yes?”. But I wasn’t really but I wanted to do it. I mean I couldn’t really get out of it by that point so I was terrified. But as soon as I let go and jumped out of a plane, my emotions went from fear to elation. And I had an amazing sensation over my body. It was incredible. I was so happy. I laughed all the way down.

So we kind of use that because I have anxiety associated with sleep. You can relate that very much so because when you were about to go to sleep, you could say that that’s before I was jumping out of the plane. I was anticipating what was going to happen and creating these scenarios which is snowballing out of control but once I let go, once I jumped out of the plane, and once I had gone to sleep, it was a feeling of bliss, happiness and contentment. So in effect, skydiving is like sleeping. And that is a very interesting way to think about it. So initially, you’re scared and anticipation makes you anxious but once you let go, you’ll be more than happy and feel so grateful that you did.

And we did another imagery exercise where Dr. Ruci asked me to imagine a nun, imagine a person in the army and imagine a jazz singer and the nun was – I imagined her obviously to wear nun clothes, and I actually acted out. Dr. Ruci told me afterwards. I acted out each character with my hand so a nun, I said I was very – She was very tentative. She thought about every action she made and was quietly spoken and a bit reserved whereas a person in the army was very assertive, very commanding and sure about what they were saying and had a kind of a straight up appearance and then, the jazz singer was more fun boy, and laid back, and happy go lucky kind of person. And I imagined all types of, different types of clothing, what their mannerisms were, their character, their faces, their smiles, their hair colors, their eye colors, their shoes, the scene that they’re in.

And my imagination to create all that from one word, it is quite fascinating where I find it so amazing learning about the brain more. And surely, if we can create such vivid imagery, we can also create calm. So then I was asked to think of a really safe place that I had. And I had – My safe place was walking dogs in the river where there’s a riverbank and by the bank, there’s this field which the sun hits it so perfectly, and the trees are really green, and I can then went to the bird in the river. And my dog’s running around, and I love lying on the grass and just feeling the grass, looking in the sky. I’m quite an old school person so that was my safe place.

And so if I can imagine all these things off one word, surely when I am anxious, I can try and go back to that safe place and try to remember all the feelings and thoughts that I had about that place and try to harness that into the present moment where I am feeling anxious to relieve some of that and feel the feelings of calmness I had in that place.

So sleep is essential for us. It’s important to let go and to regenerate the body, and it’s so important. And I realize that I can do it. It’s all up to me and my good brain.

Hi. So in the last session with Dr. Daniela Ruci, we went to everything that I had learned in terms of thinking about the way I think, the way I breathe, trying to harness my emotions and not let them run off with me, trying to anchor my anxiety. And I can quite honestly say that I can sleep like a baby which is very surprising and I didn’t – I was a bit skeptical to begin with because I just thought “How can I possibly just sleep by talking to someone?” but I am so, so thankful.

I’m quite sad not to see Dr. Daniela Ruci again because I can’t thank her enough. I can actually sleep at night really well, and I’ve learned to control my anxiety and not let it control me. And I think that’s a massive, massive thing to say. I can’t really quite believe that I’m saying it but I’m cured. Well, you know what I mean, in terms of sleep, I’m so thankful.

So we looked at the way that my brain works, the way it processes things, the way it creates false scenarios to give me a physical response to my anxiety which then makes my brain react to that physical response which is the anxiety. And I’ve learnt to control that, not let it run off with me and to realize that it’s just something I’ve created. It’s not reality. And I am so thankful. And I would recommend her to anyone, and I already have anyway. So thank you so, so much. I’m really, really grateful for being able to sleep.


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

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