How to cope with Exam and Work Stress

The exam season is about to hit, and for many school children this can be a time of great anxiety and stress. A little bit of stress can be a good thing, and can help motivate us to achieve our goals, however for some this can become over-whelming, derailing our best efforts and stopping us from performing at our highest levels.

Exams themselves, don’t cause the anxiety. When we break it down, we realise that an exam is just simply a task that needs to be completed.  However, it’s the tricks that our mind can play on us, that can then cause the fear of the exam itself. This is an important realisation, because once we are aware of this, we understand that it is within ourselves that we can find the answer to the problem that we have created. This may sound harsh but its important that we realise that we are the captain of our own ship and can control the way we think about situations and events in our lives.

The great news is that you can take back control of the situation

Here in Dorset, I help people overcome the anxieties that surround exams and performance. The fact is that exam stress is the same as the stress suffered by those performing on the stage, or in Sport. It is grouped and labelled ‘performance anxiety’ and individuals can suffer to such an extent they are unable to think clearly. When we are stressed, we use the primitive parts of our brain. This area is designed to protect us from danger. This is a great thing when we encounter potential threats to our safety such as when a wasp buzzes around our head. We pump out hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that help us to react quickly. Unfortunately, it can stop us from using the parts of our brain that allow us to perform well in exams.

Having been a teacher, I appreciate how difficult it can be for children to deal with exams. All you want for our developing children is to be able to express what they can do, when they want or need to be able to do it!

The following is a list of ways to reduce stress

  • One of the biggest ways you can reduce stress is to try and avoid those around you who are showing signs of stress. The reason for this is that stress can be contagious, and we mirror this when we are around people, in the same way that a smile can be contagious or even a yawn.
  • Another way you can help your stress levels is by keeping a calm environment to work or study in, perhaps having a plant in your study space.
  • Also make sure you have plenty of fresh food in the house, and ensure you sip plenty of water or drinks during the day to stay hydrated and keep your brain alert and functioning to its maximum.
  • Try to keep your study or work area decluttered, and use calming essential oils such lavender. You can also use Rosemary or Peppermint as these have been used for thousands of years as an aid to improve memory.
  • Try to limit time on social media, this not only stops you from wasting valuable time when you could be studying or working, it also can help reduce anxiety. Social media can be known to increase anxiety, especially if someone you know is spreading the panic online.
  • Also be aware that going analogue can be detrimental to learning. When you write information down, it lights up different pathways in the brain that aid learning and memory recall. For those of a creative personality you can use mind mapping techniques to build patterns of information that help you recall information and can be more fun to do.
  • Don’t forget to take regular breaks. Get outside and get some fresh air, its important to allow the brain time to consolidate what you have learnt.
  • Get some exercise, this way you can release feel good endorphins and help to relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Get plenty of sleep, this is where most of your learning is processed into your long-term memory. Make the most of this, and let your brain recover for the next day.
  • Be positive and visualise yourself doing well. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality, so instead of telling yourself you feel nervous, tell yourself ‘I feel excited’ or ‘I am well prepared for these exams’. The more you practise and imagine yourself in a relaxed state in the exam, the mind can then prepare the body for this.

One of the most important things to remember is that many of the most successful people in the world weren’t particularly academic. Leonardo Da Vinci for example didn’t have what we would call a formal education, and he didn’t do too badly!

Exams are a good way to test our ability to memorise information, and our ability to cope under pressure, but what they can’t do is test somebody’s entrepreneurial spirit, musical or sporting skills or capacity to be kind or indeed their common sense!

Illuminating Minds Hypnotherapy

If despite the above advice you are still feeling anxious about your up-coming exams, here at Illuminating Minds we use proven Hypnotherapy techniques to help an individual to regain the calm and balance required to perform at their best. So often we are taught how to observe and learn and be active, but what we aren’t always shown is how to be calm and rest the mind. There is a strong learning benefit in being calm. In my sessions I explain how anxiety is a process that can build up over time.  I use a stress bucket as a metaphor to show how anxiety and worries accumulate over time. This is where we store all our anxious thoughts in a queue waiting to be processed. During REM sleep we process our anxieties, removing the emotional negative parts.  But if we have too much to process, the quality of our sleep can suffer, and we get caught in a vicious circle of sleep deprivation and heightened anxiety. Hypnosis or trance breaks this circle by simulating REM sleep and can help us process our worries and empty our stress bucket. It can also help us to focus and visualise how we want things to go during our exams or at work in a calm and methodical way.

If you feel Hypnotherapy could be of benefit and you would like to learn more,  contact Illuminating Minds now and we can start getting you back in control and on a path to your own success.

New to Hypnotherapy – A Useful Guide

What can I expect from my first Hypnotherapy session ?

Hypnotherapy is used to help individuals cope with a variety of issues. These can range from general stress to phobias, self esteem issues, depression, reaching your goals and many more.

If you have never experienced a hypnotherapy session, it is quite normal to have questions as to what it is and how it can best work for you.

The following gives a step by step guide as to the experience and how you can prepare for your first session.

  1. First of all have a good idea of what it is you are seeking to resolve. You may have been referred by a medical practitioner or sought out someone based on a word of mouth reference. Try to be as specific as you can regarding what you are seeking to rectify in your life. A good hypnotherapist will guide you through this process, without judgement, and will look to work with you in partnership, throughout the treatment.
  2. Choosing a Provider –  It’s important to choose the right provider of Hypnotherapy, so make sure you research the individual thoroughly. Check for qualifications and in particular look for the Hypnotherapy Practitioners Diploma (HPD) which is the gold standard of qualification in this field of work. You can check to see if they are affiliated with other directories such as the Hypnotherapy Directory. You can find most of this information online, checking for references and experience.
  3. Book an Initial Consultation  – Most providers offer an initial consultation, often this is free of charge with no obligation. Here you can assess whether the individual is someone you can work with and feel relaxed enough with to get the best out of the Hypnotherapy sessions. Here you can ask any questions you have about the process, how long it might take, how many sessions etc.
  4. Try to be Open minded – It is important to enter your first hypnotherapy session with healthy expectations. Hypnotherapy relies on the power of suggestion to assist the subconscious mind in re-evaluating a situation, so the more relaxed and comfortable you can feel in following along with the verbal suggestions the more productive the sessions will be. Remember no one can make a verbal suggestion that you wouldn’t ordinarily accept. In this way all Hypnotherapy is ‘Self Hypnotherapy’.
  5. Keep your expectations realistic. In most cases it requires several sessions to achieve your desired outcome, so re-evaluate your expectations as you go. It is vitally important that you work closely together with your hypnotherapist and see the work you do as a collective experience, this way you can improve your chances of ultimate success.
  6. It is also important to remember that you are in control of the number of sessions you need. Only you can fully assess when you have reached the outcomes that you set out to achieve and agreed. You can discuss these expectations and feelings with your Hypnotherapy Practitioner at the start and as you progress. Make the most of your first session – So now if you are preparing for your first session, try to remember to relax. The key thing to remember here is the Hypnotherapy is used as a mean to heal. It has been used successfully for thousands of years. The more open-minded and at ease with it the better for your chances of success.
  7. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy will look at some of the background as to why you are experiencing your problems, but the bulk of work is done together, looking to find solutions to problems and not dwelling on the problems themselves. The sessions build you progressively towards achieving your goals, but each individual session starts with a blank page, so you can change and grow as you feel yourself progressing.
  8. Remember to find the right provider for you and take the opportunity to book an initial consultation to assess whether you’re able to build a rapport with your practitioner and to ask any key questions that you may have.

If you still have any questions about Hypnotherapy ?

Contact Craig now on 07725878880 or on

Illuminating Minds – Dorset Hypnotherapy.

The 6 Benefits of an Early Bird Sleep Pattern on Mental Health.

Most of us know just how important a good restful nights’ sleep is to our feeling of well-being the next day. What many of us don’t know is the impact of when we choose to sleep can be just as important on how we feel.

I want to share with you the powerful impact waking up early can have on our Mental Health.

Now for those of us who aren’t ‘Morning People’ the thought of waking up early can seem horrifying, but with a bit of discipline we can re-organise our day and reap the benefits on both our body and mind.

  1. Organise your day & be more productive

The first benefit of waking early is that you can use this extra time when few of us are awake to start to plan your day and create a to do list. By creating a plan for your day, you can get yourself in the right mindset to go about and complete your tasks, you will also experience less anxiety and worrying unnecessarily. When you direct your mind towards your goals you start using the Reticular Activating System. This is a built-in part of the brain that filters content that is related to what you want and think about in life, So, if you are in a positive mindset, it will look for all the things that confirms your aspirations. An example would be if you decided you wanted a specific car, you will find that you suddenly notice this car in adverts, on the roads, in car parks etc.

A study that was published in the Journal of General Psychology in 2008 highlighted that “those who woke up early procrastinated less than those who woke up late. Individuals tend to be more disciplined and focused on their goals, thereby improving productivity”. Studies also indicate that individuals that rise early tend to be more agreeable and cooperative, they were more determined to achieve projects and tasks.

2. Time for Quiet, Calm and Silence

Studies indicate that when you wake up earlier than most people, you have time that affords you some quality peace and quiet in a noisy busy world, an invaluable commodity.

During those quiet moments you have time to hear your thoughts. It gives you quality time to relax, read a book, do some exercise or even meditate. These quiet moments have positive effects on the brain, and some of these include:

Reducing blood pressure

Increase oxygen levels in brain

Reduce migraines

Boost mental health.

3. Time for Breakfast

When you wake up early you give yourself time to eat a good nutritious breakfast. The benefits of eating a nutritious breakfast are numerous and some of these include:

  • Provides energy for the day
  • Help you focus
  • Reduces risk of being overweight
  • Lowers negative cholesterol
  • Reduces risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
  • Maintains a healthy bodily rhythm
  • Improves mood and positive thinking.

4. Improved brain clarity & function

According to a study carried out by Christoph Randler biologist at Germany’s University of Education, if you suffer with a foggy mind throughout the day, starting to change your sleep patterns to waking early can improve your brain function.

Those who wake up early tend to find they are more creative, engage with work more and are funnier. The have improved problem solving and critical thinking skills and have an increase in memory function, all vital skills that improve your effectiveness at work and play.

5. Become more positive and improve mental health

The biggest benefit of waking up early is on your mental health. This is as a result of the collective benefit of all of the above. Those who don’t get up early are at a higher risk of developing depression and other mental disorders.

By waking up later it increases the chances of developing negative thoughts which can overwhelm those who suffer with this, by readjusting your sleep patterns and sticking with it can gradually improve your outlook to a more positive way.

6. Better Sleep & gives you more energy

By shifting your sleeping patterns and going to bed earlier and waking early in the morning, evidence points to deeper sleep patterns. You get a better quality of restorative sleep. Once you have established a set routine of going to bed at a set time and getting up the same time every morning, your natural body clock readjusts so that you can feel sleepy when its time and get up refreshed when its time. It is also important to continue this routine at weekends to maximise the benefits. The importance and benefits of getting a deeper sleep pattern established include:

  • Tissue repair
  • Bone repair
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Relaxes the body
  • Increased blood supply
  • Releases growth hormones that can build muscle and tissue.

Waking early conclusion While acknowledging getting up early can be difficult for some, including the writer of this blog, with a determined effort and some strategies to maintain your discipline I can add my own experience to confirm the benefits are worth the effort.

The importance of mental relaxation

Happy New Year 2019

In a world where so much attention is placed on achieving goals, we are constantly busy doing and trying to accomplish a whole multitude of different tasks every day. As a result, we can often neglect the very basic needs of our highly worked, but incredible solution focused and more positive aspects of our brain.

For many of us we will see a good night’s sleep as the holy grail for a balanced life. New research carried out by the National Council for Social Research discovered that the most rested people scored 15pts higher on a happiness scale than those that struggled to get the sleep they felt they needed. It is estimated that as adults we need between 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night. However all too often we don’t achieve that perfect night’s sleep and this can have a knock-on effect on our relationships and work productivity, as we end up feeling sluggish throughout our day.

So how can we help ourselves to overcome the problems that lead to a lack of sleep?

As a clinical Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist, I am often asked ‘How can I relax?’ There are many ways to relax and unwind, relaxation is different for everyone. For some it’s finding a way to rest an over-worked body, but for others and more commonly among those people I encounter, is a need to rest an over-worked mind.

This may sound like a simple activity, but for those who are used to worrying about, well just about everything, it can be difficult to change habits that have formed in the brain over time.

This is where Hypnotherapy comes in as a useful and powerful tool to help ease and relieve our troubled minds. Hypnotherapy can restore balance to a potentially over-worked mind, allowing it to process the worries of the day, bring stillness and calm to the body and free up time to allow an individual to enter a deeper more restorative quality sleep during the night.

Today neuroscientists have identified four main types of brain activity that can be measured by an EEG device. These are outlined below.

Of these key brain wave states, the one that is identified as being associated with creativity is the awake and resting thought process. This is associated with activity in the pre-frontal cortex, and this is the area when logic and reasoning can present us with solutions to problems.

Meditation states have also shown that during periods of physical and mental rest, we allow the mind to quieten down, and during this period of deep mental and physical rest our minds can recover and process our feelings and issues. The more we are able to find ways to do this, the less stress we carry with us during our waking day. This in turn frees the mind to have a more effective, deeper and restorative sleep.

Here is a list of different ways in which we can allow our mind that vital time to relax from our worried state.

  • Read a book or a magazine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. This can allow your mind to escape your worries for a short time.
  • Run yourself a bath, watch a film, play with a pet or try out a new recipe. All great and enjoyable methods to focus on something other than your worries.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to keep your shoulders down and relaxed and place your hand on your stomach – it should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. Count as you breathe. Start by counting ‘one, two, three, four’ as you breathe in and ‘one, two, three, four’ as you breathe out. Try to work out what’s comfortable for you.

Breathing in this way gives our mind a focus and allows us to begin to take control of our own mind. One of the methods that we can learn that teaches us to calm and relax our mind is Mindfulness. You can find a qualified teacher. This has been proven to improve anxiety or depression.

  • Take a walk in the countryside or through a local park, taking time to notice trees, flowers, plants and animals you see on the way.
  • Spend some time taking part in conservation, whether that’s digging in your own garden or taking part in a local green project. You can find projects and outdoor activities to suit whatever level of mobility you have.
  • Look for a local Hypnotherapist that offers mental relaxation classes or sessions.
  • Look for a class you’d like to try, such as yoga, Pilates or gentle stretching. These activities help focus the mind and body allow us to restore a balance to our thinking.
  • Try painting, drawing, making crafts, playing a musical instrument, dancing, baking or sewing.
  • Listen to your favourite songs. Turn up the volume and dance or sing along or put your headphones on and close your eyes, really listen to the music. Can you pick out different instruments? Can you hear a drum beat or a certain rhythm? Focus on the music, and let other thoughts fade away.
  • Think of somewhere relaxing and peaceful. You might choose a memory of somewhere you’ve been, or a place you have imagined.

If we consider that we are more productive as people when we are relaxed and in a calm and creative mindset. It should therefore naturally follow that if we allow ourselves the freedom to ensure we make the time and effort to relax and invest in our own long-term wellbeing, then this is a priceless gift to ourselves.

How Stress can affect us and how we can fight back.

What is stress ?

To answer this, we first need to step back in time to meet our primitive ancestors, the cavemen. In those long forgotten days, our ancestors would as a matter of daily live find themselves walking along on the open plains of the African savanna and would have the potential to bump into a hungry pride of lions. In order to survive they would’ve needed a rapid response system, that bypassed the controlled conscious mind and allowed them to either stand and fight with their weapons, or run as fast as they could. This system we know today as the fight, flight or freeze response. As soon as they were aware of the lion, a signal would be sent to a part of their brain called the Amygdala, which acts as the warning siren when we are under attack or threatened. With the help of the Hypothalamus, which regulates all the chemical responses in our body and mind, we would release two hormones these are the stress chemical messengers of cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine). These hormones give our body the lightening fast response it needs to take immediate life saving action.

In modern times however the ‘Lions on the planes of Africa’ has become a traffic jam, or a critical meeting at work, or a parent suffering with a life changing illness, or arguments with partners. The accumulation of a multitude of stressors, if prolonged, can have a major impact on the quality of our lives. It can if left unchecked these start to affect our health, which can manifest itself in numerous ways. It could start as a tension headache, or stomach problem at first, the effects of the hormones in the blood can restrict the blood flow forcing our blood vessels to constrict, restricting the oxygen flow to our heart or brain. This in turn, over time, can increase our risk of developing heart problems or even stroke.

The main hormone that triggers many of these health problems is cortisol. This is released by the adrenal gland and sits above the kidney. This hormone feeds our anxiety, which in turn causes our adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, so we can end up living in a vicious circle. The net result of long term cortisol production, can be weakened bone or muscle tissue. It also slows down healing, impairs digestion, affects metabolism and weakens our immune function. Listed below are some of the signs to look out for when we experience stress.

Symptoms of Stress on the body are

  • Change in sex drive
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Stomach upset

Effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Restlessness
  • Sadness or depression

Effects of stress on your behaviour

  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Exercising less often
  • Overeating or under eating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Tobacco use

How can we combat Stress ?

So how can we turn the tide of the impact that stress can have on our bodies and mental health ?

In my clinic we tell our clients about stress, and how it builds up into what we call a ‘Stress Bucket’. When stress builds up, it can sometimes overflow, and this is when we can start feeling out of balance and a sense of losing control of our lives.

One of the best tools we use to empty the stress bucket is Trance. The reason we use Trance is that it simulates REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). When we go into REM during our sleep we re-run stressful emotional events, and we replay them and change them from being an emotional memory to being a narrative memory (a memory we have control over). This is why when someone upsets us during the day, and we still think about it later on, it’s not until we have slept on the issue, that we awaken in the morning and wonder what all the fuss was about. We have removed the emotional content from the memory. This is natures way of helping us reset and move on with our daily lives. The same is true when we go into trance.

Hypnotherapy facilitates a sense of calm and relaxation and provides the process with which the mind can reduce its cortisol levels allowing us to release our worries, so that when it’s time to go to bed, we can have a more restful night’s sleep and regain the balance and sense of well being we ultimately seek.

Welcome to Illuminating Minds

What is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy ?

This form of Psychotherapy is designed to reduce anxiety and Stress related symptoms. It is called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and as the name may imply during our sessions we focus on the solutions for future, rather than dwelling on and analysing the past. It is structured to empower people to change the way they think, and as long as a person is committed to this change and follows the process it can be highly effective in relieving symptoms of stress and anxiety.

By focusing on the solutions and not dwelling on the past problems we instead ;

  • See where you are currently.
  • Highlight and illuminate where you want to be going forward.
  • Empower you with the tools to make the changes required.

When it comes to the mind we say ‘Use it or lose it’. We are looking to lose the ruminating on painful memories part and rewire and fire the brain with positive actions that can only move us forward.

Famous quote

“You can’t effect the cards you are dealt, but you can determine how you play them “ Milton Erikson

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy uses practical, modern, well-researched strategies to help people make significant and beneficial changes in their lives.

It is an extremely effective treatment for Fears, Phobias, Giving up Smoking, Anxiety, Weight Loss, Depression, IBS, Sports Performance and many more.