To P – a reply to a question re Anosmia, Hyperattention and MCS

I recently received an email from someone who had read my Anosmia blog (about loss of the ability to smell).  I wasn’t able to reply directly so hopefully P will tune back into this blog looking for an update.

He felt his problem was undiagnosed MCS – Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

I don’t know if this view was based on negative results from medical testing or an internet based self-diagnosis, but in either case his wish was to turn off his obviously distressing hypersensitivity to smells.

Having given this some thought, I drafted up the following reply which I hope might be of help to P and anyone with similar problems…

“… I would be very dubious about trying to suppress or alter your sense of smell given its role in keeping you safe –  in new or unfamiliar environments, as well as in everyday life,  your ability to detect smells protects you from harmful chemicals,  fumes from petrol, leaking gas, car exhaust etc.
That said, I quite often work with people who are tormented by Tinnitus noise or optical floaters, both of which are currently incurable and which can distress people to the point of considering suicide.
Such individuals have developed a hypersensitivity to the symptoms of their problem  – creating a constant unconscious attentiveness, their minds always looking for the noise in the ears or the shadows in the eyes that then trigger off immediate fear/hate/anger/grief emotional responses.
In such cases I use hypnosis to reduce these stressful emotional responses, making symptoms less scary, hated and stressful.  As a result, the client becomes less and less angry or upset by them.
I help clients become more accepting and relaxed about their symptoms and thus less and less hyperattentive to the problem.  As a result they live with their symptoms, often going days or weeks without noticing them.
Treatment includes the use of post hypnotic suggestions such as, for Tinnitus… “…every day you will find that you are less and less aware of your problem…you find that you remember more and more all the  times you haven’t heard the sounds and you forget the times that you hear them.  In fact, you can choose to forget to remember those times you hear the sounds or maybe remember to forget when you hear them.  It’s your choice.  You decide”.
This deliberately confusing suggestion is decode by the subconscious and allows the hypersensitivity it has created to slowly ebb away.
In this way the client is given power over their problem and within 3 sessions or so I find that they are far less disturbed by their problem, if at all.
In your case P perhaps the suggestion should be along the lines of “…every day you will find the smells you once found overpowering don’t upset you quite as much as they used to.  You can still recognise a particular smell, know what it is, put a name to it, but the overpowering edge has gone from it.  It’s no longer overpowering.  It’s just like it used to be.  And every day you find you are less and less hypersensitive to smells…you find that you remember more  and more the times when smells have just seemed normal… like they always have…and you forget the times  you come across smells which are overpowering.   In fact, you can choose to either forget the times you encounter overpowering smells or choose to remember to forget them.  I don’t care.  It’s your choice.  You decide”.
 I hope this proves helpful to P and anyone else in his situation.

Fear of Flying and Claustrophobia

Just received the following email from a recent client who came to me with an urgent need to deal with claustrophobia on underground trains and a strong fear of flying…

Hi Keith,  

Just wanted to drop an email to say thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me.

As it stands I now travel on the tube everyday with no anxiety, and as of yesterday I completed my eighth flight on my own and I am off to America for a solo countrywide tour with lots of internal flights. Without your help this would never have been possible. . Again, thank you so much.  WJ  Hornchurch Essex

The work we did together was done in only three sessions and included a tailor-made recording which I made for her to use as daily therapy between appointments.  She is also able to use it whilst travelling, together with my Healing Garden mp3 for more general stress-busting.

While it’s nice to receive positive feedback from clients, I also hope that this message will give hope and encouragement to others who are suffering similar fears and phobias and that it will spur them on to seek professional help so that they can improve the quality of both their working and personal lives. Continue reading

Public Speaking and Hypnosis

One of my clients rang me yesterday to very excitedly report that she had just completed a presentation in front of an audience of business people, despite the fact that a few weeks ago she found it difficult to speak a few sentences in front of a few people.

Public speaking is the world’s most common phobia, so I thought that readers might be interested in my client’s experience.

In our first session, I got her to describe how she felt about the idea of speaking in front of a large audience and the thoughts which ran through her head before and during her performance.  We then examined these thoughts, fears and feelings and their physiological effects.  At the end of the session, I used hypnosis to install relaxation and ego-strengthening suggestions and provided a relaxation/hypnosis recording which she could use during the following week.  At our second and subsequent sessions,  we worked together to ensure that she had a firm understanding of  how to prepare a presentation and PowerPoint slides, personal presentation on stage  and how to control her nervousness and convert fear into excitement!  At the end of the second session, I made her a tailor-made recording to use every day until her presentation was due.

She was an excellent student and did the exercises and preparations diligently each week.  As a result, I was delighted to receive the following account her journey earlier today… 

Hi everybody, just thought I would share my story on here. I came to Keith seeking support with public speaking about a month ago. My fear of public speaking was so bad that I would keep my head down in staff meetings and never speak up.  If I had something important to say I would get someone else to say it for me and avoid speaking at all costs. I had a situation once where I had to read something out in front of 2 people, and having read a couple of sentences perfectly fine, then just froze, my mouth moving but no words coming out. Intrusive thoughts from my previous experiences of speaking were so debilitating that I couldn’t even read a few sentences in front of two colleagues in a fairly relaxed environment. The words would just would not work.

My chest would go tight and I would become very breathless. Along with this was the fear that I would constantly swallow or laugh inappropriately which would be extremely embarrassing. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to talk because I was too busy swallowing and panicking. I felt that the fear was consuming me and I decided that it was either face my fears or spend the rest of my life thinking ‘what if?’

The help that Keith has given me has been invaluable… I couldn’t have put a price on being able to speak in public and after just 4 sessions with Keith I was able to stand up at the front of a room of 30 people and present a 15 minute PowerPoint talk about public speaking.  It may seem simple to some, but to me is was a huge step forward and has given me the confidence and the determination to keep going and keep practicing.

I can now look forward to my future and progress with my studies and my career without feeling that ‘I can’t do it,’ because now I know ‘I can.’  I am actually looking forward to speaking in public again. Thank you Keith for everything!

PS- I think it will help some people to also add in here that there were times along the way that I doubted that the hypnosis would work, or I’d feel silly… But if you have the right mindset you can achieve it. If you maintain the thought that this isn’t going to work then it probably won’t. You need to want it enough and be determined enough to make it work and make sure that you stay positive!

Dealing with the stress of Anosmia/Dysgeusia (loss or change in the senses of smell and taste)

Around 3m people in the UK are affected by some form of taste and smell dysfunction.

Some of them people suffer from treatable disorders such as chronic sinusitis or nasal polyps while others may have experienced permanent or long-term damage caused by ear surgery, injury to the mouth or nose, or as side-effects drugs such as captopril, lithium, procarbazine and certain drugs used in the treatment of cancer.

To get the medical terminology out of the way, Ageusia is the complete loss of sense of taste, Dysgeusia is distortion of the taste of things and Hypogeusia is a decrease in taste sensitivity. Anosmia is the inability to detect odours and as such, it  can either be an issue in its own right or else a major contributor to taste disorders.

Whether the problem is that of taste or smell or both, it can be extremely distressing for sufferers. Our enjoyment of food is focussed around taste and smell and without those we are just left with the texture and temperature of the food and the feeling of fullness it give us. Other than that, a large part of the pleasure is missing and many sufferers of Anosmia/Dysgeusia lose all interest and enjoyment in food and eating. And that is aside from the loss of enjoying a whiff of scent from a flower or a teasing hint of perfume in the air or the smell of fresh ground coffee or new baked bread or the scent of a new born baby’s skin.

With loss of these pleasures there often come feelings of frustration, anger, depression and grief. People with these problems will often withdrawn from socialising because so much of social life is focussed around celebratory meals, restaurant outings, enjoying a good glass of wine with friends, appreciating a gift of flowers and so on.

Impairment of taste and smell can also affect jobs and careers – the inability to smell or taste while working in hazardous environments where a smell of burning or taste of gas in the air is an early indicator of something being wrong makes employment in mining, gas, oil or chemical industries difficult. A doctor or paramedic being unable to smell alcohol on someone’s breath could lead to their misdiagnosing the reasons for a patient’s erratic behaviour and lead to serious errors in diagnosis and treatment. Any impairment of taste or smell can be dangerous not only for the sufferer but also for their colleagues and the people relying on their services.

Hypnotherapy cannot do anything to help restore functionality of sense of smell or taste but it can do a lot to help mitigate the sense of loss and anger and frustration at its happening. It can help those who have not totally lost their sense of smell or taste to optimise their remaining faculties so that they can make the most of enjoying what they can. It can also help stimulate their recall and enjoyment of those smells and tastes which they can no longer experience directly – the mere sight of a highly spiced meal bringing back memories of enjoyment and appetite without the need for the full taste/smell experience.

Post hypnotic suggestion can also be used to encourage those with partial taste/smell functions to remember all those times that they have a really satisfying taste/smell experience and to be far less aware of the unsatisfactory ones.

In these ways, quality of life can be optimised and feelings of loss, grief and anger minimised.

If any of my readers have any experience of these disorders or their treatment I would love to hear from you. Just leave me a Comment describing the causes of your problem and the emotions they engendered and how you found your own personal coping strategy. I’d also be interested to know whether or not you feel that the type of therapy described here might have been of benefit to and the reasons why/why not.

A Different Approach to Sleep Problems

Having constructed quite a large page on my website ( about sleep issues, I thought that I had run out of things to say about the topic.  However, a couple of recent clients have reminded me that when it comes to the brain, there is no end to the ways in which we can bring rapid change to peoples lives.

The clients who drew this to my attention both suffered similar problems – a history of going to sleep and napping for 15 minutes or sometimes an hour and then waking up feeling fully refreshed and alert.  The rest of the night would be spent tossing and turning dreading how bad they would feel next day.  The day-times, needless to say, were spent dreading the coming bedtime and the strong fear that they wouldn’t sleep then either.  Both had good jobs which weren’t too stressful (by today’s standards!), had good childhoods and family situations and had experienced their problems for a decade or more.

They had done all the usual things recommended in books and one had had hypnosis, which had been successful for a while but had gradually been eroded by his bad old ways.

What caught my attention was that both clients “lived by the clock” and thus went to bed at exactly the same time each night (as recommended by the experts) and rose at the same time every morning.   When I enquired into this further, I found that they both became quite distressed if their “sleep” routine got disturbed – even going to the extreme of leaving parties and family events early so that they could get home by bedtime.  

On relflecting about what I could do to help these clients who seemed to have tried everything, it occured to me that their problem was not a lack of functionality (they could sleep well when ill or on holiday) but a very strong anxiety about not sleeping.

So I decided to categorise their lack of sleep as a symptom of what was really wrong with them and concentrate on dealing with the cause of  the problem – their hyper-anxiety about the consequences of losing a night’s sleep,

Having explained this to my clients individually, I then made them tailor-made mp3 recordings which addressed their own particular issues and made it clear that it might take a little while until normal sleep patterns returned  (because our first job was to make them care less and less  about not sleeping and then allowing normal sleep to return quite naturally). 

Client One, unfortunately, fell victim to his own anxiety to rid himself of this long term problem.  Having felt no change after two sessions, he decided to quit and look elsewhere for a solution.  

Client Two, however, persevered and by session 3 was reporting that although he still wasn’t sleeping any better, he felt much more relaxed about it and realised that in reality, he didn’t really feel that bad at losing sleep and that he was less anxious about it, even to the point of looking forward to going to bed.  By session 5 he reported that that he had achieved not only one, but  a number of consecutive nights sleep where he had slept deeply and continously.  Whereas he had previously been self-medicating with alcohol to try to make himself sleep, he had succeeded without it and without using the mp3 I had made him.  At that point we terminated treatment and agreed that if the problem should begin to return, he’d contact me for further reinforcement.

These cases taught me several lessons…

i)  In treating any emotional disorder, it is important to clearly separate the symptom from the cause of a problem.  In this, inability to sleep was not the problem but merely a symptom;  the real problem was an overwhelming anxiety around the whole issue of sleeping.  By treating the anxiety, sleep followed.

ii)  Both clients wanted hypnosis to provide a quick fix.  Client One was not willing to invest  time in seeing if he could reduce his levels of anxiety in order that he could sleep properly.  This is no criticism of the client;  I see it quite often in people who are so anxious to deal with a problem that their anxiety for a speedy fix means that they go from one treatment to another without ever giving something the time it needs to work.  It’s a bit like taking an antibiotic and expecting it to work in two doses instead of the fourteen or twenty one it requires to do its work.  In contrast to many other therapies, hypnotherapy is a quick fix, but change only happens at the speed that the subconscious mind will allow (see Who’d win a fight between the Subconscious and Conscious Mind?” later in this blog).   So in future, I need to spend more time enouraging anxious/time conscious clients to be kind to themselves and loosen their hold on time/speed and their anxiety for a quick fix/rapid change.

Just as being told “not to think about Pink Elephants” generates an immediate mental image of pink elephants, so insisting that sleep will happen at exactly 11pm will result in sleep not happening at 11pm or maybe not at all.   By not caring about going to sleep and allowing it to naturally occur (perhaps with the help of a relaxation or hypnosis recording), the natural order of things is reinstated and sleep becomes an enjoyable and relaxing part of the day again, just as it was in childhood.   (As an interesting aside, both clients slipped easily into hypnosis…a natural sleep state!).

iii)  Finally, this experience reinforced the view that “letting go” is the hardest part of therapy for both client and therapist.  Letting go of a fear or phobia, an anxiety or a mistaken belief can immediately remove a problem.  As long as the subconscious mind has decided that whatever it fears or feels frustrated about not receiving is no longer important – that it is no longer a serious threat or a vital need – then it will change its response from one of anxiety and stress and fear to become accepting and relaxed and happy.  Fear of flying becomes relaxed about flying.  Believing one is unlovable and thus  rejecting anyone who tries to offer love,  becomes accepting that it is possible to be loved and to thus accept love when it is offered.  And, of course, anxiety about sleeping becomes the ultimate “letting go”, to enter into restful, peaceful relaxation and deep, fulfilling sleep. 

We should all have one of these….

This is a great idea.  If only we could get it miniaturised and slide it into our hippocampus and wire it up to our limbic system.  Bingo!  Instant sunshine every day…

How being a Perfectionist can damage your life

I attended a course last weekend which started me thinking about how much we all damage ourselves and our quality of life by indulging in Perfectionism.   We often think of Perfectionists as having some form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) where all can labels in the cupboards have to face forward and the cans and bottles have to be ranked in size order and by colour and content.

Most of us have some element of the Perfectionist within us – liking a tidy home or desk or having a regular place to put the kitchen scissors.  This type of behaviour helps us have more efficient and pleasant lives and avoids wasting hours of effort trying to find a roll of Cellotape.

However, our Perfectionism can become a problem when we start to apply it to ourselves and how we feel the world should treat us.  For instance, when the mechanism of the subconscious (which builds our map of the world and the everyday rules for living), starts to create rules which build an unrealistic expectation about the world around us and the way it should (must) treat us.

If we aren’t careful, we can begin to construct unrealistic rules for ourselves and then try to live by them, expecting the world to treat us well in return.  Examples of these beliefs could be  “I should never turn down the chance of doing something” or  “It must be 100% right.  Not even a tiny error is acceptable” or “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he really values my contribution”.

The result of creating these types of rule is that you put a massive amount of pressure on yourself and those around you to deliver something which is, in reality, unachievable.

“I should never turn down the chance of doing something” means that instead of having a varied and interesting life you are manically running/driving from one event to another.  Getting up early to get somewhere; leaving that event early to get somewhere else; frantically changing clothes for the next activity;  driving furiously to get somewhere else; always looking at the clock, cursing buses, trains and planes for being late; fretting and agitated in traffic jams; dragging friends and family around behind you in a frantic hurry to get somewhere and do something else rather than the thing you are actually doing!

Many people also apply this same “never turn anything down” rule to their work lives by never turning down a job or a project.  Clients tell me “it’s because they know I’m the only one who can  do it,”  “It’s my area of expertise”, “no one else can meet that kind of deadline”.  What they are really telling me is that their employer is exploiting their mistaken belief.  The Manager handing out the work probably thinks that my client is a mug for taking on more and more work; that they don’t really care what happens to one of their team when they eventually break down.  That as long as the job gets done and the Manager looks good, they’ll keep on piling on the work.  If it all goes wrong, they can blame the overworked and Perfectionist who has moved heaven and earth to make sure that they deliver a 100% perfect job.

The self-delusion that one is valued at work and that a company cares still runs deep in the veins of many employees, despite the evidence in front of them every day.  They will tolerate bullying, abuse and overwork because they fear the effort of finding a new job and lack the confidence to rise to the challenge of being given tasks without the right training, timescale or resources.  The chances are that if your boss never has to say “do it or I’ll find someone else who will” when loading another massive burden on your already overburdened back, then it’s YOU who’s the one taking on the work others have already said is impossible to do in the time/for the money/without more resource etc!

Another corrosive belief is that “it must be 100% right, otherwise the rest of what I’ve done is useless and worthless and I am a useless and worthless person who doesn’t deserve thanks or praise”.   No amount of praise can be meaningful to his kind of Perfectionist.  It rolls off them as their subconscious mind rejects what it sees as hollow words from people who  “just don’t know how much better the result could have been if only I could have done a better job”.  This creates in the Perfectionist a deep well of frustration and dissatisfaction with everything in their lives.  They feel bad all the time.  They might turn to drink, drugs, sex or food for comfort in order to achieve that elusive feeling of control over their lives. They might begin to blame others for their lack of perceived achievement, or break up relationships or just work harder and harder until they eventually break down.

The payback which comes from all this manic behaviour is often the firm belief that “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he values my contribution so much”.  Perfectionists believe this of their families too “because I work until 2am every night cleaning the kitchen the family must love me more and show me their appreciation”.

But because everyone views the Perfectionist as neurotic and unreasonable, they don’t value that person more.  In fact, they probably value them less than they would if they just worked 9-5 in the office and spent their time enjoying relaxation with the family playing games and doing trivial things.

As I’m always telling my clients, it’s OK to want to do things to the best of your abilities, but only within the context of the time, energy and other commitments that you have.

If you find yourself under constant pressure, ask yourself why.  What are the beliefs which are driving you to be under that pressure?  What makes the rules you’ve created for yourself true?  What less pressing rules could you create?  Are the rules you are currently living your life to actually out of date – were they right for when you were younger but are they appropriate to life as it is now?

Try writing down the rules which trouble you most and think about them.  How much do they ruin your life?  What would happen if you didn’t obey them?  What would you lose  AND, more importantly, what would you gain?

Why not take a look at the Perfectionist in your own life, and see how your own work and home life could be improved?