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If you could rewire your brain, what would you change?

I bet you can think of a few different scenarios where you might want to rewire your brain. 

I wanted to rewire a sudden bout of driving anxiety and to tackle emotional eating. But if we could also throw in self doubting, second guessing what others think, people pleasing, and perfectionism then I would probably make some tweaks there too.

So that’s what I have been up to!

I promised to tell lots of people who asked about my experience of Cognitive Hypnotherapy and I needed more words than I have in a social media post. So I am back to my blog after a long break. Don’t worry, the two aren’t linked, I’ve been winding down here because Airbnb and book writing have been taking up a lot more time, not because of the issues I wanted to discuss here. Although I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with blogging, that’s for another post!

There are two parts to my journey,

  1. Tackling driving anxiety through one to one sessions with Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Dawn Walton from Think It, Change It and
  2. Emergence, a four week self-paced programme with expert support from Dawn. Emergence tackles self esteem and eating, although to be honest, there isn’t much it doesn’t tackle.

You may be interested in one over the other, or both parts of my journey, I will explain both processes.  To be honest it’s all a bit intertwined for me – we’re taking human minds here – and I may overlap across the two. But I wanted to give all the people who asked a full run down on both experiences.

In terms of disclosure, I paid for the one-to-one sessions around driving anxiety, then Dawn offered me a chance to review Emergence as I had expressed an interest in tackling emotional eating in one of our sessions. 

  1. Cognitive Hypnotherapy and Driving Anxiety

A while back I suddenly developed seriously alarming levels of anxiety while driving on the motorway. It wasn’t triggered by anything I could pinpoint, I was just driving along quite happily, listening to an audio story and then WHAM. Utter Terror Descended. It was the longest 4 hours of my life getting home.

Annoyingly it kept coming back, in the dark, on hills, on winding roads, but mainly, and at its worst, on motorways. Living where I do, driving is essential, I can’t afford to let it take over and felt sure it could be nipped in the bud somehow. When I asked for help on facebook and instagram a lot of people had experienced it and a few people suggested Cognitive Hypnotherapy as a solution.

I have become fascinated with the work Dawn does, it leads on really well from the books about happiness for young people I have co-written over the last couple of years, where I have become super interested with designing life for greater happiness.

It was so lovely working with Dawn, she’s funny, puts you at ease and has a wonderful way of explaining things. I even asked her to do a session with my daughter as she regularly works with young people and I thought the way she explained complex things was so brilliant. We did our sessions over Facetime one to one, you could also use Skype. Dawn offers a block of two sessions with a third free if you need it, but often you only need two and can bank the third if you ever need it for something else. 

99% of her clients only need 2-3 sessions.

Session One

I had no idea what to expect and what was at the root of this driving anxiety. Dawn was able to get to that really quickly without loads of digging or emotional raking over my past. 

I think my anxiety was coming from needing to feel more in control, not literally as a driver, but in life I think. Possibly because driving is quite a subconscious activity, it is an ideal environment for non road based life anxieties to materialise. But equally, it could just be a case of my subconscious being overzealous and seeing a threat that wasn’t there.

It’s not like you would imagine being hypnotised, I was very much conscious throughout, but guided by Dawn to use both my conscious and subconscious mind to listen and answer a few simple questions and imagine and reimagine situations.

We reframed a couple of things in the past, nothing in any way daunting, it was all quite silly and fun. I came off the call giggling and feeling very much in touch with a younger version of myself which I put down to the work we had done around the past.

Session Two

Two weeks later we had a follow up session where I ran through all the changes I had noted down. If you are trying to change a pathway in your brain your have to nurture it by noting what is different, what is changing.

After one session and a little bit of homework – listening to a download and jotting down a few observations,  I was able to drive on the motorway normally again. On the odd occasion I still felt a tiny flutter of anxiety, like when a plane flew low suddenly over the car, or another driver did something unpredictable. I think this is something I think any driver would experience, but I didn’t want my brain to see that as a licence to bring out full on panic symptoms. So, I have a simple action, or ‘anchor’ that Dawn gave me, which grounds me instantly and stops any flutters in their tracks.

One of the oddest things to report back, I found myself in the car wash, a job I had been putting off for months because I could never find one in Ashbourne. Which is why I say found, I didn’t leave the house planning to go to the car wash, but somehow I found it that day. It was like I needed to clean the car of any associations with anxiety, like my mind.

There were some lovely bigger benefits too, family relationships got easier, work seemed easier, my sense of purpose and awe with the world heightened. At this point I realised gratitude, one of Dawn’s homework prescriptions, was naturally working for me, rather than just seeming like a self-care to do list item.

One thing I didn’t find easy though was food. It was like the more I took control of areas of my life the worse nibbling, stress and emotional eating got. It was like it was stubbornly hanging on to the old pathways in my brain.

Dawn talked through a lot of things. She mentioned the Emergence course to me or using my remaining session to tackle eating issues. She asked me to do some simple thought exercises and listen to a new download to reinforce the work we had done around driving anxiety. I felt really sleepy and needed a nap after. 

I’ve been totally free of driving anxiety for months now!

Tackling Emotional Eating with Emergence

I am an emotional eater. I suspect a lot of people are. I’ve always been prone to finding myself looking in the fridge or bread bin when bored, unsure, annoyed, frustrated.  Any negative emotion really.

I’m a food snob, you won’t catch me buying over processed rubbish, drinking fizzy drinks or sneaking food in front of the TV. I totally know what healthy eating is, I eat my five a day. I’m vegetarian, my diet is lots of beans, lentils, veg, nuts, seeds. I cook healthy meals from scratch. I know what a healthy plate is. 

I totally get what I need to eat.

I can even do it for a bit…

The issue is I can’t help but sabotage my healthy eating when I am bored, cross, angry, frustrated, or doubting myself. 

Often with Bread and Cheese. Or Cheese and Crackers. Or whatever biscuits or chocolates the rest of the family have annoyingly left around. Working in the kitchen is not a good thing. Something I now know I need to change! (I’m typing this from our Airbnb barn).

Emergence is not a diet. I don’t believe in diets. All the research I have looked at while researching books about health and happiness has shown me diets lead to weight regain and are simply a vicious circle.

Emotional eating isn’t healthy, physically or mentally. It’s horrid feeling like food is controlling you, getting angry with people for bringing certain foods into the house, resenting social events and the frustrations (aka run ins with other people) that make me crave a big chunk of bread and cheese.

Emergence arrives as an email each week with a short explanation and a simple task, many weeks the task is the same each day. You can easily fit it in to your day, I even managed it while travelling lots over the summer.

Week One

This week looked directly at food, logging via a google form my emotional reactions to my eating. Dawn monitors the replies, she won’t reply to everything, but I found her email responses here and there really helped me stay focused on the task. 

Week Two

First we explored the emotional connection to food. Via a google form which you complete and do similar work to that which Dawn and I did one to one for my driving. It wasn’t the ‘sit me down and tell me all about your relationship to your mother and the biscuit tin or this is all because of your Grandmother and the sweetshop’, or anything deep like that.

Previously people who have talked to me about emotional eating, have seemed to lay the blame on either me or on dead relatives, which really isn’t helpful. Emergence does acknowledge that these kind of connections between food and love do happen in our brains, but they aren’t anyone’s fault, they can be easily rewired.

The rest of the week involved looking for evidence of change each day and recording it on a google form which Dawn also monitors and comments on – very supportively!

There is also, as with all weeks, a short, and super relaxing audio track to listen to.

Week Three

We looked at our reactions to other people. This totally threw me at first as I had been so focused on food. But by far the worst emotional eating comes as a result of encounters with other humans, so for me so this makes sense. There was a moment where instead of raiding the fridge I found myself out in the field with the dog muttering fuck off very loudly instead. That was the moment I knew I was changing.

Week Four

We looked at willpower with a new download. I found this harder, partly because we were on holiday and I wasn’t specific enough in my focus, so I think I need to revisit it. Possibly around bread and cheese! The exercises I did try worked really well though. 

The verdict

I did Emergence over the school holidays, and half of it over our family holiday. Holidays are challenging, it’s that feeling that you have to a) eat all the things because its a holiday and you deserve treats and b) eat everything because you won’t be able to get the same treats back home, especially not in self service buffet form and someone else cooking.

Last year I came home from holiday and felt tired, out of shape and miserable that none of my clothes fitted. This year I felt like I enjoyed some great food – German beer, brezel, frozen yogurts, the odd pastry and pizza in Vancouver – but still came home my usual size with no problem zipping up my jeans and bags of energy.

Sugar, bread and beer craving me with a bad case of the holiday blues in denial over why none of her normal clothes fit = so last year.

I’m not about to talk weight loss, this is a journey not a 4 week miracle diet. Although any healthy eating plan will be much easier once you’ve changed the emotional attachments to food. Emergence is everything so called ‘diets’ are missing. For me the missing step was to lose the emotional attachment to food and not be reliant on will power to eat healthily.

I succeed in that.

I gained more healthy mentalities, so if I eat unhealthy stuff I don’t let myself descend into feeling guilty or snowball into more because I ‘failed’ to be healthy. In fact I secretly loved it when Dawn reminded me the pizza I’d guiltily recorded that I had wolfed in bed one Friday night feeling exhausted and sorry for myself was okay, because Emergence isn’t a diet and sometimes people do eat crap food.

The bigger stuff that emerged

Emergence is a process, and for me it threw up a whole load of fascinating stuff. I’ve made a lot of positive changes in my life since I started.

I found myself dealing with a few things that had been making me unhappy for a very long time. It felt like with food as a comfort blanket gone, I had to deal head on with things I had been merely tolerating.

Some things I had been starting to change before, whereas other things took me by surprise.

Some parts of this process have been uncomfortable, but then mostly it feels like instead of walking round the same old field in my mind, I am paving new pathways through it and noticing and changing things I wouldn’t have done before.

Its not called Emergence for nothing, and I would say I am slowly, steadily emerging a few months on. It’s a journey and I am still travelling it. I revisit the downloads, I do activities daily Dawn has suggested, I have a really solid foundation. The main thing is I get back on track faster and stay on a healthy track more, with food, with mood, with life in general. I feel like I am able to be much more objective in life and to notice what needs to change faster.

I’m excited to see where it takes me next!

I could go on and on and on. But all I would really say is if you are curious then that’s probably a good sign this could be for you. If you think your habits, your eating, your self esteem, your relationships to food (and to other people) could do with a permanent shake up, give it a go.

Find out more

Emergence runs for 4 weeks, starting on the first Monday of every month and costs £99 or £89 if you are a member of The Cave, Think It Change It’s facebook group. Or perhaps you want to find out more about One to One Cognitive Hypnotherapy Sessions.

Let me know if you have more questions, here or on social media or email.

Photos by Hernán Sartorio and Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.

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2 Comments

  1. 26/09/2019 / 10:06 am

    I’m really glad your sessions have helped you Penny. I have had driving anxiety in the past too, partly to do with not being the most confident driver anyway, and then triggered massively by a change of family car. I tried digital hypnosis a few years ago, for fear of flying (not the same as your programmes, but along the same lines I suppose). It did seem to make a difference to my flying experience. Amazing, isn’t it, how our brains can be moulded, and the resulting impact that can have on our everyday lives? x

  2. 16/10/2019 / 12:38 pm

    Thank you for that informative post.
    I shall have to think what I want to rewire.
    Procrastination is a biggy for me..

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