Hypnotist Paul McKenna shares his mood-boosting guide to lockdown
WHEN hypnotist Paul McKenna suffered disturbed sleep and anxiety due to the pandemic, he was able to cure his symptoms with simple techniques. He was one of more than 25 million people experiencing high levels of stress after the country was forced into self-isolation, prompting fears over health and job security.
Hypnotist Paul McKenna shares his mood-boosting guide to lockdown
But a battle with depression nine years ago meant Paul recognised his negative thought processes and was able to turn them around. Now he wants to share his mood-boosting techniques with Sun readers.
Paul, 56, said: “Not only are we facing the pandemic but there is also an epidemic of people feeling anxious and unhappy. We have a perfect storm — you have a biological virus and a psychological pandemic as well.
“A lot of people are having problems with sleep, with disturbances and nightmares, even I’ve experienced it. Last week I had disrupted sleep over two nights that led to me waking up at 3am and 4am and my mind was racing. I was thinking, ‘This and this could happen . . . ’ Then, a couple of times over the last month I said to my wife Kate, ‘I’ve got an anxious feeling, a feeling of foreboding’.
“I couldn’t really place it, but when I sat quietly, I realised it was a feeling of uncertainty relating to business. A lot of my work is live events all over the world and I can’t see people getting together in big groups for a while yet. So I changed my mindset.
I know what it’s like and I had to find my way back. As a result, I’m able to help people.
“I thought about my wife and I when we had a lovely holiday a few months ago in the South of France. We sat in the port, the sun was shining, it was peaceful and we were laughing, a nice glass of wine and we were very peaceful.”
Through the years, Paul’s methods have helped millions around the world to lose weight and beat addictions to sugar and cigarettes. But after the death of his father William in 2011 following a long illness, Paul sunk into depression and had to help himself.
His first-hand experience means he now has the psychological tools to guide others to a happier mindset. Paul, who is married to his former personal assistant Kate Davey, said: “Things were really going quite badly for me so I know what it’s like to look out and think there’s no point.
“You can’t think straight, you have no energy or zest for life — it’s a terrible place to be. I was working at the time helping soldiers with PTSD. They were depressed and I think to some extent I got infected with that mindset. I know what it’s like and I had to find my way back. As a result, I’m able to help people.”
Altering your thoughts and incorporating laughter and exercise into your daily routine have been proven to significantly improve your mood.
Paul said: “My friend Dr Robert Holden conducted an amazing experiment that lasted several weeks to show that we can easily alter levels of happiness by changing our habits.
"At the beginning, a group of depressed people were all given an MRI scan, which focused on the activity in the left pre-frontal lobe — an area of the brain which corresponds with happy thoughts and feelings — and it showed they had signs associated with depression.
“To increase happiness the group were asked to do three things: Smile or laugh for at least 20 minutes a day and take at least 20 minutes of exercise every day. Thirdly, they placed coloured dots around their home as a reminder to have positive thoughts.
"Whenever they saw a dot, they had to think about a positive memory or possibility. The group followed this regime for a month. At the end of that time, every single one of them reported they felt happier. They were given another MRI scan and it showed that they all had increased activity in the left pre-frontal lobe area.
You can’t think straight, you have no energy or zest for life — it’s a terrible place to be. Paul McKenna
"In one month, the subjects had changed the physical activity of their neural networks and brain chemistry by changing their habits of thinking and behaviour. They had moved from being depressed to extremely optimistic. Although, if you are, or even suspect you are, clinically depressed, please seek help from a doctor.”
Here, Paul shares his self-help guide to alleviating anxiety and feeling happier.
Laughter really is the best medicine
LAUGHING releases serotonin and endorphins. Research has shown that it boosts the immune system and helps the body to clear out toxins.
Research has shown laughter boosts the immune system
The key for us, however, is that you feel good. Even if it’s not real, the act of laughing still makes you feel better. Although most of her jokes are aimed at me, my wife Kate is very funny.
So laugh with your loved ones, or over Zoom with friends and family, or even watch a comedy on TV as it will elevate your mood. Happiness reminds us that every day is precious. Not one day of our life will be repeated.
Each day we can choose to be grateful for the possibilities we are given – even for the simple fact of being alive. And this means that optimism becomes our default setting rather than depression.
Limit bad news
LIMIT yourself to ten minutes of TV news per day as otherwise you can be wound up. And don’t watch it before bedtime.
Don't watch too much news
Instead, if you have some free time, binge on a box set during the afternoon. I’ve been watching Homeland.
Bedrooms are for making love and sleeping, not TVs.
The effect of smiling
MAKE smiling a habit. It adds a stream of happy moments to your life and helps you to permanently raise your mood.
Smiling releases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. And the more you smile at others, the more they smile at you.
Place 'magic' dots around your home
STICK a dozen pieces of paper, or Post-It notes, in on items around your home, such as mirrors and the computer. Make three lists: Three happy memories, three people whom you love or who love you, and three things that could make you happy in future.
If you find it difficult to find three things for each list, make up some possibilities that would make you happy. Imagine or remember each item on each list as vividly as possible.
For each memory, imagine you are actually in the situation – hear what you heard, and feel what you felt, like you are back there again now. For each person, imagine being with them, hearing them and feeling how good they make you feel. For each situation in the future, imagine it happening – see it, hear it and feel it as though it is happening now.
Notice how good you feel at the end. As you do this more and more, it has a cumulative effect and you will start to feel much better. Whenever you see one of those pieces of paper, think of one of the items on your list.
This exercise has a powerful effect because it doesn’t try to stop you thinking about anything, you just repeatedly add more positive experiences into your life.
The power of posture
THE mind and body are linked. Tense your body and your thoughts become tense.
When you get into an upright, balanced posture, your body will naturally make you feel better.
Relax your thoughts and your body relaxes. From yoga and ancient martial arts to modern disciplines such as Pilates, humans have used movement and posture to create a state of calm.
Typically, when we are not happy, we slouch and let our heads hang down. This posture is universally associated with low spirits.
Even if you felt fine and then spent half an hour slouching forward, your mood would sink, so do the exact opposite. When you get into an upright, balanced posture, your body will naturally make you feel better.
Think of good things
LOOK at photographs of good times with friends and family and remember or talk about those moments.
Let it remind you of those things that are good in your life.
Just as I remembered my holiday with Kate, let your memories remind you that this time will pass.
Get outside and exercise
GET at least 20 minutes of exercise a day.
If you are isolating, push yourself to go outside and walk around – even if it just a walkabout in your garden.
I always feel better after going out with my dog. If you are lucky enough to live near a park or fields, get out into nature.
Find a purpose
WITHOUT your normal framework during lockdown, you can do something productive, or sit around and get anxious.
I’ve become quite good at cooking during lockdown. One of my friends is learning the guitar and a foreign language. If those ideas are too difficult or time-consuming, just try something new.
And make plans. One way to motivate yourself is to have a big goal, which excites you, and then plan the steps to get you there.
Acts of gratitude
PERHAPS the most powerful tool in our approach to happiness is also the simplest – making a daily list of all the things (big or small) which we are grateful for.
Use your phone to begin keeping track of any experiences of gratitude you feel throughout the day.
I do this every day. For example, I think about my wife, my dog, my friends and family, or hearing my favourite song on the radio and even that first cup of tea of the day that tastes so good.
The benefits of this are greater optimism and increased levels of enthusiasm, determination and energy. Use a notebook or computer or phone to begin keeping track of any experiences of gratitude you feel throughout the day. Each day, add five things to the list.
Anytime you need a boost, read it. Your levels of gratitude and appreciation will rise, boosting your mood.
Connect to others
HUMANS need contact and connection – we know this from research into loneliness and depression.
Use your time in isolation to reconnect with family and friends via Zoom, FaceTime and Skype.
And do this every day. At 5pm I’ll be having a virtual drink and chat with my friend in Switzerland.
You can download Paul’s new FREE Positivity Podcast to help you stay happy, wherever you get your podcasts.