I’ve just had four clients do the London Marathon, so I know a bit about the commitment it takes to haul yourself 26 miles around the city.
But occasionally, keen runners find that dogs can seriously scupper their ambitions – or, at least, affect the way they train. Fear of dogs is pretty common, and is one of the many reasons people come to see me about hypnotherapy for phobias.
The most natural thing to do if you have a fear of dogs and you like to run is to plan a route that avoids them, especially any dogs that you don’t like. That’s the noisy ones, the big ones, or those horrible ones that run, barking madly, alongside you as you trot past their garden.
While this is one way to approach it, you are obviously avoiding dealing with the issue. And should a dog surprise you by suddenly appearing on a run you’ve deemed safe, there’s a chance that a panic attack will ensue.
Avoidance is never a way to fix a problem. If you want to be free of your dog phobia for good, you need to face it. Hypnotherapy can help, and it’s something that has proved useful on countless occasions when people have come to see me at my hypnotherapy practice in London and Winchester.
People sometimes wonder how a phobia is created, and there is an acronym I’ve mentioned before that explains it. The acronym is EMLI, and it works like this:
E is for Event
The ‘E’ stands for ‘event’ – the thing that caused you to become phobic of something in the first place. Something has happened which effectively traumatised you, and in the case of a dog phobia it could be anything from a family legend about an uncle being attacked by a dog to a horror movie about dogs> or maybe there was a local hound barking at you when you were two.
M is for Meaning
The ‘M’ is that we make ‘meaning’ in that event; you tell yourself that this environment or event needs to make you slip into panic mode. In this case, you see or hear a dog and your body goes on hyper-alert.
L is for Landscape
The ‘L’ is that the attack changes the ‘landscape’ of your body. As your body floods itself with adrenaline, age-old instincts like flight or fight kick in. Then there’s cortisol, the stress hormone, which races through your body. If your phobia leads to an actual panic attack, even the landscape of the brain changes.
I is for Inescapability
The ‘I’ is the idea of ‘inescapability’: you feel utterly helpless and trapped, either physically in your body or stuck in the situation that you’re in – although in the case of a dog phobia you may choose the option of turning heel and fleeing. But if the phobia is an extreme one, you may feel glued to the spot.
It’s not usually difficult to help fix a phobia by booking a session with a hypnotherapist. One thing we teach is something called Havening, and it’s something you can try at home.
If you were to see someone using the Havening technique you’d likely think them strange, so be prepared for some disbelief as I describe it.
Start by rubbing your arms (right hand on left shoulder, left hand on right shoulder – both at the same time) at a rate of one downward stroke per second.
While doing this, say out loud (or in your head if you’re doing ‘emergency’ Havening in a public loo) the emotion you’re trying to get rid of – in the case of a dog phobia, it would likely be “fear” and maybe “helplessness”.
Do that for a minute, then swap the negative emotion for the emotion you do want to feel: “calm”, maybe, or “strong”.
Give it a go. It’s a powerful technique and can work wonders. I use it a lot during sessions for certain types of problem and when used with other techniques that we can go through, it can help fix all manner of issues.