Hypnosis, can it be helpful for social anxiety?

Hypnotherapy is a type of treatment based on using hypnosis to artificially induce a state of relaxation similar to sleeping, which makes the patient’s mind more accessible and responsive to suggestions. The American Medical Association accepted the validity of hypnotherapy as a medical procedure in 1958. Since then, this form of therapy has been used for treating:

  • Asthma, allergies

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Chronic back pains

  • Nausea

  • Mental disorders

  • Hemophilia

  • Burns

  • migraines

  • arthritis, rheumatism

  • hypertension

  • quit smoking

Over the last few years, hypnosis has proven to be an effective alternative to the standard treatment (antidepressants and cognitive-behavioral therapy) for social anxiety.

The goal of hypnotherapy for social anxiety

The goal of hypnotherapy is to remove the underlying basis of the individual’s anxiety.

  • Hypnosis goes to the roots of your dark feelings like anger, blame, guilt, shame, and fear by means of a hypnotic state (also called trance) to release them from your mind and stop self-sabotaging your thoughts and behavior. There is a conscious mind that tells you what to do and say, and also there is a subconscious mind, in charge with your beliefs and emotions that are connected to what you do or say.

During the “trance state” you experience a deep physical and mental relaxation that makes you receptive and opens the door of your subconscious mind. The therapist’s role is:

  • to dig inside the subconscious and identify what situation, event, or thing triggers the fear

  • to offer positive suggestions that change the perception of those things so that you will not feel threatened anymore


Techniques used to achieve relaxation in the treatment of social anxiety

  1. Direct suggestion for relaxation (used in light to medium trance)

  2. Counting from 1 to 20

  3. Counting combined with imagery

  4. Progressive relaxation of different groups of muscles

  5. Autogenic training (sensation of warmth in the body)

Physical changes associated with the hypnotic state:

  • the heart rate and the blood pressure decrease

  • the breathing slows down

  • the voice becomes calm and relaxed

  • the muscles relax

Frequently, the hidden cause of phobia is linked to a traumatic event that took place in an earlier time of the individual’s life. It is about a suppressed memory stored inside the subconscious for many years. During the hypnosis session, due to the therapist’s suggestions the person visualizes himself/herself dealing with that distressing situation without undergoing anxiety.

Anxiety related problems targeted by hypnosis 

  1. Physical discomfort

Hypnosis implants the idea that you have no physical discomfort when you face social situations so that in real life the intensity of physical strains (shaking, palpitations, sweating, rapid breath, blushing, and dry mouth) is considerably reduced.

  1. Emotional discomfort

Hypnotherapy is meant to alter negative beliefs by inserting healthy ones. The person’s mind is enabled to achieve a better image about himself/herself (he/she feels happy, hopeful, and content).

  1. Sleeping difficulties

Anxious thoughts keep you awake depriving your body of a restful sleep. By tempering the negative thinking, hypnosis manage to prevent sleep deprivation.

Self-hypnosis and anxiety

Self-hypnosis, a form of hypnosis based on self-suggestions, is another option to soften the symptoms of social anxiety.

Self-hypnosis steps:

Step1. Prepare your body and environment

  • Slip into comfortable clothes

  • Turn off your phone, computer, tablet, TV, radio

  • Lie on the floor or sit in a reclining chair

Step2. Close your eyes

Imagine that a soothing fluid travels through your body from head to toes that gives you a warm sensation.

Step3. Take deep breaths

Imagine that a dark cloud (filled with all of your fears) leaves your body when you exhale, and a bright wave (filled with energy) of air comes back inside you as you inhale.

Step4. Picture a relaxing place

Think of any scenery (a sunny beach, a forest with high trees, or a green meadow) that makes you feel at ease.

Step5. Descend into your scenery

Imagine you are somewhere on an elevated point and there are 10 stairs to descend until you get to your scene. Descend slowly counting each step. With each stair you leave behind, you feel more and more relaxed.

Step6. Address your problems

Once you reached your little patch of paradise, take some time to enjoy everything you see, smell, hear, touch, or taste (use your five senses). Put into words positive statements that counteract your negative thoughts:

  • I am peaceful

  • I take control of my life

  • I easily deal with what is going to happen

  • I am strong

  • I am successful

Repeat your words as many times as you want

Step7. Come back to reality

Count from ten to zero while you slowly climb the stairs. Give yourself several moments before you open your eyes.

Self-hypnosis provides real benefits as long as you practice it regularly and you do believe that it will work for you.


Hypnosis implants a suggestion into the subconscious meant to alter the individual’s reaction to stimuli that trigger his anxiety.

The existing studies indicate that hypnosis does work for patients suffering from social anxiety and moreover, enhances the effects of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy). However, people react differently to hypnotic suggestions just like in the case of medications: some are responsive and their mental state improves visibly after a few sessions of hypnotherapy, others see no changes and need to look for another treatment.

Hypnotherapy carries some side effects though:

  • the occurrence of false memories

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • nausea

Before considering hypnotherapy, you have to discuss all aspects of this treatment with your health care provider.