At my Seattle hypnosis and Bainbridge Island hypnosis offices I frequently suggest to hypnotherapy clients that they give a gift every day. When I heard about 29 Gifts, I was excited! No matter what you are going through, getting outside of yourself and focusing on others can often go along ways towards restoring equanimity. And, that is what self-hypnosis is is all about – restoring calmness. Get my hypnosis download and discover how you can put hypnosis to work in your life.
When Cami Walker learned three years ago that she had multiple sclerosis, her health and her spirits plummeted — until she got an unusual prescription from a holistic health educator. Ms. Walker, now 36, scribbled the idea in her journal. And though she dismissed it at first, after weeks of fatigue, insomnia, pain and preoccupation with her symptoms, she decided to give it a try. The treatment and her experience with it are summed up in the title of her new book, “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” (Da Capo Press).
Ms. Walker gave a gift a day for 29 days — things like making supportive phone calls or saving a piece of chocolate cake for her husband. The giving didn’t cure her multiple sclerosis, of course. But it seems to have had a startling effect on her ability to cope with it. She is more mobile and less dependent on pain medication. The flare-ups that routinely sent her to the emergency room have stopped, and scans show that her disease has stopped progressing.
“My first reaction was that I thought it was an insane idea,” Ms. Walker said. “But it has given me a more positive outlook on life. It’s about stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else.”
And science appears to back her up. “There’s no question that it gives life a greater meaning when we make this kind of shift in the direction of others and get away from our own self-preoccupation and problems,” said Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University on Long Island and a co-author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People (Broadway, 2007). “But it also seems to be the case that there is an underlying biology involved in all this.”
An array of studies have documented this effect. In one, a 2002 Boston College study, researchers found that patients with chronic pain fared better when they counseled other pain patients, experiencing less depression, intense pain and disability.
Another study, at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., also found a strong benefit to volunteerism, and after controlling for a number of variables, showed that elderly people who volunteered for more than four hours a week were 44 percent less likely to die during the study period.
And like Ms. Walker, numerous people have reported feeling better after helping others. A 1988 Psychology Today article dubbed the effect the “helper’s high.”
Ms. Walker says she now approaches daily giving as a crucial part of her treatment, just like regular medication. She has also found new purpose in her experience and started a Web site, 29gifts.org, that encourages giving to improve health. “Giving for 29 days is not suggested as a cure for anything,” Ms. Walker said. “It’s simply a coping mechanism and a simple tool you can use that can help you change your thinking about whatever is going on. If you change your thinking, you change your experience.”
Dr. Post, of Stony Brook, agreed. “To rid yourself of negative emotional states,” he said, “you need to push them aside with positive emotional states. “And the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody.” Read In Month of Giving, a Healthy Reward. Give a gift every day and visit 29 Gifts.
Hypnotherapy clients at my Seattle hypnosis and Bainbridge Island hypnosis offices learn self-hypnosis as one of the means of getting outside themselves.
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Today I give someone a gift.
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