How many of us suffer from acute anxiety?

About 10 years ago I was diagnosed with hypertension, and to keep my blood pressure requires medication, which is not what I wanted to do but its the only alternative at the moment.

So, researching NLP, and its effects on reducing anxiety and stress as an alternative or partner to medication was for me a journey into the unknown. By that that I mean, I had a little knowledge and a bit of interest in NLP, but to be honest I was a bit of a sceptic.

But dig into the subject and into its history and the core beliefs it advocates, the more I have become more open to the idea of using NLP.

The first thing that I would say is that from all the research I have done, NLP is not a cure or a magic bullet, but it can help you with managing anxiety so that you can live your life in a more productive manner.

Also, another caveat to consider, almost all of the research directly on NLP concepts was done in the 1980s and 1990s; little or no research has been done directly on NLP in the last decade or so.


Anxiety can have a devastating effect on your life. Many things can cause anxiety from health problems to even work or financial problems. You might even experience anxiety for no particular reason at all.

Anxiety is really just your body’s inappropriate response to stress or change and managing anxiety doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might think

Many people have heard of NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming (or even Neuro-linguistic Programming). It gets mentioned quite a lot on the web, in print media and in conversations.

And there are many versions of what it is – but finding a simple, straightforward and Plain English answer to the question Just what exactly is …NLP

So What Is NLP?

The term NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming and was coined in the early seventies by John Grinder, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Bandler, a student of psychology at the university.

They began their work by studying Fritz Perls, a psychotherapist and originator of the Gestalt school of therapy, Virginia Satir, a well-known family therapist and Milton Erickson, a world-famous hypnotherapist.

Their intention was to model outstanding therapists and identify patterns in order that other practitioners could use these patterns to generate similar results.

It may be said that NLP is about identifying excellence through an exploration of patterns and then devising means for others to use those patterns to achieve similar results.


NLP also draws on earlier work, such as Ivan Pavlov’s conditioned reflexes (1904).

In NLP this is called anchoring. NLP takes theoretical results developed by others and makes them available to you and me so we can improve our lives and well-being.

NLP is more than just techniques. It is a curiosity about how people who are high achievers accomplish what they actually set out to do.

It is also a methodology that assists you in discovering those thinking and communication patterns that prevent you from being successful and shows you how to achieve the results of successful people.

NLP is a process of discovering the patterns of excellence of experts, and it makes these effective ways of thinking and communicating available for others to use for their own benefit or to assist others

NLP had its origins in therapy and is now applied in all areas of human endeavour – education, health, sports, business and, perhaps most importantly, interpersonal relations.

NLP is actually a collection of techniques that can be used in many things from managing anxiety to self-development.

Let us break down and analyse the terms neuro-linguistic programming.

Neuro refers to your neurology – sense organs. It is how you absorb information.

For example.

You use your eyes to see things in your world. You also experience or perceive events through your other senses: aural (hearing), kinesthetic (tactile touch or emotional feeling), gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell).

Linguistic refers to the language – pictures, sounds, feelings (kinesthetic), tastes, smells and words – that you use to remember and make sense of a particular experience (or to forecast a future experience).

Can you recall your breakfast this morning? When you remember having breakfast, can you see a picture in your mind, or can you hear sounds (perhaps a radio was on or you were engaged in a discussion with your family)? What about tastes and smells? And how were you feeling – happy, tired, excited?

Think about a significant event in your near future. Do you envision yourself being successful? Or failing?

The pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells and words that you use to describe future experiences have a bearing on what actually happens. You do create your own reality!

Programming refers to your habits, patterns, programs and strategies. If it is a workday, do you follow a particular routine as you get ready for work? Perhaps you like to lie in bed an extra five minutes after the alarm goes off.

Do you shower or bathe right away or have breakfast first? If you take time to look at what you do, I am certain you will see a pattern that you follow in getting ready for work.

If for some reason you do not follow that pattern, do you find yourself feeling that something is missing?

You have patterns, habits, strategies and programs for everything you do. Some of these patterns serve you, but others do not – resulting in unwanted outcomes.

You may be fully aware of some of your patterns. You may become aware of others only when someone else brings them to your attention. And you may choose to quickly forget about these patterns because you want to avoid addressing that part of your life.

And there are still other patterns that you are not aware of at all, yet they continue to influence how you look after yourself, communicate with others and perform your daily tasks.

If the patterns serve you – that is, generate positive results in your life – great!

However, if you find that some patterns do not serve you, would it not be useful to identify those patterns and to change them so they work to your advantage?

So How Can I Use NLP to Reduce Anxiety?

In terms of managing anxiety and stress, there are many tools that can help reduce the symptoms.

Let’s explore three techniques you can use to better manage your anxiety such as:

  • Reframing
  • Altering the Submodalities
  • Using Trance or Relaxation Anchors

By changing how we see or view stress and anxiety can help you with managing anxiety much more effectively. The bottom line is that stress and anxiety don’t always have to be negative occurrences, the important message here is understanding how by reframing our thoughts or images, stress can be a powerful tool if you learn to view it as a motivating factor in your life.

Without stress or anxiety, there would no challenges in life, so sometimes stress or anxiety can be looked upon as something that can motivate you to achieve new goals.

What we need to do is to re-wire our brain to see stress and anxiety as not being a negative process, but rather than a positive, and if we use it wisely it can become a stepping stone to achieving our goals and ambitions.

Thanks to our reptilian brain, our body is basically set up for survival.

We are in essence a throwback to the earliest cavemen –they were always on the lookout for wild animals who may want them as there next meal and at the same time having to forage for their own food-so each day they went out may have been there last.

The oldest part of your brain is always working to protect you, but this natural tendency to be on the lookout for fear may just be holding you back in the long run.

“..the assumptions of NLP, namely that our cognition, behaviour and emotions can be ‘programmed’ by mimicking the more superficial aspects of those with desirable attributes (for example posture and mannerism) are wrong. The last thirty years of research have simply shown that NLP is bunk.–Steven Novella, M.D.

As humans, we are hard-wired for “fear”. It keeps us safe. As a result, our adrenaline kicks in so that we can either fight or take flight just like our ancestors did.

In the natural world, most animals just have one simple task besides food- survival.

I would imagine most animals don’t spend much critical time thinking about the value of life they are more concerned with survival and everyday things like eating, drinking, sleeping and defending themselves.

So how can you reframe anxiety you might ask or look at it a little differently?
  • Well, you can start by looking at stress and anxiety as a sign that something needs to be addressed or changed in your life.
  • Reframing is an excellent technique for helping you change your behaviour. When you reframe, you must respect that there is a positive outcome or a secondary gain that can be accomplished by all of your behaviours.
  • So when you do a reframing exercise, you are negotiating with that unconscious part of yourself and determining what that secondary gain is. In reality, your anxiety might really be trying to tell you something.
  • The key is figuring out just what that is. If you try and look at that positive intent, it can change how you view it.
A secondary gain is a benefit you derive from NOT overcoming a problem.

In other words, there is some kind of payoff you are getting for every behaviour. The concept of a secondary gain is usually not a conscious choice.

For example:

You would like to make a career-changing move, but you rather like the level of sympathy you are currently getting from people who feel sorry for you for having a stressful job.

If you got a new job, you wouldn’t have as much to complain about and you wouldn’t be getting that level of sympathy.

If you can reframe or view your anxiety from a different perspective, you can change how you react to it.

Altering The Submodalities

NLP Submodalities allow you to change the impact of specific memories. This is how it works:

  1. You can learn to make good memories better, stronger and clearer.
  2. You can learn to make bad memories weaker.

This is a fantastic tool to possess, especially for those with anxiety. Despite its complex name, it’s a very simple concept to understand and follow:

The individual components of a specific memory or things like how big it is, how bright the colours are, how loud the sounds are or even how far away the image is from you.

By using submodalities, you can make good memories better, bigger, brighter and more powerful so that every time you think of them you feel better.

And conversely, you can reduce down bad memories and push them to one side, instantly making them weaker, thus making yourself feel a lot better in the process.

NLP Submodalities are one of the easiest and most powerful NLP techniques you can play with.

Trance or Relaxation Anchors

Using relaxation anchors is another really helpful NLP technique for managing anxiety. Anchors are really simple to use. All you have to do is to close your eyes and think back to something in your life that is calm and relaxing.

You can do this by taking a few deep and cleansing breaths, and focusing on a positive memory like a day at the beach.

Take yourself there in your mind and see yourself literally walking along the beach enjoying the feel of the sand between your toes and the sun on your back.

Try and see if you can sense the motion of the waves or the smell of the sea air. Stay in that relaxed state for as long as you can, and when you feel like you have reached a state of relaxation and peace, create an anchor by touching your thumb and index finger together for example.

…after three decades, there is still no credible theoretical basis for NLP, researchers having failed to establish any evidence for its efficacy that is not anecdotal.–Gareth Roderique-Davies

You can also create a fist and think about the positive memory as you squeeze. The next time you get anxious or stressed, you can then use your anchor and bring back those positive happy feelings.

If you can learn to view stress and anxiety as a positive, motivating factor in your life, you change the way you react to it.

Stress and anxiety can have some positive benefits including:

  • Helping to propel you forward in life.
  • Acting as a motivating factor.
  • Helping you to set and achieve your goals.
  • Helping you finish important projects.
  • Helping you move through change in a positive manner.

When you can learn to harness stress, managing anxiety becomes much simpler. Using stress and anxiety as something that serves to motivate you instead of something that holds you back is the key to this process.

The use of coping strategies in reducing the adverse effects of stress can be helpful. Nero-linguistic programming (NLP) is one of the modern methods of psychotherapy. This study aimed to determine the effect of NLP on occupational stress in nurses working in critical care units of Urmia  The effect of neuro-linguistic programming on occupational stress in critical care nurses


NLP has a long way to go to be a recognised treatment for anxiety and stress, but from my research, there are a large number of respected practitioners who have years of experience in this field. There is evidence that NLP does help people to come to terms with their anxiety but is not a cure, in addition, the delivery of NLP by practitioners is not regulated.

You may want to read a very interesting article by Robert Todd Carroll    

NLP makes claims about thinking and perception which do not seem to be supported by neuroscience. This is not to say that the techniques won’t work. They may work and work quite well, but there is no way to know whether the claims behind their origin are valid.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. NLP itself proclaims that it is pragmatic in its approach: what matters is whether it works. However, how do you measure the claim “NLP works”? I don’t know and I don’t think NLPers know, either. Anecdotes and testimonials seem to be the main measuring devices.

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