Millions of women experience hot flashes, which are not just highly unpleasant in themselves but can cause disruptions in sleep, fatigue, and interfere with daily activities. If you have hot flashes, which are usually caused by menopause but can also be caused by hormone treatment for certain cancers, you may want to consider hypnotic relaxation therapy. A recent study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that a 5 week hypnotic relaxation therapy program reduced hot flashes by up to 80%. In addition, women who completed the program reported significant improvements in their sleep and better quality of life.
What causes hot flashes? Hot flashes occur most often in women before, during, and after menopause. Hormonal changes such as decreased estrogen are thought to cause hot flashes. Hot flashes can be triggered by room temperature, stress, drinking alcohol, or even by eating spicy foods. A hot flash can last for a few seconds or for up to 15 minutes at a time. Some women have 15 or more hot flashes per day, while others have just a few. When hot flashes occur at night, they are called “night sweats”.
Why do women with breast cancer get hot flashes? The treatment of breast cancer often induces menopause and hot flashes, even in younger women. Treatment methods like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical removal of ovaries can induce menopause in women who are not yet menopausal. Following treatment for breast cancer, drugs that are known as selective estrogen-receptor modulators (SERMS) are often prescribed. These medications shut down the production of estrogen and cause hot flashes. About 78% of breast cancer survivors have hot flashes.
Why do we need alternative treatments for hot flashes? The standard treatment for hot flashes used to be hormone replacement therapy, but it is now known that taking hormones like estrogen can have health risks for some women. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was the world’s largest study of postmenopausal women using hormone therapy. The study showed that using hormone therapy could reduce hot flashes, decrease vaginal dryness, and lower the risk of colorectal cancer. However, the study also showed that there was an increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots, and cardiovascular disease. In weighing the risks and benefits, many women now seek alternatives to hormone therapy, like hypnotic relaxation therapy.
What is hypnotic relaxation therapy? Hypnotic relaxation therapy is a mind-body therapy involving deep relaxation, mental imagery, and positive suggestions for relief of symptoms. During a hypnotic relaxation session you become very deeply relaxed-- similar to what it feels like when you drift off to sleep. In this state, you are asked to experience various mental images, such as walking along a beach or sitting in a flower garden. When women learn to practice hypnotic relaxation, they can reduce their hot flashes with mental visualizations of a cool breeze, walking in the mountains on a snowy day, or standing under a cool shower. The images are experienced in a very vivid manner and with practice, hot flashes become less frequent and less severe.
How long does a hypnotic relaxation therapy practice session take? To practice hypnotic relaxation you should find a quiet place to practice where you will not be interrupted for about 30 minutes. Using an audio recording to guide you through hypnotic relaxation is very helpful. It is important to adopt an attitude of “letting go” of worries, stresses, and distractions. Most people find mental images that they prefer, and become adept at decreasing their hot flashes through relaxation.
For more on how to get through your hot flashes, read my new book: Relief From Hot Flashes: The Natural, Drug-Free Program to Reduce Hot Flashes, Improve Sleep, and Ease Stress.