Becoming Stress-Proof: Chris Halbohm of Keystone Hypnosis On How To Reduce Or Eliminate Stress From Your Work

An Interview With Savio Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Make the stressor seem silly and ridiculous in your mind! Shift the mental images in your mind. Yes, just change the way you perceive the thing or person that seems to be stressing you out.

With all that’s going on in our country, in our economy, in the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. We know that chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. For many of us, our work, our livelihood, is a particular cause of stress. Of course, a bit of stress is just fine, but what are stress management strategies that leaders use to become “Stress-Proof” at work? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help to reduce or even eliminate stress from work? As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chris Halbohm.

Chris Halbohm, CH, CI is a Master Consulting Hypnotist, Certified NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) Instructor/Trainer, and author with over 22 years experience (since 2000). Featured on local and national TV, he has founded multiple clinics and state-licensed schools around the country. He has delivered thousands of client sessions, been commissioned to speak for groups both public and private, has used hypnosis on himself to quit smoking and eliminate migraine headaches (pain management training with physician referral only), offers his skills in fun yet family-friendly stage hypnosis shows, and offers a Free Screening for personal programs at HypnosisConsulting.com.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

Lots of folks believe that human behavior is hard to change such as quitting smoking, weight loss, reducing stress, and so on. What if I told you that life is easier than most people make it.

My early life was fraught with stress and uncertainty. It was so severe that I suffered migraines every month. There you were, so stressed out and in pain, unable to move. I wanted to change my self-esteem and my reactions to stress. So, I studied everything I could. After getting my undergraduate degree in psychology, I quickly saw that I wanted a tool or skill set that would work better to help people more profoundly, faster, and more reliably.

Unexpectedly, I discovered an old, coffee-stained, used book, Handbook of Self-Hypnosis, by Harry Arons at a garage sale. Soon after, I took a hypnosis certification training. More maturity and seasoning in the field of hypnosis and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) would later come after I had a serious motorcycle accident (causing great stress) and a series of life lessons learning how to cooperate in a team and make strides with my mentor.

The field of hypnosis has been so rewarding as to allow me to create, build, and sell six-figure businesses. I have been able to help as many as 80 people per week. I feel great about what I’ve learned and the person I’ve become. More to go.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

In order to make progress, you don’t have to “understand” everything. In fact, often, it only slows you down. Do you have to understand all the inner workings of the combustion engine in order to drive your car? No, most people don’t. That is why Mister Miyagi in the movie The Karate Kid has his student Daniel do tasks that mimic the fighting moves he needs to practice. It is only later that Daniel gets to realize why he had to do those things he thought were just “chores”.

So, my advice: when you want to make progress, no matter what, stay the course. Avoid acting out against the bell curve of frustration that always takes place while learning. This takes grace, humility, and faith that things are going to work out. Nobody is perfect at any of these things, but we are meant to chase it and grow.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

In 2000, I asked Roxanne Louise to train me using the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) curriculum. Her training was extremely thorough. The NGH, itself, has helped the hypnosis profession tremendously. Two years later, I met my current mentor, Scott McFall, at an NGH conference and became a founding part of the Master Hypnotist Society (MHS). Scott showed me how to run my hypnosis business and, more importantly, gave me the real personalized feedback I needed in order to grow. It is said that “nobody can read their label from inside the bottle”. His approach is surprisingly unique. The new book by my colleague, Dr. Daniel Burow, A Bigger Picture, outlines Scott’s intense yet caring approach. Scott lovingly “doesn’t take his eyes off of you” while reading you and your situation, and helping you solve your problem.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

You can get my new home hypnosis audio session recording called Letting Go of Overreacting to Stress. It helps to put things into perspective and to relax while getting things done. A new book I’m working on, currently titled Agree to Succeed, shows you how to become more cooperative with your goals and the world around you, thus lowering your stress and becoming more productive.

To take it a step further, our MHS team of a couple dozen colleagues recently finished writing a hypnosis certification training manual of about 600 pages containing valuable yet challenging teachings. Taking the hypnosis certification training, even if not to become a practitioner oneself, helps you to understand yourself and your decisions better, and to connect with others more.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

Stress is the often painful tension we feel when we experience either real or perceived problems or pressure. It can happen when we feel overwhelmed or think we don’t have the resources to deal with the perceived problems we seem to be facing.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

There are a few reasons.

Actually, these basic human needs are not just a given anymore. With the current state of the world, the eroding of a lot of the values that build society, and the constant flux of world events, more people than ever are worried about getting their basic needs met.

Sometimes we don’t even realize what those needs should really be. For example, did you know that, besides nutrition and sleep, we all need a sense of adventure and correct sexuality in order to thrive? Those are just a few of the basic human needs.

Further, we would do well to admit that we’ve become a very entitled society. People seem to want things fast-food style — right now and exactly the way they ordered it. As one popular fast-food chain put it, “your way, right away” (Burger King (TM)). As a society, we suffer from the unfortunate, disastrous thinking that we don’t have to change or shouldn’t be asked to change. In fact, society appears to reward us for being selfishly individualistic. This can be good when customizing your outcomes, but it unfortunately leaves little room for developing maturity, common-ground communication, and connection. The result is that people feel isolated, alone, and disconnected. Add in the recent lockdowns in response to COVID, and it’s a recipe for enormous stress.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

The signs and symptoms of stress are many — so many that it’s hard to list them all here. A few of the top ones, however, are the physical signs which can range from muscle tension and an overall sense of uneasiness, irregular breathing, to pains, sweating, or problems sleeping. In another recent interview, last month, I pointed out that stress often shows up in our gastroenterological (digestive) system, such as nausea. The mental and emotional signs of stress can vary from nervousness, to worry, to anger, to disinterest in life. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions, short-temperedness, or restlessness are also common symptoms of stress.

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Stress is normal. It causes us to change and adapt to the world around us. We need some stress in order to grow. In my book End Worry and Sleep Well, I show how even an ordinary houseplant needs the right amount of stress in order to grow straight. It needs to be regularly turned in the window so that it doesn’t just bend toward the sun only. This causes the plant a little bit of stress, until it “relocates” where the sun now is.

In sports, the right amount of stress puts us in “the zone”. This is where the athlete is not too relaxed about their goal, and yet not too hyper-focused either. In fact, most of our sports hypnosis clients need to learn how not to be “over the zone”.

Stress becomes un-useful when there is too much stress or when we are overreacting to it. Let’s call that distress.

Is there a difference between being in a short term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?

Short bursts of high stress typically cause fight, flight, or freeze — and there’s even a fourth one, fawning. Frankly, none of those responses is useful in most cases. So we want to train ourselves to have choices and to be flexible with our responses by keeping our focus upon what outcome we want, rather than reacting to what’s already happened.

Long-term stress is starkly different. When we’ve been stressed over extended periods of time, we may not realize that we are stressed. Because we are overly focused on trying to “solve the problem”, stress happens before we even notice it. We slowly become accustomed to the stress, and our nervous system begins to set it as a “new standard” that ends up feeling normal. Then the stress edges up a little more and sets another new normal — which continues until we start seeing the long-term effects. Usually, by that time, the symptoms are more significant, and we “hit a wall,” causing yet more stress.

Is it even possible to eliminate stress?

It is not desirable to eliminate stress completely. You see, stress happens each time we are learning something new, and it is normal. Like with our examples we talked about, both the athlete and the houseplant, each new change is a little bit of stress.

However, the world is changing so fast these days that excess stress is inevitable, to paraphrase Scott McFall. Changes in the world, changes in technology, and so on, each cause some stress. Add them up, and it begins to exceed what an organism can handle.

The good news is that, yes, you can learn to lower your stress level and become more productive.

In your opinion, is this something that we should be raising more awareness about, or is it a relatively small issue? Please explain what you mean.

Yes, it absolutely is important to raise awareness of the good idea to master stress. It really is the only way to be free enough to live life and be effective.

Consider this fact: our brain wants to prove what it thinks we already knew. This principle is known as the “law of justification,” but, if we are resistant to changes in this way to justify what we think we already know, then guess what — this behavior causes even more stress. The way through this pattern is to enjoy new learnings — including discoveries about ourselves — as an adventure, and to realize that solutions are more possible than we expect that they are.

What if I told you that you are capable of much more — and capable of enjoying much more from your life — by learning to accept things as they are, rather than how you wish it were? What then would be possible? Would you be more easygoing? Would you be able to focus on getting the things done that really will help your life?

It turns out that faster learning and acceptance is associated with the slower brain waves that can be achieved through hypnosis, and not the faster brain waves that accompany stress.

Let’s talk about stress at work. Numerous studies show that job stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. For you personally, if you are feeling that overall, work is going well, do you feel calm and peaceful, or is there always an underlying feeling of stress? Can you explain what you mean?

Yes, if work is going well, then you could say that it is the right “zone” and the right level or “dose” of stress. Many people thrive on it. I often do. Let’s call this “challenge”. So, yes, calm and peaceful while dealing with normal levels of challenge is a good way to describe it.

I feel stress often enough, much like anyone else, too. In fact, it’s funny — they say that the mechanic’s car is last to get fixed. My MHS colleagues and I try to avoid that problem by being aware of it and by serving as a feedback system for each other to know when it is happening. Once you are aware of the problem and how to resolve it, you can go ahead and begin to relax while achieving with focus.

When I am running clinics that are fully scheduled, seeing 25 people per day (80 clients per week), you might wonder how that is even possible. In my personal experience, everything flows. Each day in the clinic is a new adventure, meeting new people, showing real solutions to overcome challenges. It’s interesting how the “right” people show up at the “right” time. For example, if two or three clients all need the same lesson that day, I can just teach a small mini class together. Or, when one client needs to read a page from a book on their own for a minute, I get to hop in the other room and do technique work with another client. It’s like magic how it always seems to just work out. The secret is to let your work simply flow, to let go of what you’re not supposed to do (perhaps discover how to delegate), and to grow into the challenges you are meant to take on.

Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that busy leaders can use to become “Stress-Proof” at Work?” Please share a story or example for each.

Sure.

Some of these skills are so powerful that they come with warnings, but let’s have some fun demolishing stress. You can also see a video of these tips at https://youtu.be/-RMZjyAwnSQ.

1. Make the stressor seem silly and ridiculous in your mind! Shift the mental images in your mind. Yes, just change the way you perceive the thing or person that seems to be stressing you out.

Warning: This tool really needs to be done with a lot of humility and grace. We must admit that sometimes we, ourselves, are the ones that need to change. In fact, oftentimes, it is our own perception (or, rather, misperception) that is the root of our stress. We change the color of lens we are looking through in our “glasses” so to speak. So, use this technique while being willing to be wrong and then learn. After all, someone who seems to be hard on you might have your best interests at heart, and it would be useful to perhaps make the changes in yourself that they are suggesting. It may take time and patience to know their intent. Please, err on the side of respect. If we don’t come from this more matured outlook, then, with tools like this, we end up with a bunch of self-centered, judgmental people running around thinking the whole world is ridiculous for not bending to their every wish and whim. You don’t want to be like that, do you? I wouldn’t think so. Use this skill gently and wisely. But, it sure is fun!

Of course, my colleagues and I are always all about respecting any person as a person. Yet, when it comes to behaviors, attitudes, and actions that are not useful, or even downright negative, we don’t have to accept or respect those attitudes and behaviors. A good way to look at this is what we call separating the “doer” from the “deed” — or the “actor” from the “action”. We respect the doer (the person, yourself, the other person), but we must disrespect the unwanted behavior or pattern. So, we can go ahead and find ways to blow the thing up to the ridiculous in our mind. This is a good idea even when it is something that we ourselves need to change.

Here is how you do it!

Did you know that your entire “map” of reality in your head is only that — a map representing reality, not reality itself. It is a series of pictures, sounds, and sensations — and sometimes even smells and tastes — that are only an impoverished representation of the real world around us. “The map is not the territory” is an NLP Presupposition mentioned in Basic Techniques Book II, Clifford Wright.

One way to start to do this is called manipulating the sub-modalities. That’s a ten-dollar word for shifting around the images, sounds, and feelings in your internal map and autonomic nervous system (ANS).

An example to play with is: Put out your hand, palm up. Imagine putting into your hand the person who seems to be giving you too much of a hard time — the irksome co-worker, family member, or whomever it is. See them standing there, but shrink them down so they are only about six inches tall. Dress them up in clown clothes. Now give them a silly, squeaky voice as they argue. See their tiny, silly finger wagging at you, and see them stomping their big floppy foot. You can even play circus music in the background. Does this change how you feel about them? Is it somehow funnier? Lighter? Do you laugh when thinking about this?

You can also do this with a situation you feel stressed about. One of our Mind Magic at-home hypnosis client audio recordings shows you how to see yourself emotionally towering above the situations of your life. You can see them as though small and manageable below you. This effect is real in your mind, and it really does change your feelings.

As another example, at professional motivational speaking engagements, I often teach the “woe is me” pose, so that the audience can laugh in a good-natured way at the ridiculousness of the un-useful state of mind of self-pity, and thus avoid falling into that pattern themselves. Again, this is always done with good humor and great respect. It needs to be okay to ridicule the damaging pattern, not the person. This way, most healthy-minded people will really understand it quite readily and get the point of it. Once that is out of the way, then we get to move forward to truly inspiring the audience!

2. Give yourself permission to take pressure off. Often, we think that pushing ourselves harder will make us more productive. To use a metaphor from Scott McFall, pushing the throttle further won’t necessarily make the boat go any faster. Sometimes, there’s a top speed, and that’s it.

Furthermore, sometimes, taking pressure off (or “slowing the throttle”) actually makes you more productive. A student of mine, who also happens to be in one of my business coaching programs, says that he has gained 30% more income with less stress by using these techniques.

Hypnosis, itself, trains us to relax while getting our desired results and goals. In short, it helps you have a new solution that is better, faster, and easier than the old pattern or behavior was, to get you what you want.

Here’s one fun story about a client I helped for weight loss using hypnosis. She was so emotionally invested in the program that she felt too much pressure to “get it right”. I had about three student interns with me that day. At the beginning of one of her sessions, she told us all that she was having her annual IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) flareup. So, I gave her permission to pretend for a moment she was off the program, just for the duration of that one session. She felt better and said she could see herself relaxing while succeeding. At the end of the session, we “put her back onto the program.” Though I am not a medical doctor, and none of what we do is meant to take the place of medical intervention (you should always seek medical help when needed), I told the student interns I knew that she would be free of her IBS when she came back for her next session. Sure enough, she was!

Even small amounts of time off give our brains a “gap” (or downtime) to process and come up with solutions without even thinking about it. Even though this article had a deadline, I took some time off from writing to let my brain sort it all out. You can do this for yourself by reminding yourself to slow down. Choose something — it can be anything, for any amount of time — to give your mind a break. Give yourself permission to remember that if you don’t take the time, then it will only make matters worse. Take that break, grab a glass of water, go for a walk, take a little time off from that project. It turns out that stopping to “smell the roses” does give your brain the opportunity to speed up your results.

3. Notice signs of stress sooner and earlier. Related to strategy number two above, often, we get so caught up in what we are doing to make our lives better or to avoid problems that we actually make things worse on accident. Our symptoms of stress become worse, and then prevent us from being as productive as we are trying to be. Sometimes, the effects of stress can stop us in our tracks.

As I mentioned above, I had finally had enough of the hassle of migraine headaches and decided to do something about it. It was clearly caused by stress. So, I decided I would learn to notice the early signs of a migraine coming on, catch it before it happened, and reduce my stress. I learned that, for me anyway, about 30 minutes prior, I would lose about half of my vision among other signs. Also, I learned if that happens, I must slow down immediately and practice what we talked about in number two above. I now no longer have migraine headaches.

You can simply become “body aware” and notice the signs of stress early and then take care of yourself. If you don’t, then you will have nothing to give moving forward.

4. Progressive Relaxation. A popular technique to reduce stress in the body is a hypnotic technique called progressive relaxation. The simple version of this is to sit or lay down (with your eyes open or closed). The idea is to gently tense and release each body part, one at a time, starting with your feet. Then you let relaxation flow through those muscles before moving onto the next group.

The trick to this strategy is your ability to notice the difference between tension and relaxation. You get to train yourself to notice when you need to let go of muscles. Not everyone is the same in how they experience this. We say, in the hypnosis clinic, “whatever you experience is right for you.”

One client, who was very analytical at first, was struggling to let himself experience easy flow of weight loss success. We did this technique in his session three. He quickly noticed these feelings of deep relaxation in the muscles very profoundly — like a flowing warmth. He excitedly said that he could “really feel it!” Now, the opportunity for success finally became real in his mind. He began to succeed quite well in his weight loss program.

5. Plan backward. When we experience stress, it’s often because we are seeing in our lives that which we do not want to see, so we try to “deal with it to make it better.” The problem is that, from that viewpoint, we are only looking at what is currently happening and acting from a reactive position. Most people make that mistake. It’s like trying to drive a car forward while only looking at the rear view mirror or out the back window.

The solution to this is simple but takes practice. In the book Mission Possible by Scott McFall, my mentor, and by Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People), Scott teaches you to look forward at the outcomes you want, then work backward. Decide a timeframe (for example, one year from now) and fantasize the outcomes you want. Then determine the steps you need to get there. Write down the resources you will need.

We go through this strategy more thoroughly in the hypnosis and coaching programs, and some folks need coaching to be able to do this, but you get the idea. Can you see how this gives you an unwavering focus upon your goals and outcomes, rather than getting caught in the weeds all the time?

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

Influencing With Integrity by Genie Laborde is one of my favorites. In that book, she points out that we need to use these tools and skills carefully and with integrity. Those who don’t use these tools and skills with integrity will most certainly get a spanking from life. These tools are meant to help ourselves and then to make it possible for us to help others.

Another author is the amazingly kind-hearted Virginia Satir and her book, The New Peoplemaking. She taught the idea of “leveling.” Leveling is where we can honestly admit where we need to make improvements and what we need to do or learn — especially with ourselves as people. We are called to be safe in the world and safe enough with ourselves to do this, without any need for deflection.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We are living at a time when “proving your point” seems to be rewarded as the thing to do. I would begin to suggest, instead, that we learn to agree as a habitual first step when communicating, rather than have the knee-jerk reaction to disagree. This is not always possible, but, can you imagine how much more cooperative an experience you will have by trying this?

The world needs more people who are willing to keep an open mind about new information and all kinds of feedback.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

You can get free tools or contact me for a personal program at my website (above). We offer a Free Screening to determine whether you can be accepted as a client or if you need to be referred to a different kind of professional. We offer a Written Service Guarantee on most programs. You are also welcome to ask me about professional motivational speaking or attending professional hypnosis certification training programs with the MHS.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

Thank you!

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor