App offers patients a better way to combat stress

App offers patients a better way to combat stress

Supplied by Thought Waves Pro
Leanne Lawrence_
GP Leanne Lawrence’s app, Thought Waves Pro, makes it easy for healthcare professionals to offer patients free, medically focused, guided meditation

Hypnosis answered GP Leanne Lawrence’s call for a better way to treat and prevent illness caused by stress, and now she’s on a mission to spread its health benefits far and wide

Like so many great ideas, GP Leanne Lawrence’s stress management app stems from the thinking: “There’s got to be a better way.”

Anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and sleep problems were just a few of the health issues that Dr Lawrence wanted to treat and prevent more effectively, after seeing for herself the toll stress and stress-related illnesses were taking on people’s health.

“Similar health problems keep re-presenting in different people, when you’re on the front line, you sort of get a feel for it,” she says.

That’s where her app, Thought Waves Pro, or “meditation on steroids” came in. Dr Lawrence started incorporating guided meditation and hypnosis into her practice about seven years ago and continues to use and promote these techniques with patients she sees as a locum GP based mainly in the North Island.

Wanting to share the health benefits of positive hypnosis with more people, Dr Lawrence initially produced children’s books and CDs, but they were too expensive to store and distribute. So, about three years ago, she started developing an app for her medically focused guided meditations.

The result is Thought Waves Pro, which is free to download from Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

“Most people now have an awareness of the benefits of meditation,” Dr Lawrence says. “Some of them are probably a bit freaked out by hypnosis, but it’s the process whereby you’ve now got a guide to make sure you’re meditating in the right direction.”

“As a GP, the 15-minute consult time is really not long enough to share with a patient how positive hypnosis works and how quickly it reduces harmful stress hormone release inside, so now you can say, ‘Well, there you go, there’s your next eight weeks of positive hypnosis, if you’d like to check it out’ And that conversation can take a healthcare professional as little as 20 seconds.”

Research behind the app

Dr Lawrence’s eight-week meditation challenge is one of several free downloads on the Thought Waves Pro app. It’s based on research by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar which uncovered structural changes in the brains of people who, having never meditated before, did so daily for eight weeks (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979).

MRI scans showed participants’ grey matter densities increased in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness, and empathy. Meanwhile, the part of the brain that triggers the physiological response to stress, the amygdala, got smaller. What this meant was participants became more resilient to stress and the stress response is triggered much less frequently.

There is virtually no patient that wouldn’t benefit from stress reduction, Dr Lawrence says. Down-regulating the stress response through guided meditation not only supports the treatment of stress-related ills, including allergies, infections and autoimmune diseases, but helps prevent such conditions in the first place.

Mechanisms at work well understood

The mechanisms of stress are well established. Stress hormones released when we feel under pressure produce physical changes to help us fight or flee.

But when we experience stress too often or for too long, those changes, such as a suppressed immune system, increased heart rate and blood sugar, and poor digestion, can be damaging. What’s more, chronic stress hinders the body’s ability to heal and repair itself.

The Thought Waves Pro techniques are already being used to support peri-operative and in-patient care at some hospitals in the UK and US.

Dr Lawrence sees many more uses for guided meditation. Her app already provides recordings that aid and produce the mind-set required for smoking cessation, pain control and weight control, among other things, and she plans to produce more, including guided meditations to specifically benefit children and pregnant women.

Not all the recordings on the app are free, so the ones people choose to purchase will generate an income and allow for further app development.

There is an emphasis on safety, and app users with epilepsy or a history of severe psychiatric illness are advised to consult their specialist before meditating.

Patterns set before birth

It is in utero that our baseline stress levels are set and these levels tend to ramp up throughout life without us noticing, Dr Lawrence says. But relaxation through hypnosis can immediately reduce stress hormone release internally an effect now detectable via saliva testing, biofeedback monitoring techniques or blood testing. In addition levels of salivary immunoglobulin A, that’s our first line of immune defence, immediately increases, with more measurable benefits occurring in the immune system with on-going positive meditation – and of course, those structural changes in the brain which also help to reduce the baseline stress response including the severity and frequency of the stress response.

The guided meditations also interrupt negative thinking patterns, which unchallenged could spiral a person into low mood or depression.

I believe that stress reduction is one of the pillars of great health as much as, if not more so than, choosing a healthy diet and exercise, Dr Lawrence says. “We’ve all seen the very healthy person that eats well and exercises well, and yet they still have health problems because their internal adrenaline release has never been noticed or addressed.”

Because virtually everyone would benefit from stress reduction, Dr Lawrence feels bad whenever she doesn’t have time to inform a patient about hypnosis, and that’s the whole point of the app: to make it easy for health professionals to offer patients an easy solution for effective stress reduction.

Comments

Great product Leanne.Deserves to be very successful.

Anna