The Use of Subliminal Messages
in Overcoming Anxiety

Search this site here:

The use of subliminal messages to help overcome anxiety habits is not widely acknowledged yet it can be a useful weapon. Anxiety habits are seen as undesirable because they occur when fear is not an appropriate emotion in the situation in question. Nobody deliberately feels anxious. Anxiety comes about due to various unconscious mechanisms. It makes sense, therefore, that an approach which addresses these unconscious messages will help to reduce it.

Topics covered on this page:

1. What is a subliminal message?

Subliminal messages are ones that are delivered below (sub) the threshold (liminal) at which the living creature is aware that they can perceive them.

Not all living creatures can pick up the same information. Take perception of sound for example. A human brain can perceive sound within a range of approximately 20 - 20,000 Hz. A dog, on the other hand, can perceive sounds within a range between 67 - 45,000 Hz (this can vary slightly with different breeds). Thus, generally, a dog is able to pick up sounds which are at too high a frequency to be perceived by a human and this is the basis of dog whistles, heard by the dog but not the handler.

This fact has led to the development of a device known as "The Mosquito".  This is being used to deter groups of youngsters from congregating in certain public places where their behaviour has posed a problem. It is also used as a crime deterrent.

Younger humans can perceive higher frequencies than older ones. The Mosquito emits a sound that is only able to be heard by those under the age of 20-25. The sound becomes uncomfortable to the youngsters and they move on elsewhere. It doesn't cause annoyance to anyone else as those who are older are unable to hear it. 

The fact that the brain is able to perceive frequencies at the extremes of the range does not mean that the human is consciously aware they are able to hear them. Those sounds which are within the range which are perceived by the brain yet are outside the conscious awareness of the human listener are subliminal.

For a human, a subliminal message is one which the person is unable to hear, see or feel consciously.

Although subliminal can be used in any sense modality, the most commonly used form in self improvement of any kind is auditory. But although we aren't aware we can hear it, our brains do appear to be able to get the information from it!

2. The role of the conscious mind

Just about everyone will know what is meant by the conscious mind. It's that frame of mind we're in when we are fully aware of what we are doing, thinking, saying, etc. Our conscious mind tells us how we should feel, think, behave in different circumstances.

The conscious mind has to make sense of everything. It can't believe in possibilities for which it doesn't have proof. It's a scientist mind. 

The conscious mind can be very useful when we have to do or think about something in a very focused and logical way. The conscious mind is very fond of laying down rules. But there are times when it gets in the way. Sometimes we need to be able to consider ideas that seem, at first sight, impossible.

Take for example, a person out for a walk who comes to a small stream.

If they stand on the bank and start to wonder of they will make it across or whether they may slip and fall in, a large part of the time that is exactly what will happen. By standing there imagining falling in they are telling their brain that's what will happen. So the brain obliges.

In order to get across they must just do it, believing they can.

the role of self belief when learning to ride a bike

Another prime example of this is when we teach our children to ride their bikes with two wheels. The usual procedure is for the parent to reassure the child that it's ok because mummy or daddy is holding onto the seat at the back. Secure in the knowledge that they can't then fall, the child gives its all to riding the bike. 

Once the bike is moving at a reasonable speed the parent lets go, but doesn't tell the child.

The child continues, riding all alone… until they realise that the parent has let go! Then self doubt creeps in and they often wobble and fall.

The failure only occurs because the child has a conflict of beliefs. The child believes they're were safe as long as the parent is holding the saddle. The child is unable to believe they are safe when the parent has let go. So to reduce the conflict the child and bike fall over.

If the child remains unaware that the parent has let go and rides further so that it's belief changes and it is able to see that it can ride the bike unaided, it becomes successful.

In the case of anxiety, once we feel anxious the conscious mind usually starts telling us we must stop the anxious feelings in case something worse happens. This just serves to raise the negative arousal levels further and make the anxiety more intense. In the days when I used to experience panic attacks I recall that once I noticed the first signs that one was happening I'd try all sorts of desperate measures to try and head it off. That approach rarely worked.

Once I'd developed my theory about anxiety and finally applied it to my own situation, I discovered that it can indeed be overcome without struggle, just day by day with the right approach. Applying this approach in clinical practice I was often faced with a patient who was unable to accept that this problem which had ruled and ruined their life often for years could be defeated without a lot of struggle and effort.

This inability to accept the easy path was the result of their conscious mind butting in and telling them that nothing is that easy.

therapist and patient in session showing the patient's conscious mind nit permitting possibilities to be entertainedThe conscious mind unwilling to accept what appears too easy

Certain types of brainwaves allow us to switch off or over-ride our critical, conscious minds and enable us to accept other possibilities that might at first seem impossible.

3. How to stop the conscious mind getting in the way.

Our brains operate by electrical impulses at different frequencies. Usually when we are awake and going about our business we have beta brainwaves. 

brainwave frequencies and their significanceBrainwave Frequencies and their Significance

The slowest known brainwaves in humans are delta waves. These have a frequency of between 0.1 and 4 Hz and they occur when we are deeply asleep. We don't dream whilst in delta.

The next group are the theta waves at between 4 and 8 Hz. During theta we experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, so-called because the eyeballs can be seen moving behind closed lids. This is the time when we dream.

Alpha waves are the next group ranging from 8 - 14 Hz. These are the waves which open the gateway to the unconscious mind and, in doing so, allow us to escape from constant regulation by the conscious mind. Alpha waves are also known to be beneficial to someone when they are trying too learn new material or studying for an exam etc.

Many studies have been done with school children by playing alpha-inducing classical music in the background whilst they are being taught. The children in question are found to be able to concentrate better on their lessons.

Faster than alpha are the beta waves at 14 - 30 Hz. These are the brainwaves we have most of the time we are awake and going about our normal lives.

Finally there is a wave frequency that has only recently been recognised in human beings - the gamma wave. In contrast to the other four wave types, which appear to get slower as the human slows their activity and finally sleeps, the gamma wave is very fast. It characterises bursts of insight and high-level processing. Interestingly it is also found to be present during meditation in those who are very skilled at it such as Buddhist monks.

Hypnosis relies on the adoption of alpha waves so as to enable the subject to accept what is being suggested without critically questioning it. The point of hypnosis is, like subliminal messaging, to get the desired messages past the conscious mind in order to permit the unconscious mind to act upon it.

Once the brain is 'in alpha' it allows access to the unconscious. This is useful for self improvement because it allows the new messages to bypass the reasoning logical part of the mind that has to make sense of everything. It also bypasses the self doubt that we are each plagued with. 

Very often if you tell yourself to do something consciously, even though you may really want to achieve it, you don't truly believe you can in your heart of hearts.

Whenever we doubt ourselves deep down, our minds recognise that glimmer of doubt and cause us to fail.

So for using subliminal suggestions to help overcome anxiety and bypassing the interfering conscious mind alpha waves are desirable. This then begs the question as to how to obtain them.

4. How to get alpha brainwaves.

There are times in everyday life when we experience alpha brainwaves effortlessly. They tend to occur whenever we suspend disbelief, stop thinking about what we're doing or feeling and lose ourselves in an experience. The best example is when we become completely 'lost' in a film or a book to the extent that we are living it and don't notice what's going on around us. That's being in alpha. When we abandon ourselves to just enjoying and experiencing without thinking and analysing we are often in alpha.

On the other hand, by it's very nature, if we are actively trying to create it, that striving prevents us achieving it because striving and struggle are conscious activities.

As mentioned above, certain types of Baroque music will lull the brain into an alpha state. This is because the brain readily follows the beat of a piece of music.

The alpha state is also found if we relax deeply as well as being one of the natural states which we pass through each time we fall asleep on the way to theta and delta, and again when we wake back up.

The alpha state is the state of the possible.

5. Can this make me do things I don't want to do?

Contrary to what many people think, nobody can be made to do anything that's not in their nature by by-passing their conscious mind. Even in an accepting, open-minded alpha state, you can't be made to do anything against your own moral code. It's a bit like when you're slightly drunk and you find yourself doing certain things which you wouldn't normally do when sober. You will do some things but there will be a line your own moral code won't allow you to cross even when drunk.

There is still much ongoing debate as to whether subliminal sounds or images are effective and/or ethical in advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority state that their use is against their code of practice although a search of the web will throw up many claims that such techniques are widely used by various agencies.

Subliminal messages first came to prominence with what became known as the "Popcorn Experiments" in the 1950s. Since then there have been many research studies into the effects of subliminal suggestions. These have usually been presented aurally or visually. In general the results have been disappointing. At the same time, however, in order to conduct ethical research the participants have usually been forewarned about the possible subliminal messages. Knowing these messages would appear allowed the research subjects to consciously disregard them. (Examples of such research can be found on Wikipedia)

Subliminal messages don't usually work too well when the subject is aware of them.

A true story

Many years ago I was treating a lady for her anxieties following a car accident. As part of her therapy I offered to make her a subliminal suggestion recording. She agreed to this so we set about writing the script. I then pointed out that the script wasn't very long and asked her whether there was anything else she'd like me to add. She said that as she was pregnant she was trying to stop smoking. I agreed to add a suggestion to that effect but wouldn't tell her what so that she couldn't consciously block it. In the meantime I advised her to keep smoking whenever she wanted to but to be fully aware of each puff she took and to put out a cigarette if she thought she'd had enough.

I recorded the tape and sent it to her. Four weeks later I revisited. She said that the smoking was much improved and that she hadn't had to struggle with it. The travel phobia was also much better. She then went on to say that the most surprising effect was something else.  

She said, "The strangest thing happened the other night when I was watching TV. I looked down and noticed that my fingernails needed cutting."
"So what?" I  said.
"Well, I've never had to cut them before as I've always bitten them!"

She assumed it was a side-effect of what was on the subliminal suggestion tape. I then told her that the only reference I'd made to her smoking was one sentence, "My habits are becoming all healthy for me now". Her own uncinscious mind had taken that on board and had stopped her biting her nails, which was something she'd always wanted to do but had never managed.

6. The best way to use subliminal messages

If you really want to be or do something but simply lack the self belief to go for it, you can use subliminal messages to give yourself the edge. The beauty of these is that you train yourself in your sleep - literally.

I discovered this method many years ago in a book, "Supersleep" (see below), by Teri Mahaney.  This explains the technique and its use in greater detail, especially in relation to personal goals as do Teri's websites.

Making use of the alpha inducing effects of Baroque largo music, at the same time as tapping into the natural drifting of the brain into alpha rhythm as it falls asleep makes it simple to achieve the desired brainwave state.

At various times I have written scripts for myself, telling myself all the things I wanted to achieve but lacked the self belief to actually push for consciously. I then recorded myself saying these things.

I used to use a 30 minute compilation of recordings of Baroque largo movements. Onto this I dubbed my own voice reading aloud the statements that described what I wanted to achieve. (The wording for these is described in more detail in Teri's books). Since I preferred not to be able to hear myself speaking as I played the recording I would turn down the volume of my speech so it was barely audible. Even if I couldn't hear what was said consciously, my mind could hear it at a subliminal level.

Then when I lay down to go to sleep at night I took advantage of my brain's natural progression through alpha waves as I fell asleep. As I drifted deeper my brain went into theta waves. As I was then also listening to the recording of my own voice, at low volume, telling me those things I wanted to hear, or even reciting facts I wanted to learn, my brain took them in. It's not necessary to think about what you're hearing or consciously listen to it, even if you fall asleep, your mind still hears it and tries to act on it. 

You can't teach yourself to do the impossible in this way, but you can give yourself a push towards those things that are possible and which, more importantly, you truly want.

For the first few nights of playing a subliminal tape to go to sleep I'd be unable to drift off. This was because my mind wasn't used to doing this. After a few nights, however, I'd fall asleep easily. I'd then use the tape almost every night for about three weeks until one day, when going to switch it on, I'd get a feeling from inside that I'd heard it enough.

7. How do Theta waves work?

Teri Mahaney often uses recordings that are audible but if you are actually asleep when they are playing it is the same as having them recorded subliminally. (see Teri Mahaney explain it here in these two You Tube videos). Alpha waves help to switch off the conscious, interfering mind. Theta waves are even more accepting of wanted suggestions.

The first explains how theta waves work.

If you would rather view on You Tube follow this link

In another video Teri explains how you can make your own subliminal recording.

Or follow this link to watch on You Tube.

In the context of overcoming anxiety, you might record a script of subliminal messages telling yourself you are becoming calmer each day in those situations which cause you anxiety. 

There are many other books about subliminals as well as commercially produced recordings containing subliminal suggestions, but the sound of your own voice will always be more effective than anything made for a mass market. If you are at all interested in trying this I urge you to read one of Teri's books to gain an understanding of the finer points.

I have never known anyone have a negative effect from this method. The worst that can happen is nothing. Whatever you put on the recording, if it isn't what you truly want your brain will just ignore it. Likewise it won't affect anyone else who hears it at the same time unless they want it too. 

  Books by Teri Mahaney

*Sue Breton is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Techniques for feeling generally calmer

symbol for baroque music
logo representing subliminal messages
symbol representing the use of visualisation for overcoming anxiety
symbol representing self talk
symbol representing mindfulness
ladder symbol representing use of a therapeutic hierarchy

  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Self Help
  3. Subliminals