Stress is an inevitable aspect of life and can be caused by your surroundings, body or thoughts. It manifests differently in various people, including physical, psychosocial and behavioral issues, like headaches, muscular tension, irritability, anxiety and an inability to cope with life. Sometimes we respond to stressful situations by engaging in risky activities like smoking or drinking more alcohol. However, there are more effective ways to deal with stress. And while stress is widespread, stress-related symptoms do not have to take over one’s life. Visualization is one approach that is beneficial in reducing the frequency and intensity of daily stressors.
Visualization, also known as guided imagery, is a type of meditation that employs the power of your imagination to achieve a deep level of relaxation and emotional tranquility. When used as a relaxation technique, it emphasizes creating a detailed mental image of a calm environment to reduce the level of stress experienced.
The purpose is to stimulate the body’s natural relaxation reactions, associating peaceful mental imagery with physiological feelings of relaxation and improving stress management skills. Additionally, mindful breathing techniques can boost the effectiveness of visualization for stress reduction. According to biofeedback research by Bigham and colleagues, visualization effectively reduces stress when imagery incorporates supplementary sensory information, such as auditory, motor, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory elements.
You can choose whatever setting is most calming for you, whether it is a beach, your favorite childhood spot or a quiet fireplace setting. You can practice visualization on your own or with a therapist. You can also choose to do your visualization in silence or use soothing music or sounds that match your mental imagery — the sound of ocean waves, for example. Close your eyes and let your concerns go. Create or go to a known relaxing place in your mind. Don’t rush. Calmly imagine everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel as vividly as you can.
What colors, shapes, and textures do you see in your surroundings? What do you see looking up?
Notice the air around you. How does it feel on your skin? Notice what is in front of you. If you were to reach out, what would you touch?
What scents are part of this scene? Identify three things you can smell.
What sounds do you hear? If you listen carefully, what is happening in the gaps between these sounds?
Do you want to taste something? Breathe in the air. How does it taste? Or notice three other things that you can taste.
Enjoy the deep tranquility that wraps you as you explore your calming place. After some time, when you’re ready, softly open your eyes and return to the current moment. Don’t worry if you occasionally lose track of where you are during a visualization session. It is natural. You may also notice heaviness in your limbs, muscle twitching or yawning – these are also normal reactions.
Remember: you can return to this place as a temporary escape when you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Elaine Houston, a positive psychology researcher and writer, also created a tool with two versions of visualization that you can check and explore more of this technique (source below).