• Imagining Your Way to Stress Reduction

    Stress Reduction - Birmingham Counselling Services

    It might have begun with a picture in your mind’s eye of a sea-shore at dusk.  You could see the large blue waves rolling towards the shoreline, the pristine sand in the foreground, the sun gently setting in the west.  You might have imagined sea gulls gently flying past and children building sand castles along the shore.  This was the image you might have taken with you as you began your labour for childbirth.  It could have been one of a number of relaxation techniques you learned in your preparation for childbirth classes.

    Or perhaps you saw white blood cells swallowing up the cancer cells in your system.  You imagined the cancer cells slowly disappearing from view, with healthy cells taking their place in your body.  You even imagined your doctor saying, “You’re cancer-free” with a big grin on his face.

    Guided imagery is used in a variety of different settings.  Its primary purpose is to allow you to call up relaxing images in order to calm your mind and refresh your body.  If you imagine a peaceful scene and couple that vision with controlled breathing, you can achieve deep relaxation.  Almost anyone can learn to exercise their imagination this way.  It costs nothing, and it can benefit you greatly in terms of reducing your stress.

    One of the most popular relaxation exercises is imagining a peaceful scene.  In your mind you create a place of comfort, the kind of spot you would go to if you were in trouble and needed solace.  For many people this is a beach or a forest.  You then imagine what the experience of being there will mean for your senses — what you will see, what you will hear, what you will feel, and perhaps what you will smell.  You become a part of the scene, drinking in the tranquility.  Whenever you recognise that you are severely stressed you can return to this scene in your mind and experience a feeling of relaxation.

    Another well-known imagination exercise is the feather.  Imagine a feather drifting across a mountain, beside a river, over a field.  Picture yourself as that feather.  Notice how light and airy you feel.   Imagine that you don’t have a care in the world, there is nowhere you have to be, you have no appointments to make or keep, you are simply a feather enjoying your place in the sun.

    Or picture yourself as a drop of water in the ocean.  Gently sway back and forth as the water moves peacefully along the shore.  Let nothing worry you.  Your only goal in life is to be relaxed and happy.

    What if you try this imagining and it doesn’t work?  The trick may be to practise.  The more you imagine your quiet place, the easier it should be to go there.  You might have to keep trying for a week or so before you can determine if it actually is impossible for you.  Also, it is important that you maintain deep breathing throughout the exercise.  Holding on to both the scene and the breathing does take practice.  It is not surprising that pregnant women often practise relaxation exercises every week.

    Where should you practice this relaxation imagery?  The good news is, you can do it practically anywhere.  However, you should choose a place where you are comfortable, such as your bed, an easy chair, or a sofa.  At times it might be easier to do the exercise if you are out of doors; it would also be fine to practise while sitting beside the fire.  Try engaging with your imagery for five minutes before you go to sleep or five minutes after you wake up.  Imagery is a skill like any other; you need to do it consistently in order for it to be effective.   

    Initially you might well be skeptical about imagery.  Your imagination might give you a hard time and you might be uncomfortable at first.  In order to be successful with imagery you do need to be committed.  Continue your imagining, even when you feel like quitting, and in time, it should become entirely natural to you.  Whenever you encounter a stressful situation you can go to your peaceful place, imagine yourself as a wave of the ocean or picture yourself as a feather.  While it might seem corny, it works.  It is a highly effective method of reducing your stress level.

    It might have begun with a picture in your mind’s eye of a sea-shore at dusk.  You could see the large blue waves rolling towards the shoreline, the pristine sand in the foreground, the sun gently setting in the west.  You might have imagined sea gulls gently flying past and children building sand castles along the shore.  This was the image you might have taken with you as you began your labour for childbirth.  It could have been one of a number of relaxation techniques you learned in your preparation for childbirth classes.

    Or perhaps you saw white blood cells swallowing up the cancer cells in your system.  You imagined the cancer cells slowly disappearing from view, with healthy cells taking their place in your body.  You even imagined your doctor saying, “You’re cancer-free” with a big grin on his face.

    Guided imagery is used in a variety of different settings.  Its primary purpose is to allow you to call up relaxing images in order to calm your mind and refresh your body.  If you imagine a peaceful scene and couple that vision with controlled breathing, you can achieve deep relaxation.  Almost anyone can learn to exercise their imagination this way.  It costs nothing, and it can benefit you greatly in terms of reducing your stress.  

    One of the most popular relaxation exercises is imagining a peaceful scene.  In your mind you create a place of comfort, the kind of spot you would go to if you were in trouble and needed solace.  For many people this is a beach or a forest.  You then imagine what the experience of being there will mean for your senses — what you will see, what you will hear, what you will feel, and perhaps what you will smell.  You become a part of the scene, drinking in the tranquility.  Whenever you recognise that you are severely stressed you can return to this scene in your mind and experience a feeling of relaxation.

    Another well-known imagination exercise is the feather.  Imagine a feather drifting across a mountain, beside a river, over a field.  Picture yourself as that feather.  Notice how light and airy you feel.   Imagine that you don’t have a care in the world, there is nowhere you have to be, you have no appointments to make or keep, you are simply a feather enjoying your place in the sun.

    Or picture yourself as a drop of water in the ocean.  Gently sway back and forth as the water moves peacefully along the shore.  Let nothing worry you.  Your only goal in life is to be relaxed and happy.

    What if you try this imagining and it doesn’t work?  The trick may be to practise.  The more you imagine your quiet place, the easier it should be to go there.  You might have to keep trying for a week or so before you can determine if it actually is impossible for you.  Also, it is important that you maintain deep breathing throughout the exercise.  Holding on to both the scene and the breathing does take practice.  It is not surprising that pregnant women often practise relaxation exercises every week.

    Where should you practice this relaxation imagery?  The good news is, you can do it practically anywhere.  However, you should choose a place where you are comfortable, such as your bed, an easy chair, or a sofa.  At times it might be easier to do the exercise if you are out of doors; it would also be fine to practise while sitting beside the fire.  Try engaging with your imagery for five minutes before you go to sleep or five minutes after you wake up.  Imagery is a skill like any other; you need to do it consistently in order for it to be effective.   

    Initially you might well be skeptical about imagery.  Your imagination might give you a hard time and you might be uncomfortable at first.  In order to be successful with imagery you do need to be committed.  Continue your imagining, even when you feel like quitting, and in time, it should become entirely natural to you.  Whenever you encounter a stressful situation you can go to your peaceful place, imagine yourself as a wave of the ocean or picture yourself as a feather.  While it might seem corny, it works.  It is a highly effective method of reducing your stress level.

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