Guided imagery is a tool you can use to help you manage stress. After all, life can be stressful sometimes. Relationships can leave you feeling like you’re walking on eggshells. Unexpected events such as job loss can increase tension in our lives. A family member can fall ill, and you might need to be the person to care for them. Health challenges can leave you feeling weak. However, despite what comes our way, we can use guided imagery to help us visualize a way out of our misery. In this article, you’ll learn all about how you can use guided imagery to help you cope with complex challenges.
Using guided imagery to combat stress
One of the most effective ways of managing one’s stress is what they call guided imagery. This relaxation technique allows you to visualize peaceful and joyous settings like the green, peaceful meadows and serene, beautiful beaches. Through guided meditation and visualization, you clear your mind from destructive, negative thoughts. Numerous research studies reveal that guided imagery could help reduce anxiety, manage stress, promote relaxation, and lessen stress-related symptoms.
When you see calming imagery in your mind or even in front of you, your heart begins to beat a bit slower. Studies also show that showing violent images can increase heart rate and stress levels. So, if you’re looking to combat stress, you might want to avoid violent horror films for a while.
How does guided imagery work?
In guided imagery, a meditation instructor will guide you to focus on a particular experience, sound, or object to help calm your thoughts. You’ll be thinking intentionally about a peaceful scenario or place because the goal of the whole process is to reach a relaxed state with the help of mindfulness and relaxation. During this session, you’ll learn how to allow your body to react naturally to your thoughts. So instead of reacting to thoughts, you’ll be present with them and watch them flow in and out, without any effort needed on your part.
If you keep thinking of a stressful experience or situation, your mind and body will also feel tense. Consequently, your blood pressure and heart rate might also increase, causing you to be unfocused and feel jittery.
However, if you shift your attention and focus on pleasant things, your body and mind could relax. Slowly, you’ll feel the tension and tightness around your chest and muscles loosen, with your mind also feeling at ease and calmer. If your body and mind are more relaxed, you can better cope with life experiences and improve your physical, emotional, and mental state.
Advantages of guided imagery
Many researchers argue that guided imagery could improve your mental health and overall well-being. Here are more thorough discussions on these specific benefits.
1. Lessen stress and anxiety
More than a handful of studies will back the claim that guided imagery can lessen feelings of stress and anxiety. For example, a 2014 study conducted by a group of researchers led by Victoria Menziesand revealed that women who underwent guided imagery showed a significant decline in their depression, pain, fatigue, and stress.
In this study, the women respondents went into two different groups. All of them had fibromyalgia, but one of the groups went through guided imagery daily for ten weeks. The other group only got the usual care regimen.
In the end, the group receiving the usual care didn’t show improvement in their feelings of depression, pain, fatigue, and stress, while the guided imagery group saw an improvement.
Aside from this, a 2017 study published in the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) journal also compared the benefits of clinical massage and guided imagery. The study revealed that patients who underwent 30 minutes of guided imagery showed the same positive results as patients who experienced a 15-minute clinical massage. And even though the patients who practiced guided imagery did not get a massage, they still reaped the rewards that a massage can bring on emotionally. Practicing a free guided imagery meditation can be a more affordable option for relaxation than a massage from a registered masseuse.
In 2018, another study by Marcia Marques dos Santos Felix used guided imagery. It revealed that guided imagery could significantly lessen the anxiety experienced by patients before surgery. In the same year, Trusted Source released a study that showed how guided imagery significantly reduced the pressure felt by students taking tests.
So, multiple studies show how following along to guided imagery can help lessen your anxiety and decrease your stress levels. In any context where a person feels anxious, you can recommend guided imagery to help them relax and feel at ease. It doesn’t matter if the anxious person is a student or an adult about to have necessary surgery.
2. Improve one’s sleep
Stress and anxiety are both notorious for making people sleepless. They make you worry until you could no longer rest at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s work-related or personal life-related stress; you’ll still suffer just the same. In the same 2017 study mentioned in the preceding paragraph, researchers learn that respondents who underwent guided imagery could sleep better at night. So, if you’ve been struggling with sleeplessness, you could try a guided imagery meditation.
Aside from this, a 2015 Mindfulness Meditation study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that older adults who practiced mindfulness with guided imagery also showed promising results in sleep quality and duration. According to the researchers, mindfulness meditation helps your body respond better to sleep, allowing you to fall asleep easier. Following along to a visualization meditation via an app like Declutter The Mind before bed can help you unwind in the evening so you could fall asleep.
3. Lessens physical pain
According to Asma Hayati Ahmad in her study published by the NCBI, stress could worsen one’s pain perception. Justin Carpenter’s group study showed how guided imagery could help one manage post orthopedic surgery pain. This study result was even backed by a 2019 study performed by Laura Vagnoli’s group of researchers. In the latter, they showed how guided imagery lessened the pain experienced by kids who underwent surgery.
These are not the only studies that support the fact that guided imagery could indeed help manage pain. The 2014 study mentioned above also showed how respondents could lessen their pain while also experiencing other benefits like decreased fatigue and stress. The randomized controlled study of Giulia De Paolis further bolstered these claims by adding that guided imagery complimented progressive relaxation techniques in alleviating the pain felt by cancer patients.
Ultimately, guided imagery helps shift our focus from pain into something pleasant and relaxing, which is how we better cope with pain when practicing a visualization meditation.
4. Manage symptoms of depression
Different studies showed that depression often results in negative thoughts and mental images. Depression is often known to be a thought disorder. Given this, we couldn’t deny the strong possibility that positive images might reverse these.
The group of researchers headed by Mohammad J Mahdizadeh conducted a recent study. They showed how a week of guided imagery was able to lessen the depressive symptoms manifested by people who have cancer. Aside from these astonishing results, the said cancer patients also exhibit lessened anxiety and pain.
Practicing a guided imagery meditation with heavy positive visualization can help you decrease depression, negative thinking, and negative mental images. It does so by reducing the number of negative thoughts by replacing them with positive ones. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is a common practice in cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s known as cognitive restructuring or cognitive reframing.
How to practice guided imagery
The good thing with guided imagery is you can do it anywhere. Plus, you can also do it by yourself with the help of audio recordings, YouTube videos, or tips from a professional. To start, here are the things that you’ll need:
- A peaceful spot where you can meditate with no interruptions
- A comfortable yoga mat, cushion, chair, bed, or couch
- Audio recordings to help you go through guided imagery practices on the free Declutter The Mind app or Declutter The Mind YouTube channel
- Headphones or earphones
You can find various guided imagery meditations to follow along to online that are as short as ten minutes or as long as 20 minutes. To follow along to guided imagery meditations, you won’t need to consult with a medical professional and get started immediately. If you’re looking to solve a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety, you’ll want to seek a medical professional for treatment. However, you can still add a guided imagery meditation to your routine.
Guided Imagery Meditations
You’ll start this guided imagery practice by breathing in through the nose and out of the mouth. As the guided imagery part begins, you’ll look for the positive moments in your day so you can practice optimism. When you notice something that makes you happy, like calling an old friend, you’ll be asked to think about the feeling without clinging to it.
In this guided imagery meditation, you’ll use a simple visualization to help you relax and fall asleep. You’ll start by thinking about the most comfortable position you last fell asleep in and try to emulate it. You’ll then bring your attention to your body in a body scan to help you relax your whole body.
You’ll begin this guided imagery session by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Afterward, you’ll close your eyes and visualize yourself in a challenging situation such as one that is worrying you right now. You’ll then need to notice which emotions surface as you think about this. However, you’ll then transition into thinking about how the best version of yourself would handle this. And you’ll imagine the strongest version of yourself handling the situation with kindness, wisdom, and mindfulness.
How to practice guided imagery
In addition to trying out some of the content above, you can also follow some of the following tips to help you practice guided imagery on your own as you become more confident in your ability.
- Find a solemn and distraction-free spot in your room.
- Choose a comfortable sitting, lying, or squatting position.
- Close your eyes and start with a breathing exercise. Imagine inhaling all the positive energy while exhaling all the negative ones. Continue until you can feel all the negativity escaping your body and being replaced by positivity.
- Imagine yourself walking barefoot on the white, sandy beach. You could also think about any landscape that would make you feel relaxed. It could be a tropical beach, excellent mountain range, or lush, green forest — it doesn’t matter. If you tend to relax more in a specific environment, you can think about that place instead.
- Imagine these scenes as if painting a vivid picture — memorize its tiny details. Imagine the scent, sensation, and sound of this calming, peaceful place.
- Enjoy the calmness and serenity of the site while also creating a path for you to move forward. Notice the emotions and feelings throughout your body. Do a body scan from your feet to your head, noticing the sensations throughout your body as you enjoy the calm of the visual scene in your mind.
- Stay in this vision for a few minutes. Continue with your breathing exercise. Inhale all the positivity you can get from this calming environment and exhale all the negativity. Relax your mind.
- Stay in that for at least 10 minutes. After which, you slowly open your eyes.
Remember to be in a relaxed state before doing this exercise. A relaxed body could easily focus and envision an equally peaceful mental picture.
If you’re looking to help stop negative thoughts, minimize sleeplessness, or improve your mental health, guided imagery can be a great supplement to try alongside therapy or medication. You can try the guided imagery videos above or subscribe to the free Declutter The Mind app to watch your feelings, physical health, and mental wellness improve by shifting your focus towards something more positive.