Imagery - Mental stress management
Sometimes we are not able to change our environment to manage stress – this may be the case where we do not have the power to change a situation, or where we are about to give an important performance. Imagery is a useful skill for relaxing in these situations.
Imagery is a potent method of stress reduction, especially when combined with physical relaxation methods such as deep breathing.
You will be aware of how particular environments can be very relaxing, while others can be intensely stressful. The principle behind the use of imagery in stress reduction is that you can use your imagination to recreate and enjoy a situation that is very relaxing. The more intensely you imagine the situation, the more relaxing the experience will be.
This sounds unlikely. In fact, the effectiveness of imagery can be shown very effectively if you have access to biofeedback equipment. By imagining a pleasant and relaxing scene (which reduces stress) you can objectively see the measured stress in your body reduce. By imagining an unpleasant and stressful situation, you can see the stress in your body increase. This very real effect can be quite alarming when you see it happen the first time!
Imagery in Relaxation
One common use of imagery in relaxation is to imagine a scene, place or event that you remember as safe, peaceful, restful, beautiful and happy. You can bring all your senses into the image with, for example, sounds of running water and birds, the smell of cut grass, the taste of cool white wine, the warmth of the sun, etc. Use the imagined place as a retreat from stress and pressure.
Scenes can involve complex images such as lying on a beach in a deserted cove. You may "see" cliffs, sea and sand around you, "hear" the waves crashing against rocks, "smell" the salt in the air, and "feel" the warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze on your body. Other images might include looking at a mountain view, swimming in a tropical pool, or whatever you want. You will be able to come up with the most effective images for yourself.
Other uses of imagery in relaxation involve creating mental pictures of stress flowing out of your body, or of stress, distractions and everyday concerns being folded away and locked into a padlocked chest.
Imagery in Preparation and Rehearsal
You can also use imagery in rehearsal before a big event, allowing you to run through the event in your mind.
Aside from allowing you to rehearse mentally, imagery also allows you to practice in advance for anything unusual that might occur, so that you are prepared and already practiced in handling it. This is a technique used very commonly by top sports people, who learn good performance habits by repeatedly rehearsing performances in their imagination. When the unusual eventualities they have rehearsed using imagery occur, they have good, pre-prepared, habitual responses to them.
Imagery also allows you to pre-experience achievement of your goals, helping to give you the self-confidence you need to do something well. This is another technique used by successful athletes.
With imagery, you substitute actual experience with scenes from your imagination. Your body reacts to these imagined scenes almost as if they were real, calming you down and letting adrenaline disperse.
To relax with imagery, imagine a warm, comfortable, safe and pleasant place, and enjoy it in your imagination.
Imagery can be shown to work by using biofeedback devices that measure body stress. By imagining pleasant and unpleasant scenes, you can actually see or hear the changing levels of stress in your body diminish.
See it, Believe it, Achieve it.
- Rick Collingwood