Basic Psychology, Psychopathology

Using the Relaxation Response to Relieve Stress – Visualization

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen.

You can practice visualization on your own or with a therapist (or an app or audio download of a therapist) guiding you through the imagery. You can also choose to do your visualization in silence or use listening aids, such as soothing music or a sound machine or recording that matches your chosen setting—the sound of ocean waves if you’ve chosen a beach, for example.

Practicing visualization

Close your eyes and imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Just “looking” at it like you would a photograph is not enough. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible.

For example, if you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake:

  • See the sun setting over the water
  • Hear the birds singing
  • Smell the pine trees
  • Feel the cool water on your bare feet
  • Taste the fresh, clean air

Enjoy the feeling of your worries drifting away as you slowly explore your restful place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are during a visualization session. This is normal. You may also experience feelings of heaviness in your limbs, muscle twitches, or yawning. Again, these are normal responses.

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