Visualization Exercises for Anxiety
An Effective Stress Management Strategy

Visualization exercises for anxiety are often used to help manage stress through mental imagery. It is a powerful technique, similar to daydreaming, and is accomplished through the use of your own imagination. Just as your imaginative thoughts can contribute to your feelings of anxiety, your thoughts can also contribute to feelings of peace and calm, and can even help to induce relaxation in the body.

Visualization exercises are also one of the most helpful exercises you can do to prepare yourself for participating in a stressful event. Many times our stress and anxiety has us caught up with the anticipation of stressful events and because of our own uncertainty, it is easy to imagine worse case scenarios which only make us feel worse. Anticipatory anxiety, often described as the worst kind of anxiety, because it can affect you for days, weeks, months ahead of a dreaded situation. Anticipatory anxiety adds to negative thinking and even unwanted, distressing body symptoms. Visualization exercises not only help us relax during a stressful moment but can help to prepare us emotionally for the stressful challenges that lie ahead.

Visualizations should always be positive and at best, optimistic at the same time. In other words, it's okay to prepare for the worst but also to expect the best. Visualization exercises should be something you do that keeps things emotionally balanced. For those that do not really understand visualization or the benefit of visualization, here are some facts that you need to know:

  • Visualization produces physical results. This means that when we see something in our minds, it has either a negative or positive effect on the body depending on whether the visualization was negative or positive.

  • The mind cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. It's only job is to believe what we tell it. So, if you are having visualizations that are negative and stressful, your body will feel the effects of those visualizations. For example: perhaps you will feel butterflies in your stomach as you think about an upcoming job interview. Perhaps you are worried and have obsessions about not being able to swallow, this may effect how your throat feels. It really does not matter what our visualizations are, our bodies will always respond in a way that is relative.

  • Two Common Types of Visualization

    There are two common types of visualization exercises for anxiety most often practiced with great results. One is called Guided Imagery and the other is called Positive Forecasting. While both help bring you into a place of mental and physical relaxation, Positive Forecasting is typically done to help us manage our expectations, to help us look forward to good things happening, and to help us move past the "negative forecasting", that "worst case scenario" that people typically do when they are experiencing anticipation. It is an act of imagemy that includes real situations and visualization of a more positive, realistic outcome.

    Preparing Yourself for Visualization Exercises for Anxiety

    There are some things you can do to prepare yourself for these exercises. You'll want to find a quiet place to practice, one without disruptions. Make sure you like your environment and you are comfortable. You don't want to be distracted by an uncomfortable piece of clothing, bad smells, or things that make you feel confined or too hot or cold. You want all your focus to be put on your visualizations. If you are find you are particularly stressed or anxious, consider practicing some relaxation breathing, or even progressive muscle relaxation for a few minutes prior to engaging in visualizations. Sometimes, a nice cleansing breath, or the releasing of tense muscles beforehand will help improve your overall experience. Plan to practice visualizations for stress and anxiety for about 15 minutes. If you cannot spend that much time practicing, it's okay, try for 10.

    Practice Guided Imagery

    To practice Guided Imagery you will choose what you want to visualize. You can use your own creativity, your own favorite scenery - you are the author of your own imagination and can decide for yourself what brings you feelings of peace and calm. Maybe you like to relax at the beach or have a favorite memory of some vacation you once had, or maybe you love to visualize walking barefoot on fresh cut grass on a warm sunny day. Whatever it is, this is your practice opportunity and you can visualize whatever you want, as long as it makes you feel relaxed, positive, and encourged. You can also enhance your experience with the use of Essential oils, textures (such as a soft blanket), or something else if you choose. The more you practice these exercises the easier they will become and the better and more detailed you will get.

  • Close your eyes and visualize yourself entering where you want to be.
  • See yourself in this surrounding. Look around and notice things that bring you joy.
  • Imagine the smells.
  • The colors that surround you.
  • The sounds this atmosphere brings - maybe the sound of waves, or children playing.
  • While you are enjoying this imagery, start to relax your body. Look for tense muscles and release them.
  • Enjoy this time just being in the present moment you have created.
  • When you are done, visualize yourself leaving in a peaceful way, being thankful for all you have.

  • Practice Positive Forecasting

    When you are anticipating a stressful event, positive forecasting is helpful for re-imagining things for a positive outcome. In other words, you'll be visualizing for success instead of devistation and doom (which is typically what comes natural with those suffering from anxiety). Using your own imagination through guided imagery, you'll practice visualizing the steps you'll take ahead of time so you'll be prepared for a more positive experience even if things don't actually go as you'd like. You'll need to be positive, and most definely realistic with this imagery. No fantasy dreaming is used during this type of imaging, as you'll be using this technique for helping you experience less stress and anxiety for a real life, anticipated event. To prepare for this visualization exercise for anxiety, you'll want to ask yourself these questions truthfully:

  • What is the worst thing that can happen?
  • What is the likelihood of that happening?
  • How will I react if it should actually happen?
  • How will I speak to myself should the worst thing happen?

  • For many of us the answer to these questions can be anxiety producing because the answers are often based on our current imagination. We have most likely entertained "What If" scenarios numerous times in our minds and have already come to the conclusion that there is a high risk that something devistating will happen. We automatically overestimate the probability that something bad or misfortunate would happen. But even during positive forecasting or any guided imagery exercise, if at any point your visualization takes a negative turn, then you simply catch yourself and imagine yourself responding in a way that's healthy and realistic.

    A little trick you can do to help alleviate anxiety when entering into a negative event situation is this: When you practice your positive forecasting, you can use a specific smell to associate with this positive relaxation practice, or even hold a specific small item in your hands, and as you practice, you can associate these things with relaxation. So when you visit the real anticipated event, you can bring along those smells, or items you had with you during your relaxation imagery. If practice is done enough, eventually your brain will be triggered by these things you used, as a trigger, so you'll remember your positive visualizations and bring them with you in a real anticapatory event.

  • Close your eyes and visualize yourself entering into your stressful anticipated event.
  • See yourself in this surrounding with confidence and optimism.
  • Visualize the event from the time you walk in, how things will go, the steps you will take, up until you come to a positive ending.
  • Should your visualizations be interupted by your fears, your worst case scenario, then take this time to visualize yourself responding to those visualizations in a positive, realistic way.
  • Visualize your own bravery, your own positive self-talk, to the responses to others that you will make.
  • While you are taking this time for positive forecasting make sure your body is relaxed. Look for those tense muscles and deliberatly release them.
  • At the end of this visualization exercise, take time to enjoy this successful outcome.

  • These positive visualization exercises may not remove all your anticipatory anxiety but it will help reduce the amount of stress you feel, especially if you are going into a situation with a good attitude and a successful vision. What do you think will bring the best results? Will it be someone who imagines failure or someone who imagines success? The truth is that each one will determine what kind of experience you will have in your reality. Visualizations exercises for anxiety take time, and although they may not be easy to do at first. It does take practice and patience when learning this exercise. The more you do it, the better you will become. So hang in there and do not give up.

    Benefits of Visualization Exercises for Anxiety

    The benefits of frequent visualization practice will be felt not only in the mind, but also the body. Visualization is linked to many potential health benefits. It is associated with:

  • Improved Sleep
  • Pain Relief In Your Body
  • Relief of Anxious and Depressive Symptoms
  • Increases Your Ability to Cope with Life's Stressors
  • Improved Relaxation.
  • Increased Acceptance and Empathy for Yourself and Others

  • Helpful Things to Improve your Visualization Experience

  • Heating pads on tense muscles. Moist heat is helpful for getting stubborn muscles to relax during visualizations. You can also practice visualization in a hot bath.
  • Magnesium supplements are great for relaxing muscles. If you don't want to take an oral supplement, they have magnesium oil for muscles, as well as soaks (such as epsom salts).
  • Guided Imagery can also be done with a qualified therapist.

  • Additional Resources on Visualization

    Return from Visualization Exercises for Anxiety to Effective Stress Management Strategies
    Sound-Mind.Org Homepage

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