Picturing Peace: 10 Steps for Using Guided Imagery to Help With Stress Reduction by Elisa Schmitz
Have you ever been in a stressful situation and started picturing yourself elsewhere, such as your favorite calm beach, walking on a snowy path or enjoying the quiet woods or mountains? Then you already may be using imagery to help with stress reduction.
Guided imagery may provide many health benefits, including relaxing the mind and body. As you meditate, the idea is to envision a mental picture or scene that is relaxing to you, then let the escape provide peace. This may help relieve tension, distract you from what's stressing you and get positive thoughts flowing.
Here’s the image I’m focusing on today; a lone swan on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy. While it feels like forever since I took this picture, it was only two weeks ago. I’m taking myself back there as I hold onto this image today.
You can do guided imagery using a variety of recordings, apps and websites. These techniques are also used in meditation classes and even some yoga classes. But you can do it on your own. Here's how I take myself through the process of guided imagery:
- Get comfortable in a cozy chair, on a couch or even while lying in bed.
- Close your eyes and take five to 10 deep breaths to help you relax. I like to inhale through my nose and out through my mouth. I make my exhale twice as long as my inhale. For example, inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of eight.
- Envision a peaceful place where you have been, such as a quiet woods or a calm beach (or anywhere that you find relaxing). The video above is from a peaceful walk I took on a snowy day, and I use it a lot when I meditate. If you can't think of a place you have been to, then create one in your mind. Where do you dream of going that is relaxing? Create a mental picture of it.
- Fill in the details using all of your senses. What do the grass or mountains look like? What do the sand or snow feel like under your feet? Is it warm or cool outside? Do you smell the salty ocean or the evergreen trees? Do you hear birds chirping or waves rolling in?
- Add a path that goes through your picture, and see yourself walking on that path. Walk down the sandy beach or steps to the water, for example. Walk through the calm forest or valley until you reach the creek. As you walk down your path, feel more and more at peace.
- After you have arrived at the end of your path, enjoy what is there. Take in the water, the mountains, the forest. Keep that picture in mind as you meditate and breathe deeply into the calm. Stay with the image for a few moments if possible.
- You can associate this image or place with a word if you like. That way, you can bring up the image just by thinking of the word. For example, "peaceful" could be used to describe your place. Then when you think of that word in the future, hopefully your image will come to mind and take you back there.
- When you are ready, you can start walking back on your path, leaving your peaceful place behind for now. When you are back, take a moment to remember the way your body and mind feel. Soak in the calm and the peace.
- Count to five, then slowly open your eyes. Take a moment and re-orient yourself to the world around you. Notice the lack of stress in your body and mind. Hold onto that feeling.
- Slowly get up and start your day, or get back to your day. If you are doing this at bedtime, then lucky you. Time for bed and hopefully you will sleep very well!
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