Guided imagery for anxiety is the use of visualization techniques to help your body enter a relaxed state. In other words, you close your eyes and imagine the sights and sounds of a place that you find relaxing. The most common visualizations often involve a tropical beach, warm sun and soothing sounds of the ocean -- in fact, this is the visualization that I find most relaxing. If you find, however, that some other imagined scene is more appropriate for you, such as sitting in front of a roaring fire on a blustery night, by all means make use of that setting. The type of scene is not important, what matters is that you imagine every sight, sound and smell and transport yourself to that place.
For those who suffer with medical conditions, please consult with your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise.
In the following example of guided imagery, we will use the popular beach setting:
How to practice guided imagery
- Find a quiet place free from distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair. Loosen any tight clothing and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair.
- Take a few slow even breaths. If you have not already, spend a few minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
- When you are feeling relaxed, gently close your eyes. Picture yourself lying on a beautiful secluded beach. Picture soft white sand around you and crystal-clear waters with gentle waves that lap at the shore. Picture a cloudless sky above and palm trees swaying in the breeze behind you.
- Breathe in and smell the scent of the ocean and tropical flowers. Notice the sound of the waves gently rolling on to shore and birds in the trees behind you. Feel the warm sand underneath you and the warm sun on your skin. Notice the taste of a refreshing tropical drink as you bring it to your mouth.
- Stay in this scene for as long as you like. Notice how relaxed and calm you feel. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation as it spreads throughout your entire body, from your head to your toes. Notice how far away you feel from anxiety and stress.
- When you are ready, slowly count backward from 10. Open your eyes, feeling relaxed but alert.
In addition to following these instructions, you may consider using a voice recording, such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University with directions on practicing guided imagery. Use of an audio recording will allow you to fully relax and concentrate on the technique.
McMaster University. Guided Relaxation CD. Accessed June 18, 2008.
Rossman ML. Guided Imagery for Self-Healing. Tiburon, CA: HJ Kramer; 2001.