Once you have achieved a relaxed state through the deep breathing exercise, guided visualization (also referred to as guided imagery) can further deepen your level of calm. This technique and therapeutic tool brings the use of your imagination to the forefront. Over many decades of studies, the efficacy of this technique has been research-based and confirmed to be effective in improving well-being and health and further reducing the stress you combat.
Cofounders for the Academy of Guided Imagery, David Bresler and Martin Rossman, have defined guided imagery as a “range of techniques from simple visualization and direct imagery-based suggestion through metaphor and storytelling.” They observe that guided imagery has existed for centuries. Historically, Native Americans as well as the Judeo-Christian religion and Chinese medicine have used this guided imagery technique in bringing healing and peace to those in need.
Guided visualization is often introduced to a client by a therapist to increase relaxation and reduce stress. Think of a real or imagined location where you would feel safe and enjoy the beauty around you. The setting may be the beach, a forest, a park—any place you find pleasant and restful. With eyes closed, picture this ideal environment. To avoid inducing sleep, it is preferable to be in a sitting position with both feet on the floor, grounded. However, if it is time for a nap or a good night’s sleep, feel free to lie down and prompt a restful rejuvenation.
Following is an illustration of a guided imagery exercise taking place at a beach. This will give you an idea of the process.
As you begin walking on the beach, you feel the balmy breeze gently caressing your face and blowing through your hair.
You feel the tension inside you begin to let go and leave your body.
Do some deep breathing as you walk along the shore, further improving the relaxation of your body.
Aqua, crystal clear water is before you, astonishingly brilliant.
You approach the water and the incoming tide covers your toes. You feel a pleasant, warm sensation.
As the water recedes, you dip your fingers in the water and see a beautiful shell. You pick it up, feeling the worn, smooth texture in your hand. You wonder where it has been as you examine the detail in its construction.
Looking up, you see puffy white clouds floating aimlessly above you in a baby blue sky.
The sun is warm and comforting on your face and the rest of your body.
Smell the salty fresh air.
Feel the sand between your toes—toasty and soft.
Hear the seagulls soaring overhead with their ‘cheep, cheep’ cry as the rhythmic sound of the waves surging and receding, surging and receding quiets your mind.
Palm tree fronds are swaying in the breeze, making a lovely sound as they move against each other.
You see an abandoned beach chair beckoning you. You decide to take advantage of the beach lounge chair’s call to lie down and enjoy the sounds, the smells, and the sights before you.
You are in a state of deep relaxation. Enjoy the peaceful rest.
When you are ready, slowly count backward from five and open your eyes.
You are now refreshed and ready to move forward in your day. Alert and energized, you are ready to rise to the occasion.
You may want to record this or another guided imagery illustration and play it when desired. Or if you prefer, ask someone with a pleasing voice to record it for you.
This method of relaxation is well-used as a mini-intervention to break the increase of anxiety or fear coming from whatever unpleasant situation you may find yourself. Soothing and comforting, it will serve you kindly.