How to Use Visualization to Reduce Stress: Techniques to Relieve Symptoms of Mental & Physical Illness

With today’s hectic pace of life, most people have been affected by stress related health problems at some point or another. While there are many benefits associated with mainstream forms of treatment, such as psychotherapy (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy, interpersonal therapy, cognitive analytic therapy) and medication, a whole range of different self-help techniques may also help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Alternative treatments for stress, anxiety and depression management may include the following: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, body scanning as well as visualization.

What is Visualization?

Visualization techniques simply require the use of one’s imagination and ideally a quiet place to be alone. The belief that the mind is capable of imagining oneself into a state of relaxation and that positive thinking can help reduce physical and mental symptoms was introduced by a French pharmacist, Emil Coute.

Coute found that when his patients, many of whom were suffering from tuberculosis and hemorrhages, would focus on their illness the symptoms would often appear to worsen. As a result, Coute used to recommend that his patients repeat each day the phrase, “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

In addition to getting his patients to recite positive affirmations, Coute also encouraged them to practice muscle relaxation whilst introducing the idea into their minds that they would be more relaxed the following day, as a means of using the unconscious. Many years later, both Jung and Gestalt introduced techniques to reduce anxiety and stress through the use of one’s imagination.

Types of Visualization For Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Visualization includes things common to everyone such as daydreaming, remembering past memories and inner talk. Forms of visualisation techniques used to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, include receptive visualization, programmed visualisation and guided visualization.

In order to achieve effective visualization all that is required is to lie down in a quiet space with eyes closed and scan through the body looking for any tension and relaxing any tensed muscles. Next, use as many senses as possible to imagine a peaceful scene such as walking through a forest, listening to birds, feeling a cool breeze on one’s face, smelling the pine and feeling the ground beneath.

Positive affirmations which are statements in the present such as ‘I am totally relaxed’ or ‘I am calm and peaceful’ will also help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

Key Benefits of Visualization Techniques

The main benefit of using one’s imagination to do visualization techniques is that it helps the body and mind to relax thus being an effective means of reducing symptoms of stress related health conditions. There is also much evidence that indicates if one regularly practices visualization techniques one will also have an increased feeling of emotional and physical well-being.

Another benefit of this approach is that unlike many other forms of alternative treatments, it is free and all that is required is a quiet space and an open mind.