9 Visualization Techniques For Stress Reduction

Updated January 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Visualization techniques are used in psychotherapy for a wide range of therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy and memory regression. In recent years, research has established that visualization techniques can also be successful in the treatment of stress management, anxiety, and depression.

For example, one 1995 study tested the anxiety and depression levels of 60 subjects before and after using visualization techniques. All the subjects showed vast improvement in stress reduction, lower anxiety, and decreased depression symptoms after several sessions.

These studies, and more like them, have repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of visualization techniques in reducing stress. But for some, visualization does not come easily. The important thing is to keep an open mind and use your imagination freely, visualizing yourself in different scenarios so that you can better let go of your stress. Incorporate all your senses- sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch- into the visualization.

The following visualization techniques have been used successfully in reducing or eliminating stress. Setting aside time each day to practice these techniques will give you the ability to use them more easily whenever things become stressful.

The Challenges Of Everyday Life Can Create Toxic Stress

1. Creative Visualization Of The Favorable Outcome

Creative visualization is where you visualize a favorable resolution to a stressful situation. To begin, sit comfortably in a peaceful place. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Try to clear your mind and create a blank canvas. 

Now, imagine that the issue causing your stress has been completely resolved. It is not important how it was resolved- the point isn’t to focus on solutions but simply to visualize what things will be like once the situation resolves itself.

Visualize as much detail as possible. What are you wearing? What are you saying? To whom are you speaking? What room are you in, and what is in your environment? Locate things in the visualized environment that are tangible and that you can touch or feel to strengthen the visualization.

Many people find that creative visualization not only reduces stress, but it allows solutions to come to the forefront. When visualizing the problem's resolution, the solution may come to you during your visualization, lowering or eliminating your stress about the situation.

2. Visualization As A Diversion from Stress

When you are feeling very stressed, you can visualize a peaceful scene as a means of temporary escape. Visualize the scene as you wish, whether it’s a beautiful sunrise or sunset, being on a deserted beach, walking through a field of flowers or a wooded trail, or playing with a puppy or kitten. Think about what relaxes you and then visualize yourself there.

Again, it’s helpful to begin the exercise by sitting comfortably in a quiet place. Create a blank canvas in your mind and take several deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Consider what scenario would make you the most relaxed and begin building the imagery in your mind.

Visualize the details of your scenario. What colors are in the sunset? Is the sun or moon shining on the water? What do you hear? What type of puppy are you playing with, and what does it look like? What is its name? What does the fur feel like when you touch it? The more detail you can build into your visualization, the more effective the technique will be in giving you a peaceful moment away from your stress.

3. Visualization With Deep Breathing

Combining visualization with deep breathing is a powerful way to reduce stress and relax the body. When combined with visualization, the mind and body can relax together, creating a peaceful state.

For this visualization technique, it is best to lie down in a comfortable place if you are able. Begin breathing deeply, focusing on your breath. Then, become fully aware of your body, beginning with your toes, and slowly traveling to the crown of your head. Focus on everything that you can sense with your body.

Next, visualize the stress leaving your body in waves with each breath. The more detail you put into the visualization, the better it will work. What color are the waves? What part of your body is emitting the most waves of stress? This can also be a good way to relieve sore muscles or pain, as you can visualize the soreness leaving your body in waves.

4. Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a visualization technique frequently used in psychotherapy as it has been shown to be an effective method of combating cognitive and emotional stress, reducing heart rate, and increasing coherence. It can also be used successfully on your own in the comfort of your home or anywhere that you have an audio connection.

In this technique, a recording guides the individual through the visualization. Most guided imagery visualization exercises start out very small with a blank canvas and work slowly to build and add detail to the imagery.

You can find guided imagery recordings easily online, through websites for download, or through YouTube and other media channels and sites. You can also buy guided imagery CDs or audio recordings for download to your phone or mp3 player. There are also apps with a variety of guided imagery exercises.

5. Happy Memory Visualization

Another visualization technique for combating stress is to recall a happy memory. For some, it can be difficult to separate happy memories from past trauma or painful experiences; therefore, this technique may not be recommended for everyone. In cases like this, it’s always recommended to consult your therapist for advice before practicing visualization techniques for stress reduction. 

Before recalling the happy memory, settle into a comfortable position sitting or lying down where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Close your eyes and create a blank canvas in your mind.

When recalling the memory, try and visualize every detail as you remember it. If you don't remember a specific detail, fill it in with whatever comes to mind. What were you wearing? Who were you with? What was said? What was the environment like? Picture the room or location of the memory and everything about it. Consider what you can see, touch, smell, hear, or taste.

Once the image is complete in your mind, spend a few minutes there to enjoy the memory before ending the visualization. 

6. Visualization With The Senses

For this exercise, you will think of a relaxing, peaceful, familiar place. It might be a beach or a particular nature park you frequent. Sit comfortably and create a visualization of that place. Feel the breeze in your hair or the sun on your face. Hear the birds chirping in the distance. Smell the grass or the ocean. See the way the waves lap at the beach. Taste the ocean spray.

The idea is to create a visualization strong enough that you can find at least one thing within it that satisfies each of your five senses. Exploring all five senses may bring you to a relaxed and grounded state, much better prepared to face stress.

7. Healing Light Visualization

When stress is compounded by pain, such as a headache, the healing light visualization technique can be of great use. In this technique, you’ll begin by clearing your mind and engaging in deep breathing while becoming fully aware of your body.

Once you are fully relaxed, visualize a healing light descending and touching your body where you feel pain. Then visualize the pain leaving your body in the form of waves or different colored light. This is a proven way to relieve stress and can lessen the pain with practice.

8. Visualization For Self-Motivation

Many people find stress to be so overwhelming that it can be debilitating. If this is the case, the self-motivation visualization technique can be very helpful. 

To begin, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and create a clear canvas in your mind. Now visualize yourself acting to complete the task you feel aversion toward. Create the imagery of the room that you are in. What is around you? What colors do you see? See yourself doing the task you need to complete. What are you wearing? What are you saying? What can you hear?

Focus on your feelings and imagine all the stress leaving your body as you complete the task. Visualize the completion of the task and imagine how that feels. Visualize how you will be rewarded for doing the task, either by yourself or someone else.

The Challenges Of Everyday Life Can Create Toxic Stress


These are just some of the visualization techniques that can be used to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. If you have difficulty with visualizations, or if the visualizations are not enough to combat your stress on your own, speaking to a therapist can help. 

Some people experiencing stress avoid therapy because they feel that it’s inconvenient, time-consuming, or even contributes to their stress levels. Online therapy is a common solution for these barriers to treatment.  Connecting with a BetterHelp counselor from the comfort of your own home on your schedule can be the first step towards coping successfully with stress. A review of the literature has established that online counseling creates an impact like that of traditional counseling. Once you are matched with a licensed mental health professional, you’ll have a variety of options to keep in touch including phone, video conference, chat, email, and text. 

Read about how our therapists have helped others tackle stress below:

“Jackie offered practical, helpful ideas for managing stress and reducing anxiety. She is compassionate and a good listener and is down-to-earth with a good sense of humor.”


“I came to BetterHelp because I was feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. What I wanted was someone to give me a few tools to get through it. What I got was a therapist who seemed to know me better than I knew myself. Arlene didn't just get me through the immediate problem with a band-aid and send me on my way. She transformed my life by helping me get at the root of the problem. Fun and delight weren't in my vocabulary for quite a long time before working with Arlene. But very quickly I found myself having fun and delight daily--during COVID nonetheless!”

Other Commonly Asked Questions

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