9 Visualization Techniques For Stress Reduction
By: Nicole Beasley
Updated February 09, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW
Visualization techniques have been used in psychotherapy for a wide range of therapies, including cognitive behavior therapy and memory regression. In recent years, research has been done proving that visualization techniques can also be used very successfully for stress management and the treatment of anxiety and depression.
One study from 1995 took a group of sixty subjects and tested their levels of anxiety and depression before and after visualization techniques. All of the subjects showed vast improvement in stress reduction, lower anxiety and decreased depression symptoms after several sessions.
Another study in 2015 researched the effects of visualization as part of psychotherapy to reduce stress in homeless teens. The homeless have unique stress factors that can make it even more difficult for them to pull out of their situation and better their lives. Being able to reduce their stress is helpful to their overall well-being. The study found that stress levels were greatly reduced in all subjects, and it affected them positively on many fronts.
These studies, and more like them, have proven again and again the effectiveness of visualization techniques to reduce stress. Undue stress can lead to many related issues, including anxiety and depression. Stress over time can also lead to weight gain and stagnation in one's life.
You can greatly benefit from using visualization to reduce your stress levels. For some, visualization does not come easily. It may take quite a bit of practice before you can do it effectively. The important thing is to allow yourself to let go and use your imagination freely to put yourself in the different scenarios so that you can better let go of your stress. Incorporate all of your senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, into the visualization.
The following ten visualization techniques have been used successfully in lowering or eliminating stress. You can use these techniques during a time that you set aside each day. Once you have had a lot of practice, you will be able to use these techniques throughout your day whenever things become stressful.
Creative Visualization Of The Favorable Outcome
Creative visualization is where you create the outcome that you desire. You use this visualization technique when you are in the midst of a stressful situation. You can visualize a favorable outcome, a time when the situation has resolved itself.
Sit comfortably in a peaceful place. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Clear your mind and create a blank canvas. Now, imagine yourself on the other side of the stressful situation. Imagine that it has been completely resolved. It is not important how it was resolved. The point here is not to focus on solutions. It is simply to visualize what life will be like once the situation resolves itself.
Visualize every detail about the situation being resolved. What are you wearing? What are you saying? Who are you saying it to? What room are you in, what is in your environment? Locate things in the visualized environment that are tangible that you can touch or feel. This will strengthen the visualization.
Many people have found that creative visualization not only reduces stress, but it allows solutions to come to the forefront. When you are visualizing what it will be like to have the problem resolved, the solution may come to you in the midst of your visualization. This will lower or eliminate your stress about the situation.
Visualization As A Diversion from Stress
When you are feeling very stressed, you can visualize a peaceful scene as a means of temporary escape. The scene can be literally anything you desire. You could visualize watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset, being on a deserted beach, or playing with a puppy or kitten. Think about what makes you relaxed and visualize that you are in that time and place doing that thing.
Again, you want to be sitting comfortably for this exercise, and in a quiet place. Create a blank canvas of your mind and take some deep breaths. Decide what it is that would make you the most relaxed and begin building the imagery in your mind.
Visualize every detail of your relaxing 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? The more detail you can build into your visualization the more effective the technique will be in giving you a peaceful moment from your stress.
This is a good visualization technique that can be used at any time that you were to feel stressed or anxious. It does take some practice, but over time you will get used to going to that place in your mind. You can take a few minutes and visualize your scenario anytime you are in a stressful situation to bring yourself some peace and put you on track to be productive once more.
Visualization With Deep Breathing
When you combine visualization with deep breathing, you are using two of the most powerful stress relievers together to pack one amazing punch. Deep breathing exercises are proven to reduce stress and relax the body. When combined with visualization, the mind and body both can relax together, giving you a moment of peace.
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. Start with your toes and work your way up. 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 physical stress such as sore muscles or pain, as you can visualize the soreness leaving your body in waves.
Guided imagery is a visualization technique frequently used in psychotherapy for some purposes. It can, however, be used successfully on your own in the comfort of your home or anywhere that you can have audio.
In this visualization technique, you will be listening to someone on a recording telling you what to visualize. They will walk you through what you should be seeing, feeling, touching, smelling, and hearing. Most guided imagery visualization exercises start out very small with a blank canvas and work slowly to 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.
The key to guided imagery is to clear your mind before you begin and follow the instructions to the best of your ability. Be in a comfortable position either sitting or lying down, and in a quiet, peaceful place. With today's technology, it is easy to do guided imagery exercises nearly anywhere at any time.
Many people find guided imagery to be preferable to other visualization techniques because they don't have to have as much of an imagination. It is much easier to visualize something when you are being told what to visualize. This is a good method for beginners as well, to help you get in the practice of visualizing things on your own.
Happy Memory Visualization
A happy memory is a great way to relieve stress, but sometimes just thinking of happy memory is not enough. One of the best visualization techniques for combatting stress is to visualize a happy memory. When you do this, be in a comfortable position in a quiet place. Close your eyes and create a blank canvas in your mind.
You want to visualize every detail of the memory. 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 perhaps taste.
The more detail you give the visualization of your happy memory the more relaxed you will become. Once the image is complete in your mind, spend a few minutes there just enjoying the memory. When you are ready, come back to reality and face what has stressed you out with a fresh mind.
Visualization With The Senses
One of the best methods of visualization for stress reduction is to visualize something and use your five senses to explore the visualization. This not only relaxes you, but it also grounds you and can be used to help combat anxiety as well as stress.
For this exercise, you will think of your happy place. What one place makes you feel the most peaceful? It might be a beach or a particular nature park you frequent. Sit comfortably and create the 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 so strong a visualization that you can find at least one thing to satisfy each of the five senses. When you have explored all five senses, you will be in a very relaxed and grounded state. You will then be much better prepared to face the reality of your stressful situation.
Healing Light Visualization
When you are feeling particularly stressed, and it is compounded by pain such as a headache, the healing light visualization technique can be of great use. This is very similar to the deep breathing technique. You will start in much the same way, clearing your mind and doing deep breathing while becoming fully aware of your body.
Instead of just visualizing the stress leaving your body in waves, you will visualize a healing light coming down and touching your body where you are feeling the pain. In the case of a headache caused by stress, you could imagine the stress leaving your body in waves while the healing light focuses on your head. This is a proven way to relieve stress and can lessen the pain with practice.
Visualization For Self-Motivation
Stress can be debilitating. It can make you stagnant and feel so overwhelmed that you do nothing. When this happens, the self-motivation visualization technique can be very helpful. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and create a clear canvas in your mind.
Now visualize yourself taking action. 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 how you are feeling as well. Imagine all the stress leaving your body as you complete the task so that it is no longer hanging over you. Visualize the completion of the task, and how that feels. Visualize how you will be rewarded for doing the task, either by yourself or someone else.
Visualization In Psychotherapy
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, you might want to seek the help of a therapist.
A therapist can help you learn how to visualize through guided imagery, and help you recognize what is blocking you from using this technique and overcome those blocks. They can also give you additional methods for coping with stress and anxiety.