Visualization goes hand in hand with several relaxation techniques. Visualization, or the mental creation of relaxing visual images and scenes, can be used with other techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, stretching, and meditation.
Visual imagery works by using relaxing images to trigger a relaxation response. Visualization actually offsets the effects of stress-arousing scenarios by creating relaxing scenes. When we are stressed we not only tend to imagine the worst possible things that can happen, we also tend to actually see them. Our minds create scary mental images that reinforce our troubling thoughts and painful emotions. Visualization cancels out the scary images by replacing them with relaxing, warming images.
Think for a moment about a scary scene from a horror movie. Think about all the ways your mind might describe your reaction: “It made my flesh crawl,” “It was hair-raising,” “It made me shiver,” “I got a lump in my throat.” All these statements reflect the physiological processes set into motion by the stress response. In fact the visual images you have about the threatening stressful event can be as arousing as the actual events.
Although viewing a horror film can set these physiological processes in motion, just recalling the scene in your mind days later can have the same effect. Conversely, if you visualize a relaxing scene, your body can achieve a relaxed state. There are many different types of stress-reducing visual images ranging from lounging on a deserted beach to floating on a raft in the middle of your pool.
As you imagine the relaxing, warming scene, your mind can actually trigger changes in your body. For instance, if you imagine laying on a deserted tropical beach, your mind will begin to envision the image of the sun’s warming rays. If you let it, your mind can actually help you feel them radiating over you, making you warm and relaxed.
I say, “if you let it” because many people won’t allow this to happen. Instead of letting their mind take them to that beach, they say to themselves things like; “How ridiculous, I am lying on this yoga mat in my bedroom, I’m not at the beach,” or “How stupid, I am listening to a recording.” I’ve helped thousands of students and clients overcome this kind of thinking and allow their minds to relax them, but not everyone will accept this. Some people just will not open their minds to this technique.
Creating Personal Imagery Scripts
Because relaxing visual images and scenes are so personal and subjective, what works for one person may be ineffective for another. I am a beach guy. All I have to do is close my eyes and imagine being on a beach and my mind will take me there. I know many people however who would say, “Yuck, how can you stand the beach? It is hot, sandy, itchy, and windy. “ My beach images will create (rather than reduce) stress for them.
Here is a simple framework for developing your own visualization script:
- Decide on a unifying idea of script.
- Choose warming, relaxing images to be used throughout the script.
- Decide on the sequence of presenting the images.
Elaborate on Script
- Write actual script dialogue.
- Incorporate your personally relaxing meaningful words and images.
- Finalize the sequencing.
- Reinforce your personal ability to relax.
- Incorporate pauses and silences.
- Write the ending segment.
I used this framework to develop the visualization script that I use with my clients. It is part of my relaxation collection available on my website: www.drrichblonna.com/audio/relaxation-mastery-audio-collection/
Here is how I did it:
Unifying Idea – the relaxing nature of a Caribbean beach.
My unifying idea for the images in my visualization script was the relaxing nature of a deserted beach on the Bahama Island, Eleuthera. I remember spending one of the most relaxing days of my life on a deserted beach on Eleuthera with my wife Heidi.
Specific Images – some specific images that stick in my mind about the day have to do with the sky, the color of the water, and the warmth of the breeze.
The sky was a deep blue the color of a robin’s egg. Huge white clouds drifted across the sky the entire day. The ocean was a deep aquamarine greenish blue with pure white waves cresting over deep green coral reefs. There was a steady, warm, gentle breeze all day. The sound of the waves created a hypnotic beat. The sand was warm, soft, and powdery to touch. Palm trees and flowering bougainvillea plants created a roof of natural shade.
Sequence of Images – I closed my eyes and followed the path to the beach from our little cottage on the other side of the island.
- Walking down the steep path, over and through coral cliffs to the edge of the beach.
- Walking down the beach through the warm sand to find the perfect spot.
- Spreading the blanket under a canopy of vegetation.
- Stretching out on the blanket.
- Listening to the waves.
- Gazing out at the water.
- Watching the clouds.
- Drifting off to sleep.
- Waking and stretching.
- Walking back to the cottage.
Elaborate on the Script
During the elaboration stage, I crafted the actual relaxing dialogue, incorporating specific details and reinforcing words. My relaxing words were clouds, warmth, aquamarine water, and gentle breeze.
Write the Actual Dialogue
Here are examples of the actual dialogue from the visualization:
- “It is a beautiful day, sunny, 88 degrees, clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, and wispy clouds that drift by effortlessly.”
- “Hand in hand, my wife and I walk down the rugged path to the beach, admiring the moonlike appearance of the coral cliffs that rim the beach.”
- “As we walk on the beach, the warm, fine white sand is soft and gentle on my feet.”
- “We spread our blanket under the shade of palm trees and flowering bougainvillea.”
- “I lie back on the blanket and watch the white crests of the waves break over the deep green coral reefs and slide over the aquamarine water of the shoreline.”
- “I lie back, close my eyes, and breathe in the fragrant scents as a warm, gentle trade wind caresses my body.”
- “I am feeling very relaxed as my body sinks deeper and deeper into the soft sand.”
- “I am feeling more and more relaxed as the gentle trade winds carry fragrant air over my body.”
- “I am feeling very relaxed as the gently crashing waves slowly lull me to sleep.”
- “We walk hand-in-hand back to our cottage retracing or steps in the warm, soft sand.”
To reinforce my ability to relax, I added pauses to the script.
“It is a beautiful day, sunny, 88 degrees, clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, and wispy clouds that drift by effortlessly.”
Pause for five seconds…
I continued the script adding pauses and then recorded it to see how long it lasted. I kept rewriting the script to stretch the pauses so the entire script lasted at least 20 minutes. I also added background music and sounds to make it more authentic.
If you like the beach and don’t want to write your own script, pick up a copy of mine on my website: www.drrichblonna.com/audio/relaxation-mastery-audio-collection/
In my next article I will discuss the last of the four classic relaxation strategies, autogenic training (aka self-hypnosis).
Until then always remember to “Stress Less and Live More.”
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.