- Mental Stress Management
Techniques from Mind Tools
Imagery is a potent method of stress reduction,
especially when combined with physical relaxation
methods such as deep
You will be aware of how particular environments
can be very relaxing, while others can be
intensely stressful. The idea behind the
use of imagery in stress reduction is that
you use your imagination to recreate and
enjoy a situation that is very relaxing.
The more intensely you imagine the situation,
the more relaxing the experience will be.
This sounds unlikely. In fact, the effectiveness
of imagery can be shown very effectively
if you have access to the biofeedback
equipment we discussed in the introduction
to this section. By imagining a pleasant
scene (which reduces stress) you can actually
see or hear the stress in your body reduce.
By imagining an unpleasant and stressful
situation, you can see the stress in your
body increase. This very real effect can
be quite alarming when you see it happen
the first time!
Using the Tool:
Imagery in Relaxation
One common use of relaxation imagery is
to imagine a scene, place or event that
you remember as safe, peaceful, restful,
beautiful and happy. You can bring all your
senses into the image with, for example,
sounds of running water and birds, the smell
of cut grass, the taste of cool white wine,
the warmth of the sun, and so on. Use the
imagined place as a retreat from stress
Scenes can involve complex images such as
lying on a beach in a deserted cove. You
may “see” cliffs, sea and sand
around you, “hear” the waves
crashing against rocks, “smell”
the salt in the air, and “feel”
the warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze
on your body. Other images might include
looking at a mountain view, swimming in
a tropical pool, or whatever you want. (You
can listen to an example of this in action
with Meditainment's "Secret Garden"
guided imagery meditation, which you can
listen to by clicking here.)
Other uses of imagery in relaxation involve
creating mental pictures of stress flowing
out of your body, or of stress, distractions
and everyday concerns being folded away
and locked into a padlocked chest.
Imagery in Preparation
You can also use imagery in rehearsal before
a big event, allowing you to prepare for
the event in your mind.
Aside from allowing you to rehearse mentally,
imagery also allows you to practice in advance
for anything unusual that might occur, so
that you are prepared and already practiced
in handling it. This is a technique used
very commonly by top sports people, who
learn good performance habits by repeatedly
rehearsing performances in their imagination.
When the unusual eventualities they have
rehearsed using imagery occur, they have
good, pre-prepared, habitual responses to
Imagery also allows you to pre-experience
achievement of your goals, helping to give
you self-confidence. This is another technique
used by successful athletes.
With imagery, you substitute actual experience
with scenes from your imagination. Your
body reacts to these imagined scenes almost
as if they were real.
To relax with imagery, imagine a warm, comfortable,
safe and pleasant place, and enjoy it in
Imagery can be shown to work by using biofeedback
devices that measure body stress. By imagining
pleasant and unpleasant scenes, you can
actually see or hear the changing levels
of stress in your body change.