Visualization Techniques To Calm Anxiety
Different anxiety reduction techniques work for different people. One you may find helpful, especially if you have a few minutes on your own, is to use calming visualizations. They're more to relax or reduce your nerves in the moment, rather than solve them at their root, but there are many cases where that's still useful.
Visualization works because the emotional part of your mind responds to imagined scenes as if they were real. Of course, it doesn't react as strongly as experiencing the same thing in the outside world, but enough to make the exercises useful. It's easy to get a quick sense of this by imagining yourself biting into a delicious dessert. If you do it with enough detail you'll find yourself salivating as if you were about to actually eat something.
Since they require some time and space to do, visualizations are most useful for generally relaxing and unwinding, or to calm yourself before going to an event you're nervous about. Though sometimes you can use them in the middle of a scary situation. Like if you're afraid of flying you could close your eyes before takeoff and conjure up a calming scene.
At first, practice visualizing on your own in a quiet, private place when you've got some free time. It won't do much good to attempt them for the first when you're in a blind panic. As you get more experience, you can try doing them in day to day life, or while you're nervous, e.g., on the bus ride to meet some new friends for dinner.
There are lots of guided visualization meditations online. You could stick to a few you like, or keep trying new ones and not run out for years. Listening to pre-made ones can also help you get a sense of how to create a scene for yourself. You may find it helpful to know to come up with your own scenarios.
Here are some anxiety-reducing visualization exercises, in no particular order:
Imagine a calm, peaceful, relaxing, safe space
For example, a tranquil, sunlit meadow, a luxurious room full of pillows, or a beach on a beautiful deserted island. The first time you do this take a few minutes to create your ideal relaxing setting. Then every time after you can put yourself back there.
- Fill in some details from all five of your senses. If you're on a beach, what does the view of the ocean look like if you stare straight ahead? What does the shore look like if you turn to your left or right? How do the waves sound? How does the sun and sand feel on your skin? Is there a gentle wind? What do you smell? Salt water? Sunscreen? Are there any tastes?
- Don't constrain yourself by trying to make the scene realistic. Make it as idyllic or cozy as you want. For example, a placid lake surrounded by a fields of flowers as far as the eye can see.
- Feel free to break the laws of reality in other ways, so the setting feels as inviting as possible. Maybe your private tropical island has an invisible force field around it, so you know no one else can come in and bother you.
- Another option is to put yourself back in a particularly calm, peaceful memory, like reading in a hammock on a summer day when you were eleven, or a vacation you took after college. Again, you can adjust some details if you want. It doesn't have to be a perfectly accurate documentary.
- Once you've got your calming space established, close your eyes and imagine yourself relaxing and unwinding there. Paint in all the sensory details. Feel the warm sun on your face. Listen to the birds in the trees gently chirping. Tune into the sensation of your muscles relaxing because it's all so calming.
Visualize a comforting animal or presence
- The animal could be a current pet who's just not around at the moment, a past pet, or one you're only imagining.
- It could be something more-exotic like a wolf or bear cub.
- It could even be a fantasy creature, like a guardian spirit or a griffon, if that makes you feel more comforted. Again, this is all in your imagination so there's no need to be realistic.
- Imagine it laying contendly in your lap, or snuggling up beside you. It's cuddly and affectionate. It loves you unconditionally. It instinctively knows you're a bit anxious and wants to comfort you.
- Fill in the sensory details. What does it look like? What does its fur, weight, and body heat feel like? Is it nuzzling you with its head, or kneading you with its paws? Is it purring or breathing softly? Does it have a mild, familiar smell?
Visualize a supportive person
- Imagine they're silently sitting or standing beside you. They're not saying anything, but their body language is communicating support, understanding, acceptance, and compassion. They're rooting for you. They want you to feel better. They totally get what you're going through and don't judge you one bit.
- However, they're not unnecessarily coddling you or holding you back. If you're facing an uncomfortable, but manageable, situation, they want you to go for it. They're in your corner cheering you on.
- Aside from being at your side, you might picture them giving you a hug, holding your hand, resting a hand on your shoulder, and so on.
- This figure could be someone from your own life, like a parent, partner, relative, friend, or coach. It's your imagination so you can tweak them a bit to bring them up to 100% supportive and compassionate, if the real-life version would only be at 85%. Once more, this is about making yourself feel better, not sticking exactly to reality.
- If you don't want to use someone real, you can cook up your own supportive figure. They could be a mentor character from a movie, a generic mentor of your own design, a guardian angel, a spiritual being of pure compassion, a deceased relative who was always there for you, whatever you find works.
Visualize your stress and tension physically flowing out of you
There are many ways to do this one. A few examples:
- Your stress and anxiety is a vapor that you're expelling from your body with each exhale. With every breath out you feel yourself becoming more and more relaxed.
- Your stress is a thick, ethereal liquid that's oozing out of your tense muscles. You can picture and feel it flowing out of you and into your chair or bed, your body relaxing as it does so.
- You have the power to isolate and reduce your stress into a little ball of matter or energy. You pull your anxiety from every inch of your body and place it into an orb you're holding in your hands. Once all your stress is gathered in one place, you toss it away.
- Your body is made of soft wax. You imagine yourself slowly melting on your bed, becoming more and more loose and calm.
Imagine serenity and relaxation as having a physical form
- Imagine a state of utter relaxation as a gas or liquid that you can immerse yourself in. For example, visualize slowly lowering yourself into a big bathtub of concentrated tranquility, then leisurely soaking in it.
- Picture yourself enveloped in a warm, healing light. Maybe it's a beam of light from the sky. Maybe it's a sphere of glowing orange energy. Maybe it's a solid, noise cancelling force field that blocks out all your worries and concerns. Either way, once you're inside it, you feel its healing, calming powers.
Picture your anxiety as a separate entity that needs your comfort
- Imagine your anxiety as an uneasy, crying child, or a cowering, scared dog or cat. It's unsure and just wants to feel safe.
- Picture yourself nurturing and comforting this avatar of your anxiety. Feel your compassion toward it. Give it a hug. Pick it up and snuggle it. Plant a reassuring hand on its shoulder. Tell it it's all going to be okay.
That's just a sampling of more-common techniques. Really, any kind of visualization that speaks to you on an emotional level could work. Try combining aspects of the various exercises above. See what new things you can come up with, and which ones work for you better than others. Maybe you'll find it's useful to imagine your anxiety as a house with all the lights on, and you feel calmer and calmer as you go from room to room turning them off. Maybe you'll imagine your worries as bubbles you can pop. Maybe nothing will relax you more than imagining yourself as a loaf of bread slowly baking in a warm, cozy oven. There are endless options.