Using Imagery for Stress Relief

Close your eyes for a moment, breathe deeply and try to think of the most relaxing place you can imagine. It may be a mountainside covered in wildflowers, a deserted ocean beach or a thickly wooded forest with bits of sunshine glowing through the tree branches. Whatever scene comes to mind, try using all of your senses to completely engross yourself in the vision. Hear the seagulls calling and the waves crashing against the rocks. Smell the rich, pine scent from the forest. Taste the salty ocean breeze. Feel the sun as it warms your skin. All other thoughts are cleared from your mind as you remove yourself from your stress and place yourself in this picture of relaxation.

You have just experienced visual imagery.

Imagery works because it’s the natural language that the brain uses to communicate with the body. Thoughts in the brain are translated into nerve impulses, causing either pleasant or unpleasant effects. If you’ve experienced an unusually stressful day, your body experiences the negative reactions that we’ve discussed earlier, i.e. shortness of breath, tense muscles, etc. By using imagery, you can counter-effect some of these reactions, simply by providing calming input to the brain.

To demonstrate this effect, try this simple imagery exercise. Imagine that you’re holding a lemon. Focus all of your senses on the lemon. See the bright yellow color, feel the bumpy texture of the peel. Now imaging taking a knife and cutting into the lemon. Hear the sound of the knife cutting into the fruit. Notice the strong scent of the juice as it spurts out of the lemon. Now, imagine biting into it. Taste the sour lemon juice. If you have clearly imagined the scene, you may notice that your mouth is watering. You have caused a physical reaction just by focusing on an image.

There are numerous variations of imagery exercises for stress relief, although the “peaceful place” image above, is one of the most popular. Here are a few other examples:

�Imagine that you are a feather, floating in the air. As you float downward, you become more and more calm until you finally land on the ground, completely relaxed.

�After a stressful day, go for a walk and imagine that your stress has become liquefied. With each step, imagine the stress running off of you, leaving puddles of stress behind until it has completely drained away.

âÂ?¢Imagine that a high cliff exists in your “peaceful place.” See yourself taking all of your built-up stress, in the form of a large rock or whatever image you choose, and tossing it over the edge.

�Imagine your stress as unbearable heat and then picture a summer rain blowing in. Feel the raindrops cool you and the stress washing away as the rain pours down over you.

Try to do imagery exercises for 10-15 minutes, two or three times a day. With practice, you’ll soon come up with your own calming images and the goal of relaxation will become easier and easier to attain.

For more information on visual imagery, visit Mind Tools at

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