When we feel driven, rattled, stressed, irritated, anxious, or blue, we need to lower the flames.”
Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson
There are many things in life that create stress. People, finances, our own emotions, relationships, and a whole raft of other things are common sources of stress. These can feel like small bonfires or raging forest fires. Often, we feel out of control when trying to deal with these problems. But whatever the intensity or the duration of these stressors, we can have a level of control. Even as the irritations and annoyances go on around us, we can gain inner peace through various practices.
Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain, gives several suggestions for finding peace in the storm. These include relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and several others. The technique this blog will focus on is imagery.
Imagery activates the part of the brain that helps cool the fires of pressure and worry in everyday life. This calming part of the brain is the parasympathetic nervous system. When we face a difficult situation, the fight-or-flight response is engaged. However, we can relax this response by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.
Imagery is a good stress relieving technique. It helps to relax the body and helps us contact the inner wisdom stored in our subconscious mind. This is not only stress relieving but can also help us gain insight to solve current problems.
Imagery can be as simple as daydreaming about our happy place. A happy place can be many things. It may be an actual place we have visited - somewhere we were happy, relaxed, and calm. Think back to a great vacation. It could also be a place we would go to as a child. The important thing is that it brings up a happy memory and activates relaxation in our body.
A happy place could also be imaginary. Maybe being on a beach or sitting on a mountain feels relaxing. This imaginary place could be a picture that represents peace and calm. These are often scenes in nature - a path in the forest, a calming lake, or an expansive mountain range.
We can also use imagery by recalling a joyful moment in life. This can be something you did by yourself or with a trusted friend or family member. Healthy relationships can have a healing impact on our life. You can remember a time when you did something fun and exciting with this person. Or maybe it was the way they cared for you when you needed help.
We find guided imagery meditations online. These can be helpful for relaxation. And using guided imagery with a therapist or coach is another way to get the positive benefits.
How to use imagery to reduce stress?
Practicing this activity does not need to take a large amount of time. Even if you only have a minute, you can do this. Using imagery for a minute, is not a lot of time, but it can still have benefits.
Anytime during the day, you can pause, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Think about the image you want to focus on. It can be a real or imagined place or a special time in your life. As you breathe deeply, bring this image to mind. Feel the joy, peace and calm it brings flow down through your whole body.
To make the experience more real, bring in different senses. Adding these details can deepen the experience and therefore the relaxation you feel. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
What do you hear in this imagery?
Are there unique smells?
What do you feel?
Do you feel sunshine on your skin?
Is there the gentle touch of the person you’re with?
Continue to breathe deeply and focus on the image. Stay with it for as long as you can. The longer you can give to this experience, the more relaxation you will gain. But do not let lack of time stop you from trying this technique. Also, the benefits compound by doing this practice regularly.
Imagery, whether we are doing it ourselves, with a recording, or with a therapist, can benefit our wellbeing and improve our emotional and physical health. Stress is not just an inconvenience or annoyance in our life; it can cause great harm. When we don’t learn to relax, stress can lead to illness and serious health problems.
Imagery is just one way to cool the fires of stress and help us get out of the fight-or-flight response. It can be an easy and creative way to gain peace and calm in our hectic lives. There is no special equipment. Everything you need is already in your mind and you can activate it anytime.