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Stress Management > 5. Relaxing imagery


When you go to the movie theatre or watch a video at home, you may find that you are completely focused on the plot and action and become oblivious to your surroundings or even your own body. Your emotions may be influenced by what you see and hear so that you may experience fear, sadness, love, excitement, peace. You may experience the fight or flight response right there in the movie theatre, and you haven't been threatened by anything but a story on a movie screen, fantasy. The point here is that we can trigger our distress response or our relaxation response by what we perceive and think, even if it is only in our own imagination. People who are worrisome and anxiety prone do this all the time. They cross bridges before they get to them, experience the fear before the feared event is even likely. They focus on and thus experience the event as if it is happening now. Relaxing imagery is the opposite process. We can consciously focus on and experience relaxing scenes in our mind and bring about the relaxation response. Here are instructions for using this technique.

1. Before starting to practice you must first chose a relaxing scene. Think of the most relaxing place you've ever been. If you have trouble thinking of such as place, you can choose to invent or imagine a place that you think would be relaxing. The Eastern Mountains Relaxation video is designed to provide you with scenes that you can use for relaxing imagery. Some people find the beach relaxing; others like mountain tops, sitting beside a mountain stream, or in a cabin in the woods beside a warm fire. Others find lying on their couch in their living room watching TV or reading a good book relaxing. When you have chosen your scene, take a piece of paper and pencil and write a script of the scene using all your senses: sights, sounds, touch, smells, taste, temperature. Describe this scene in first person. A beach scene might go something like this:
I'm lying on the beach with a towel beneath me. The sand has adjusted to fit the contours of my body so that I am supported comfortably. The sand is warm. I am leaning against a sand dune so that I can look out over the ocean. It is a beautiful day. I see the waves break rhythmically on the shore. The sky is blue except for some small, white, puffy clouds. The sea gulls are flying lazily over the ocean. I hear the waves break on the shore. I hear the gulls calling each other and the distant sounds of children playing on the beach. I feel the warmth of the sun on my body, and the temperature is just right. The wind brushes across my body keeping me from getting too warm. I can smell the salt of the ocean in the air. Every once in a while I reach down and quench my thirst with my favorite, cool drink. This is the most peaceful, relaxing place in the world for me. There is nothing I need to do. I can sit here and enjoy the beach for as long as I like.

2. Read over your scene a number of times and get it into your memory so that you can imagine all the parts of it without the script. Or you may want to record your script on audio tape and play it back while you sit or lie passively. Some people do not like to hear the sound of their own voice on audio tape. They do not find it relaxing. You may want to have someone else record your script for you. When recording the script, allow brief pauses between sentences to allow you to soak in the meaning of the image described. About 8 seconds is all you need. Longer periods may allow distracting thoughts to return to your mind. Record it at a slow, peaceful rate of speed.

3. When you are learning to use this technique, find a quiet, comfortable spot to practice it. Practice at least two times per day. As you practice you will become relaxed. Chose a word which you will use to recall this scene. Beach or sand or ocean could be used for the above scene. Repeat this word several times to yourself at the end of your practice when you are relaxed.

4. As you become more confident in the ability of the relaxing imagery to produce the desired results, you can begin using it during the course of your day. Take a relaxing imagery break at work. Sit back in your chair and imagine your scene for a few minutes. Do this when you feel especially distressed. Give yourself reminders by writing a word on your calendar, in your organizer, in your computer, on your bathroom mirror, on a note in your pocket, or on the refrigerator door which you choose to recall the scene.

Author: David W. Kidder, Ph.D.

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