Mental stress is a real killer, and perhaps its most distressing character is the fact that it tends to loop and repeat around in your head, putting you in a cycle that is hard to break out of. We often think about the things that stress us out, and we end up replaying negative mental images again and again and again. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t tend to break us into a more positive place.
Thankfully, we can break these negative thought patterns by simply visualizing something positive. Research has shown that when you visualize and deeply imagine an event, your nervous system responds in the same manner as if it was actually experiencing that event right now. So, when you think about your boss chewing you out, your nervous system responds as if that was occurring in this moment. However, if you visualize something positive and relaxing, your nervous system will also respond as if you really are lying on the beach somewhere while the waves lap rhythmically at the shore. So, if you want to relax, the choice is clear- visualize something positive.
Here are a few experiences you might want to visualize that will help you on the road to relaxation.
When most people visualize something happy and relaxing, they visualize themselves on the beach, on some small private resort island. Because it’s your visualization, you can make it anything and everything you want. So don’t imagine being at a resort when it’s raining, imagine being there were it is warm and sunny, with just enough cool breeze to feel refreshing.
Imagine lying down on the cool sand, running it through your toes, maybe burying your feet in the softness. You can hear the ocean waves gently coming in and out (this is even more effective if you have a cd of ocean sounds you can play while visualizing), and there are birds over head. The beach isn’t too crowded, just a couple other people relaxing, or no one at all if that’s what you prefer. All you have to do is just lie there, and relax.
Or maybe you prefer man-made bodies of water and want to imagine lounging by an infinity pool in Thailand. Maybe you’re lying in a large inflatable raft, sipping something delicious. Or maybe you’re sitting by the pool, lounging out in a deck chair with a good book, or nothing at all. There are attendants around, unobtrusive, there if you need them, happy to fulfill your every desire.
Of course, some people are snow bunnies and would rather imagine themselves up in a lodge in the mountains, sitting down, refreshed and relaxed, after a great ski run. There is a warm fire crackling and hot chocolate or tea or coffee in front of you.
Whatever it is you really want to experience, just sit back and imagine it. Get props if you need to. Audio tapes can be very helpful if you listen to them with your eyes closed. Whatever you imagine, just make it as real as possible. Don’t worry about anything and don’t feel self conscious- just sink deep into the image.