Visualisation and stress

Not all stress is bad. But, if left unmanaged and unchecked, stress can become quite unhealthy for us. We all know many causes of stress, but we don’t always slow down enough to think about the specifics that are causing stress in our own lives.

Money, health, family, friends, work, safety and security – are all prevalent triggers, and the sheer volume makes it difficult to intentionally focus on what’s causing us stress. One of the coping mechanisms that we can use is visualisation, a powerful technique that can help relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The technique involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed mind. Similar to daydreaming, visualisation is accomplished through the use of your imagination. It is common practice for athletes to use imagery while they prepare for an event, practice a movement, or train while injured.

Swimmers mentally rehearse a perfect dolphin kick, and endurance runners imagine pulling extra miles from the depths of their mental and physical resources (Meijen, 2019; McCormick, Meijen, & Marcora, 2015). The mind offers a safe and flexible environment for practising a stressful task. Mentally rehearsing a daunting performance prepares the individual by asserting control over a (sometimes harmful) inner voice (Strycharczyk & Clough, 2015).

Focusing on positive mental images can favourably impact our mind and body and increase self-belief in our ability to cope with change. One study from 1995 took a group of sixty subjects and tested their levels of anxiety and depression before and after using visualisation techniques. After several sessions, all subjects showed vast improvement in stress reduction, lower anxiety, and decreased depression symptoms.

Visualisation can provide temporary relief from pain, tension, or problems. It requires creating images in your mind that are so captivating, so rich in detail, and so all-consuming that you get lost in the images your mind creates.

A recent article on highlighted several types of visualisation that could help you explore this stress management technique a little further.

  1. Creative visualisation of a favourable outcome
  2. Visualisation as a diversion from stress
  3. Visualisation with deep breathing
  4. Guided imagery
  5. Happy memory visualisation
  6. Visualisation with the senses
  7. Visualisation for self-motivation

If you’re a fan of apps for your mobile, here are some great ideas too:

  1. Balance
  2. Breathe+
  3. Calm
  4. Headspace
  5. Waking Up

Coaches, therapists, psychologists and even early-childhood practitioners use visualisation to help calm overwhelming emotions and create a safe and happy healing space. This makes it a helpful tool to be used as a form of mindfulness and to manage stress.

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