Guided imagery is using mental pictures to help reduce anxiety and increase calm thoughts and feelings. While the term "guided" suggests you must have a partner, giving instructions and helping you through the process, this technique can be used as a partner exercise or by yourself. The goal of guided imagery is to get rid of the negative thoughts and images and replace them with a more calming, relaxing image. To be most successful, images are not just pictures in your mind, but "experiences" where you transport yourself to a calming, relaxing and safe place that you feel with all of your senses.
Our minds don't necessarily know the difference between "real" and "imagined" and we can therefore physically and emotionally react to an image in our mind. This often works to our disadvantage, for example, in a report, "Mental imagery in anxiety disorders" a study showed that participants with social phobia who imagined a "negative self-image" while holding a conversation with someone they didn't know felt anxious and "believed they looked more anxious." On the other hand, those that imagined themselves not being anxious rated themselves as calmer and pictured themselves as not looking as anxious. ["Mental imagery in anxiety disorders," 2007, Psychiatry, pp161-165]
Benefits of Guided Imagery
Guided imagery has overall health benefits. Taking just 10 minutes to focus on a calming experience can help to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and glucose levels and improve your immune system. It has overall benefits on your health, creativity and performance. It accelerates weight loss, reduces anxiety and improves cancer patient's ability to manage adverse effects of chemotherapy. ["Guided Imagery," 2000, HealthJourneys]
There are a number of types of treatments for anxiety that must be done in conjunction with a doctor or therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and talk therapy all require a medical professional. But guided imagery can be used with a therapist or by yourself. According to Belleruth Naparstek on HealthJourneys, "One of the most appealing and forgiving features about imagery is that almost anyone can use it...imagery skips across the barriers of education, class, race, gender and age - a truly equal opportunity intervention."
Practicing Guided Imagery
So how do you use guided imagery to help you reduce your symptoms of anxiety? Certainly, if you currently work with a therapist, you can begin working together, coming up with scripts and processes for you to use during times of high stress.
There are also a number of websites that offer guided imagery scripts to help in various situations. Googling "guided imagery scripts" will give you many different choices. Go through the various sites to find the scripts that best fit your situation. There are also companies that offer CDs that will lead you through the guided imagery process. HealthJourneys.com is one such company.