How to use visualization to combat anxiety

Updated: Mar 23

Do you ever have vivid dreams, so clear that you feel separate from your dream and it’s like your watching a movie? When you dream can you dictate what’s coming next? This is similar to visualization. If this happens to you, your one step ahead to using visualization as a tool to manage your anxiety and bring things into your life. If you rarely dream, like my partner, don’t worry. I’m going to walk you though this visualization process step by step. Visualization 101 There is no right or wrong way to use visualization. The premise is that if you can envision it in your mind you can obtain it, whether that be obtaining something mentally or physically. It is a super easy concept but as usual humans have a way of complicating things. So let’s break this down. One of the key factors in harnessing visualization to combat anxiety is to remain focused on your desired outcome. There is no room for your sneaky negative thoughts, but if they come that’s okay. We will learn to create such a flow that when these pesky negative thoughts flow into your mind they will flow just as easily right back out. Reasons to use visualizations

  • Foster positive beliefs to make something more attainable

  • Build confidence

  • Prepare for an event (maybe a new job)

  • Create a calming state in your mind

  • Obtain a new perspective

Let’s try this Close your eyes or keep them open. Find your comfort. Take a few deep long breaths in and out. Just sit quietly by yourself for a moment. Now think about what brings you joy. Don’t force a thought just let your thoughts come freely into your mind. Let the thoughts flow, accept what comes next and then accept the next thought and so on. When something that really brings you joy flows in your mind focus on it. Imagine tasting it, touching it, smelling it, being near it. Say to yourself either aloud or in your head “I have it”. Maybe your mind takes you to Jamaica where you are laying on the beach. What do you smell, what do you hear and feel? Maybe you got that promotion. See people congratulating you, taste the yummy cake your family and friends brought for you to celebrate, expand your thought to the things you can do because of the promotion. Play out this futuristic idea in your mind. Now if your anything like me, something will try to interrupt this beautiful thought you have created. Here is the trick, don’t try to stop it. Yes, you heard right. Accept the thought for what it is, just a thought, let it have its time in the spotlight and it will naturally disappear. If you reject it or tell it to pop out of your head you are only giving it more fuel to stick around in your mind. This takes practice because we start to find ourselves having a conversation with the negative thought we don’t want to have. What happens when you talk to something, it talks back. If you just let the thought have its way without trying to force it out, I promise it will soon just disappear. Now this may continue to happen and you will need to continue with the flow of thoughts. Give yourself a break. It’s okay. Everyone has negative thoughts. Trust me when I say I’ve had some really negative disturbing thoughts that I wish didn’t come from me. Visualization some would say is a form of meditation and requires practice. Here is the best thing about visualization; it only takes a few minutes everyday. You can do it when your laying in bed right before your feet hit the floor every morning. I am a walking testament to the works of visualization. I am a strong believer that you can achieve literally anything with the power of your thoughts. How do I use visualization to obtain something I had a routine when I was going for job interviews. I had a song I would blast loud “Nothing is impossible” by Jah Cure. I would close my eyes and envision working with people, getting a paycheck, setting up my desk, driving to and from work. I would smile as though I just met someone awesome at work who would become my friend. Even when I was unqualified, I got the job; and the 2 jobs I didn’t get I had not used visualization. This brings me to the next key factor to visualization. Visualization really thrives on your desire. If you desire a given outcome and you use visualization it just brings it that much closer to reality. I really wanted those jobs and the two I didn’t get I really didn’t want it. I unconsciously put up a wall that stopped my chances of getting those jobs. How I use visualization to combat feeling overwhelmed and worried When I’m feeling overwhelmed and worried and I can’t seem to shake a negative thought from my head I use visualization. For example, when the thought of my moms diagnosis with cancer becomes emotionally overwhelming and I cant stop worrying about her future and our families future I will use visualization. I take time to release all emotion before I jump into my visualization technique. I cry, I yell, sometimes I just shake my body as if to shake off the feelings. I sit, breathe and think of my desired outcome. My focus is to keep things simple, just a few words is all that is required to be effective. My desired outcome is mental peace. I imagine my mom and my kids reading a book, swimming and engaged in other fun activities. I smell the air as I watch them, I hear their laughter. I visualize dinner parties and celebrations. I smile as though I’m there in reality touching her. Then, as quickly as I think about not having her in this life I allow the thought to happen and give it no other energy. I refocus back to previous fun adventures or imagine a new experience we have yet to share. When I do this I’m reminded by all the good times and I find myself drifting away from worry. I find myself in a state of thankfulness. It’s in true thankfulness that worry does not exist. While in a state of true thankfulness I am experiencing mental peace.

Quick Tip Summary

  • Quiet your mind

  • Breathe deeply

  • Let your thoughts flow naturally, don’t try to stop them

  • When you have a thought you enjoy, use all your senses to experience it in a moment of reflection

  • Don’t be judgmental towards yourself

  • Dedicate time to this practice

  • Find a place of thankfulness

Share in the comments below how you use visualization and what tips have helped you achieve a positive outcome. Further research on this topic: “Students trained to use visualization reported a higher proportion of positive to negative thoughts and lower speech anxiety during an informative speech than those who were not trained. “Joe Ayres (1988) Coping with speech anxiety: The power of positive thinking, Communication Education, 37:4, 289-296, DOI: 10.1080/03634528809378730 This article was written by: Tyfanny Ross, MSW