Therapies & Solutions

How to Stop Anxiety With Visualization

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How to Stop Anxiety With Visualization

If you suffer from anxiety and you need a way to find relief, you need two things. First, you need a long term plan that will help you prevent anxiety from coming back. Second, you need something that can cure your anxiety in the moment, because the more anxiety you suffer from now the more you hurt your current quality of life.

For the latter, there are several relaxation strategies you can attempt, and one of the most popular is known as visualization.

What is Visualization?

Many people have heard of visualization. Those that haven't tried it often find it a bit silly at first. Visualization is the act of imagining yourself in a peaceful and safe environment - a place that makes you relaxed and happy. By transferring yourself there mentally, you're able to calm your mind and body and sufficiently distract yourself with something that relaxes you.

What you may not know, however, is that there are three keys to making this work - three keys that most people forget. These include:

  • Practice Visualization is not relaxing right away, because it's not natural. When you first start out, you're trying to think of what you're supposed to do and how you're supposed to feel, and those thoughts generally prevent visualization from working. For visualization to take effect, you need to do it every day for a long enough time that it becomes second nature. Only if you give it that level of dedication will it be successful.
  • All Senses When you visualize, you need to imagine more than just the way a place looks. You also need to imagine your other senses being filled as well. For example, what does the place smell like? What does the place sound like? The more you can fill all of your senses, the more effective your visualization technique will be.
  • Actions Those that have practiced visualization know that you will experience stressful thoughts on occasion. In visualization, you'll need a way to transform those stressful thoughts into something that you can get rid of, and then genuinely imagine it being taken away. More on that later.

Those are the three most forgotten aspects of visualization, and why the relaxation strategy has been treated somewhat poorly by the mainstream media. It's not as simple as imagining yourself somewhere else and instantly feeling better. There are several components towards making it work successfully, and it's extremely important to commit to it every day for a significant amount of time before you'll start to notice results.

How to Perform Visualization

Step 1: Choosing Your Safe Place

The first thing you need to do is start your visualization relaxation strategy is to decide where your most relaxing place is. It should be a place that has no association with stress - someplace clean, visually attractive, and relaxing to the senses.

For many people, this is a beach that they've encountered in the past. But it could be anywhere - your favorite park, your cleanest room, a spot you noticed on a vacation. It doesn't have to be a real place either. You can make a place up based on what you think would provide you with the greatest degree of relaxation. For example, perhaps you find the idea of a safe jungle relaxing, so you imagine yourself there.

Consider this step for a long time, because it's important to stick with this place once you find it. Changing to a new location each time makes it harder to find it relaxing. Remember to think about how these places may affect your other senses. What sounds, smells, etc., will you experience if you're there. These will be important later.

Step 2: Find a Real Relaxing Place

Now that you've figured out where your relaxing place is, find a comfortable location to perform the technique. It should be as quiet as possible, and you should be sitting somewhere comfortable to make sure you're not experiencing any aches and pains during the technique. A comfortable chair would be great, and if appropriate, you may even want to loosen your clothes a bit or undo your belt if you find that you're dressed in something too constricting. You need to be in a physically relaxing place for this to work.

Eventually, the fact that you're in a relaxing place will actually increase the success of the visualization technique. You'll start to associate the technique with the relaxing location, which will ultimately have a greater effect on its viability.

Step 3: Start Your Immersion

Close your eyes and start imagining yourself there. Where are you? What's around you? What do you see? Why is it so relaxing? What do you hear? What do you smell? What gentle things can you touch?

At first, thinking about all of these things is going to make it harder to relax, which is why this isn't something that will work instantly. But there are so many things to consider. Try to immerse yourself in the location. Think of every detail.

Step 4: Relax Your Body

Make a bit of a conscious effort to feel a bit more relaxed. Don't expect to be anxiety free, of course. But if your muscles are tensed up, see if you can relax them. If you're having stressful thoughts, imagine what it would feel like if those thoughts went away.

Even if you don't feel relaxed, try to imagine what it feels like to be relaxed. Think about how your muscles feel, and how your heart will feel, and how your mind will feel. These are all important, because eventually instead of thinking about how you're supposed to feel, you'll start to learn to actually feel that way.

Step 5: Taking Away the Stresses

Now, the reality with visualization is that you're not necessarily going to forget your stresses altogether. Sometimes they'll nag you in the back of your mind. Sometimes they'll actually enter your "relaxing space."

Here, your strategy is to do something that is going to be a little ridiculous at first, but will make sense the more you practice. You're going to give yourself a bit of a magic power - the ability to mentally transform your stress into some type of object.

You can choose the object, but let's use the beach as an example, and your magic power is to turn the thing making you stressed into a rock. When you feel yourself thinking about what's making you stressed, you have the power to turn that stress into a rock. Once you do, you can imagine a dove flying down to your location and picking the rock up in its beak and flying it out into the sunset, further and further away until it's gone.

As it's "flying" try to imagine what it would be like if that was actually possible. The further the rock goes, the more relaxed you would feel. Imagine what that would feel like - how your body would react. The further it goes in the distance the more relaxed you are.

Maybe your stress comes back, but in this case, maybe it's a bit smaller. The smaller it is, the easier time the dove has carrying it, and the faster it goes away.

You can imagine anything, provided it continues to contribute to that feeling of relaxation. You can imagine yourself throwing the object into the distance, or imagine the river washing ashore, picking it up and letting it float away. You can also imagine something other than a rock - anything you imagine should be innocuous, and somehow it needs to be taken away from your imagination.

Again, this isn't going to work at first. At first, it may actually be funny - or contribute to stress because you keep expecting it to do more than it does. That's okay. The key is to remember that it does work much more effectively the longer you keep at it, and eventually you'll stop imagining what it will be like if something could take your stress away - you'll simply imagine it getting picked up, and feel yourself less stressed as you do it.

Step 6: Practice

Finally, keep at it indefinitely. It's important to promise to yourself that you'll continue to do this for at least one or two months minimum, because the activity has to be second nature for it to work. If you're still constantly thinking about what you're supposed to do and what it's supposed to feel like, it won't work, so only by doing it daily for a long period of time will you get used to what you're supposed to do, and see the benefits of the result.

Benefits of Visualization on Anxiety

Visualization is not an anxiety cure. What it is, is a relaxation strategy that makes it much easier for you to cope with your anxiety symptoms during periods of high stress. In a way, it's simply a method of giving you a "break" from your stress so that it doesn't control your life. You'll still have some anxiety, but the more you engage in visualization, the less that anxiety will get worse and the easier a time you'll have enjoying your day to day activities.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question


Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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