Several techniques, all using imagination, can help us feel less anxious.
When I was a child, alone in my room at night, I had a lot of anxieties. To decrease these anxieties, I learned to fantasize about having an extraterrestrial friend with me.
I was the only one who knew about the existence of my extraterrestrial friend; I was the only one who could see and understand him, and he was the only one who could see and understand me. Because he was in my imagination, nobody could take him away from me. With him, I learned to fall asleep with a smile, and he helped me tremendously throughout my childhood as an only child.
As I grew older and became an adult, I kept my childhood tools and continued to use my imagination to fall asleep at night. My extraterrestrial scenario changed into imagining having found my soulmate and then later into having found the perfect job.
Using our imagination is a fantastic way to decrease anxiety, whether we are children or adults.
Reddan and colleagues from the University of Colorado Boulder’s department of psychology and neuroscience published a study comparing the effect of deliberate imagination and reality on the brain and found that deliberate imagination was equally effective on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decreasing anxiety.
Dr. Charlotte Reznick, a child and adolescent psychologist, agrees with Reddan and describes in her book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination, several techniques to reduce children’s anxiety, all of which use imagination.
Here are several techniques to lower anxiety (some of them being quite beautiful) based on imagination:
1. Start with the “balloon breath,” and then imagine a beautiful place.
Start with what Dr. Reznick calls “balloon breath,” an easy way to center yourself and access your imagination:
Imagine a balloon inside your abdomen a couple of inches below your belly button. Breathe in slowly to a count of three, and the balloon expands. Then breathe out slowly, and the balloon deflates.
Within three to 10 breaths, you will likely find yourself calm and centered, and ready to connect with the wisdom of your imagination.
When you are relaxed, imagine a beautiful place that you would love to be in, whether you have been there in the past or not. Visualize it. Is it by the ocean, on a remote island, on top of a mountain, in a forest, or somewhere else?
What sounds can you hear there? Animal sounds, water sounds, wind sounds, somebody’s voice, or something else? What can you smell? Ocean smell, floral scent, or something else?
You will be surprised by how fast your anxiety decreases.
2. Visualize a protective animal, person, or wizard.
Imagine you are protected by a fantastical animal or an imaginary person or wizard. What kind of animal, person, or wizard is it? Visualize that. Maybe you want more than one protector.
How many do you imagine, and what do they look like? Are they big or small? What color are they? What gift(s) do they offer you to help with your challenges?
3. Imagine a color.
Think of a color that you would like and that de-stresses you. What color would it be? Imagine being surrounded by that color all around you. Breathe in and out deeply while bathing in that color.
4. Consider body movement
Imagine a dance or movement that relaxes you. What would it be? Explore those different movements and experience which one works best to decrease your anxiety.
5. Tap into music.
Imagine a song or a tempo that you love and that can protect you. What song or tempo would it be? Use your voice or a musical instrument that you have access to in order to explore the different tempos. Which one works best to decrease your anxiety?
6. Try drawing or painting.
Draw or paint the place you would love to be in, the animals or wizards you would like to protect you, the colors you like. If you don’t know how to draw, just use colors to symbolize those.
7. Envision your fantasy scenario.
If anything were possible, what would you wish to happen? What is your fantasy scenario? Visualize the details of your fantasy scenario as if it were happening right now, and take the time to savor those details.
Visualizing the impossible will make it possible in your brain and will relieve your anxieties. And who knows? After imagining the impossible, the impossible might really become possible.
Use those deliberate imagination techniques often for a healthy, happier life.