How Do You Practice Guided Imagery for Anxiety?

Guided imagery can be used to escape and relax.
Getty / Moment / Kenji Lau

Guided imagery for social anxiety involves the use of visualization techniques to help your body enter a relaxed state. In other words, you close your eyes and imagine the sights and sounds of a place that you find relaxing.

Types of Guided Imagery Visualizations

The most common visualization involves a tropical beach, warm sun, and soothing sounds of the ocean. If you find, however, that some other imagined scene is more appropriate for you, such as sitting in front of a roaring fire on a blustery night, by all means, make use of that setting. The type of scene is not important, what matters is that you imagine every sight, sound, and smell and transport yourself to that place.

How Guided Imagery Can Help Social Anxiety

Guided imagery can help with your anxiety by allowing you to manage negative emotions. In addition to the examples given above, it can also be used to visualize positive outcomes in various social and performance situations. Rather than imaging the worst, guided imagery gives you a chance to experience the best possible outcome before entering a situation.

Below are examples of how imagery could be used.

  • A musician who has performance anxiety could use imagery to imagine overcoming anxiety to perform at a certain level.
  • An athlete living with performance anxiety could visualize a competition and feelings of relaxation rather than anxiety.
  • An actor with performance anxiety could visualize running through a scene full of confidence and without anxiety.
  • A student with performance anxiety could visualize giving a presentation without anxiety.
  • A socially anxious person could imagine going to a party and having a good experience.

Example of a Guided Imagery Visualization

In the following example of guided imagery for anxiety, the popular beach setting is used. If you choose to use a different setting, simply replace the details listed below with those relevant to the scenario you are using.

Important: If you live with a medical condition, please consult with your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise.

1. Find a Quiet Place Free From Distractions

Lie on the floor or recline in a chair. Loosen any tight clothing and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair. Choose a time and place where you know you are not likely to be interrupted.

2. Take a Few Slow Even Breaths

If you have not already, spend a few minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe deeply down into your diaphragm, similar to how you would do in a yoga class. This type of breathing will help you to relax even further.

3. When You Are Feeling Relaxed, Gently Close Your Eyes

Picture yourself lying on a beautiful secluded beach. Picture soft white sand around you and crystal-clear waters with gentle waves that lap at the shore. Picture a cloudless sky above and palm trees swaying in the breeze behind you. Continue to keep your eyes closed and picture this beautiful tropical scene.

4. Breathe in and Smell the Scent of the Ocean and Tropical Flowers

Notice the sound of the waves gently rolling onto shore and birds in the trees behind you. Feel the warm sand underneath you and the warm sun on your skin. Notice the taste of a refreshing tropical drink as you bring it to your mouth. Don't just picture the scene—touch it, taste it, and smell it as much as your imagination will allow.

5. Stay in This Scene for as Long as You Like

Notice how relaxed and calm you feel. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation as it spreads throughout your entire body, from your head to your toes. Notice how far away you feel from anxiety and stress. Continue in this stage of the guided imagery process for as long as you like. You should gradually notice how calm and relaxed you feel.

6. When You Are Ready, Slowly Count Backward From 10

Open your eyes, feeling relaxed but alert. You have returned to your surroundings, but a calm state will have replaced any anxiety or worry that you originally felt. Now, work on translating this calmness into the rest of your day.

Guided Imagery Recordings

You might find it hard to practice guided imagery just using a written script like the one above. In addition to following these written instructions, you may consider using a voice recording, such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University with directions on practicing guided imagery. Use of an audio recording will allow you to fully relax and concentrate on the technique. You could also record yourself reading a guided imagery script that you've created yourself.

A Word From Verywell

Guided imagery is one form of relaxation training that you might find helpful for social anxiety. However, if your anxiety is severe and you have not received professional treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication, it is important to contact your doctor or a mental health professional for diagnosis and a plan for getting better. While self-help methods can be used for mild to moderate anxiety, more severe anxiety often requires traditional treatment strategies.

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