Using Guided Imagery for Stress Management

Using guided imagery, you can see yourself walking down a less stressful path. Robert Deutschman/Getty Images

Guided imagery is an effective stress management for several reasons.  It can quickly calm your body and relax your mind.  It's pleasant to practice, and not overly difficult to learn.  And it can help you to de-stress in minutes, but can also be a useful strategy for maintaining resilience toward stress during difficult times.  Read more about when guided imagery is used, and how it may be a useful go-to stress reliever for you.

Guided Imagery’s Effects on the Body

Guided imagery has been found to provide significant stress reduction benefits, including physically relaxing the body quickly and efficiently and even helping participants get in touch with deeper levels of wisdom (held on a subconscious level) that would help them better manage their lives in ways that would reduce stress. The studies demonstrating the health benefits of imagery are so numerous that many hospitals are incorporating imagery as an option to help with treatment.

What’s Involved?

With the help of an imagery tape, a professional helper, or just one’s imagination, those who practice guided imagery get into a deeply relaxed state and envision, with great detail relating to all of the senses, a relaxing scene. They may also imagine a wise ‘guide’ with them, answering their questions and asking them questions that they must ponder in order to get to a better place in their lives.

(This ‘guide’ is a representation of their subconscious mind that they aren’t generally able to access.)

What Are the Pros?

Imagery can provide relaxation, insight and wisdom. It is a free stress relieving therapy and, with practice, can be done just about anywhere.  It can help you to relive physical tension and psychological stress at the same time, distracting you from what may be stressing you, and getting you into a more positive frame of mind.

In this way, it can also be useful in disrupting patterns of rumination, and can help you to build resources in your life that increase your resilience toward stress by engaging an upward spiral of positivity.  (Read more about that here.)

What Are the Cons?

Like self-hypnosis, it can take some practice to master autonomous guided imagery. Working with a professional therapist to get to that point can be somewhat costly, but worthwhile.  Alternatively, there are many downloadable recordings you can use to get started, or follow the simple instructions in this article on guided imagery.

How Does It Compare To Other Stress Reduction Methods?

For the benefits it provides, it’s an excellent stress management option. It can be easier than exercise or even yoga for those with physical limitations. It has no risk of side effects like some medical and herbal therapies. Using it for simple relaxation is easy and can be done by just about anyone, but accessing an internal ‘guide’ takes more practice than other methods like progressive muscle relaxation or breathing exercises. It’s similar to self-hypnosis in that you’re getting into a deep state of relaxation and dealing with your subconscious mind.

However, with self-hypnosis, you’re more often implanting ideas into your subconscious mind, whereas imagery focuses more on extracting ideas from it.

Tusek, Cwynar, Cosgrove. The Journal of Cardiovascular Management. March/April 1999.
Tusek, Diane. The Journal of Invasive Cardiology. April 1999 Vol 11. Number 4.