In previous posts, I’ve discussed many ways to manage stress, worries, and anxiety.
Today, I want you to learn to manage anxiety with visualization.
Visualization is similar to mental rehearsal, but visualization is based on imagery or metaphor as opposed to mental rehearsal of an actual event. Visualization is especially useful for intrusive thoughts–these are the thoughts and images that pop into your head and cause you distress.
Example of an intrusive thought–after a breakup, you have thoughts of your ex with someone else–an upsetting thought that does not need to rent space in your head. Here’s a simple exercise–like many things psychological, the premise is elegantly simple but the execution takes practice and discipline!
So try this mental imagery for intrusive thoughts:
You’re standing by a stream, watching the water flow by. On the surface of the water are many leaves, floating down the stream. No one leaf has any particular significance–they all just float by. The leaves represent the many random thoughts that flow through your mind in a day. Now visualize that your intrusive thought, or worry, is one of these leaves–watch it float past and disappear. There’s no need to focus on that one leaf–just let it float on by, out of your sight and out of your awareness.
Or, you may prefer the “chalkboard technique” (or “whiteboard,” either way!)–simply imagine that you’ve written the intrusive thought on a chalkboard, and visualize yourself erasing it.
This visualization tool is not to be used for worries and stressors that need to be problem-solved and dealt with, of course.
For those concerns, you may want to seek support in working through the challenges or use the focused problem-solving technique in Stop Worrying. But visualization is great for helping you mentally shift away from distressing, intrusive thoughts.
If you’re not currently struggling with any intrusive thoughts, good for you! You may want to practice visualization today with a negative or frustrating thought that pops into your head, just to get the hang of it. Then tuck this technique away in your tool kit for future reference.
If you need a refresher on managing anxiety and using relaxation techniques:
Get Moving, Part 3 (I hope by now you understand that exercise is one of the best things you can do to decrease anxiety!)