Anxiety comes in many different forms. It can arrive without notice and overcome you in a crippling way, or it can sneak into the background of your mind and nervous system, slyly impeding on your focus and mindset. It’s important to have some go-to relaxation strategies – like visualization techniques – for managing anxiety when it decides to rear its ugly head.
Meditation is one way to train your brain to be less reactive to anxious thoughts – I talk about this all the time on this site. However, when anxiety is in full swing … basic meditation techniques, like mantra and breath-focused meditation, are more difficult. Your mind needs a more pronounced anchor to latch onto during times of anxiety and stress.
I’ve learned this first-hand while struggling through various anxiety-ridden situations. Even though I have a strong, daily meditation practice, I find it difficult to settle into my normal meditation routine when I’m carrying extra uncertainty, anxiety, or stress. And when my mind can’t focus during meditation, that can create even more stress for me, which can send me rolling down an unhealthy downward spiral. When I catch this and identify when I’m experiencing higher-than-normal stress levels, that’s when I adjust my practice.
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by anxious thoughts or unable to focus because of something weighing heavy on your mind, try a visualization technique to calm your mind. Author and neuroscientist, Stephen Kosslyn, Ph.D., said, “Visualization activates the same neural networks that actual task performance does, which can strengthen the connection between brain and body.” In fact, a 2004 study found that whether people performed physical exercises or just imagined doing them, they could gain strength by simple using the mind’s power.
Try one of these five visualization techniques next time you’re feeling anxious or stressed to take the edge off.
1. Serene Beach Scene Technique
Public speaking nerves, fear of flying, moving day – Does your mind tend to focus on all that can go wrong? This visualization can help calm your nervous system.
Use it: Anytime you feel anxious, uncertain, or afraid
- Visualize yourself lying on a white sandy beach, complete with clear blue skies and gently lapping waves.
- Imagine your body sinking into the chair and feel the warmth of the sand on your feet.
- Let go of any tension, soften your eyes, and continue to breathe with the rhythm of the rolling waves.
2. Blue Light Technique
Whether you’re about to tackle it or are trying to decompress after you’ve completed it, an important and difficult task can cause anxiety. Light visualizations are helpful for relaxation.
Use it: When you need to relax before (or after) tackling a big task
- Visualize yourself surrounded by a glowing orb of blue light.
- Breathe in the light and allow it to fill your whole head.
- As you breathe out, visualize tension leaving your body as black smoke. It dissolves completely in the light around you.
- With each breath, allow your body to gradually fill with the healing blue light until your entire being is clear, like a blue crystal.
3. Ball of Yarn Technique
If you find it difficult to unwind after a long, stressful day, it can be challenging to make the most of your evenings and recharge for tomorrow.
Use it: When you’re unable to unwind after a stressful work day
- Picture a small ball of yarn holding all of that residual tension from the day.
- Find the tip of the yarn and imagine it slowly unrolling. The strand gets longer and longer, and you can actually feel your tension unwinding.
- When the yarn is completely loose, you can relax and enjoy the night.
4. Liquid Quiet Technique
Life can sometimes feel overwhelming. When bombarded with notifications, requests, and information, it’s often difficult to silence the chattering monkey mind. This visualization can help you silence the noise and focus your thoughts.
Use it: When you feel your mind racing
- Visualize ‘quiet’ as a thick, clear liquid, filling your head with peace and quiet.
- See it pouring slowly down your body, filling you with the clear liquid until you feel like a liquid ball.
- Once you’re in this zone, breathe deeply and stay in this position for a few minutes.
5. Double-Paned Window Technique
You’ve had a long day. All you want to do is get some sleep. But as soon as you close your eyes, your mind begins to race. Whether you’re overloaded at work or worried about the future, sometimes when your head hits the pillow, those unwanted thoughts take over.
Use it: When anxious thoughts are keeping you awake
- Picture a bunch of people chatting loudly outside your open window.
- Instead of yelling at them, since you have a double paned window, you just calmly close it.
- Imagine that the chatting is silenced when the window is fully closed, and you can drift off to sleep without background conversations.
Try one of these visualizations to support your meditation practice when you feel anxiety creep in, uninvited.