Day 9: Reducing Your Anxiety Using One Simple Visualization

Day 9 of 30 days to better mental health

Posted Jan 10, 2015

This series supports the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference I’m hosting from February 23 – 27, 2015. Please get your free ticket to the conference now by visiting https://www.entheos.com/The-Future-of-Mental-Health/Eric-Maisel. And plan to attend!

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Each day in this series of 30 days to better mental health I want to propose one simple idea and one simple strategy in support of that idea. If you’d like to view other posts in this series, please visit here:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/eric-r-maisel-phd

You might like to ask a friend to join you for these 30 days. The two of you can chat about the ideas I’m presenting and support each other in your efforts to try out some new strategies. You might even want to get a whole group involved!

Today we look at the following.

A human being is a seething system that is nevertheless obliged to regulate itself. It may not feel anxiety or distress constantly or seethe every moment: but put it in danger, make it jealous, overload it at work, put recurrent thoughts in its head about past mistakes or past traumatic events, and it will seethe and grow anxious.

At such times the system gets agitated—and to calm and soothe itself, it reaches for alcohol, food, some other chemical fix, sex, a thrill, a fight, a mindless television show, a hundred games of solitaire, or whatever it has learned works to reduce its agitation.  

Better is to mindfully manage the agitation. On day one of this 30-day series we looked at one practice that can help manage this seething: flipping the calmness switch and simply deciding to be a calmer person. Today we look at another.

Today we look at settling your seething system through visualization. What you do is the following. You acknowledge that you have started to seethe. You announce to yourself that you are agitated. You say, “OK, this is happening—and I know what to do.” What you then do is create a mental picture of “settling” that helps to settle you. You learn to reduce your anxiety by using the simple technique of visualization.

Any of the following visualizations might work as your calming mental picture. Choose one of the following to practice or create your own and practice it.

+ Picture a snow globe being shaken; picture all the agitation created by that shaking; and then patiently watch the snow settle back down. As the snow settles, feel yourself settling down.

+ Picture a full blender being turned out. Hear the loud whirring and watch all that agitated grinding. Then mentally shut it off. Feel how—abruptly and instantly—that whirring comes to a halt. Picture yourself “abruptly” calm, just like that!

+ Picture a pot partially filled with water. Turn up the heat to high. Soon bubbles form, then the water begins to boil, and then the water boils wildly. Turn off the heat. Feel how rapidly the boiling stops. The water is still too hot to touch—but soon it won’t be. Soon it will be cool. So will you.

+ Picture many people engaged in loud conversations right outside your open window. It is an irritating babble that is making you anxious and angry. You think to shout at them—but then you remember that yours is a double-paned window and keeps noise out beautifully. You simply shut your window, firmly but calmly. The noise stops completely. So does the noise in you.

+ Picture yourself getting seated on a rollercoaster ride. You don’t want to be there, but for some reason you agreed. You know that you hate rollercoasters, and you dread the impending ride. The bar comes down, locking you in. In real life, you would be obliged to take the ride. But in your visualization, picture yourself saying “No” very calmly, lifting the bar, and getting off the ride. You spare yourself the ride—and the anxiety.

Practice one of these visualizations or try them all to see which one suits you best. Try to manage your anxiety in mindful, effective ways like these—by flipping the calmness switch, by reducing your anxiety using visualizations, or in other healthy, strategic ways. If you don’t, you will spend your life on the run, trying to flee from situations that make you anxious, on the road to an addiction, denying your seething state and trying to white-knuckle life, or otherwise occupied ineffectively dealing with your agitation.

To summarize:

Today’s goal: Learning a new anxiety management strategy.

Today’s key principle: Human beings get agitated all the time—and typically deal with that agitation in ineffective or harmful ways.

Today’s key strategy: Learning how you can reduce your anxiety by using a simple visualization.

Good luck today!

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Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books including Life Purpose Boot Camp, Rethinking Depression, and Coaching the Artist Within. In 2015 he will be launching a Future of Mental Health initiative. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at http://ericmaisel.com. Contact Dr. Maisel at ericmaisel@hotmail.com. And don’t forget to attend the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference in February: https://www.entheos.com/The-Future-of-Mental-Health/Eric-Maise.

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