How to Use Your Imagination to De-Stress

One of the best ways to calm your mind and stop those unwanted, persistent worries is to use your imagination. If you can replace that stress-producing thought or image with one that is relaxing, chances are you’ll feel much better. Here’s how:

  1. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes and get comfortable, either sitting in a favorite chair or lying down.

  2. Think of an image — a place, a scene, or a memory — that relaxes you.

    The figure shows an example.

    Use all of your senses to bring that imagined scene to life. Ask yourself: What do I see? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I feel?

  3. Let yourself become completely immersed in your image, allowing it to relax you completely.

    [Credit: Illustration by Pam Tanzey]
    Credit: Illustration by Pam Tanzey

“Sounds good,” you say, “but what is my relaxing image?” Try taking one of these mental vacations (airfare included):

  • The Caribbean package: Imagine that you’re on the beach of a Caribbean isle. The weather is perfect. Lying on the cool sand, you feel the warm breeze caress your body. You hear the lapping of the ocean waves on the shore and the tropical birds chirping in the palms.

    You’re slowly sipping a piña colada. You can smell your coconut-scented suntan lotion. You feel wonderful. You’re relaxed. Your mind is totally at peace.

  • The pool package: You’re lying in a large inflatable raft, floating blissfully in a beautiful swimming pool. The day is perfect. The sky is a deep blue, and the sun is warming your relaxed body. You feel the gentle rocking of the raft in the water. You hear the soothing voice of the waiter announcing a buffet lunch in half an hour.

    You’re content. You could lie here forever (at least until they serve that buffet).

  • The winter wonderland package: Picture yourself in a small cabin in Vermont. (If your tastes lean to the more extravagant, switch the scene to Aspen or Gstaad — the cost is the same no matter where you go.) You’re snowed in, but that’s fine because you don’t have to be anywhere and no one needs to contact you.

    Also, you’re not alone — a favorite person is with you, and you’re both lying in front of a crackling fire. Soft music is playing in the background. You’re sipping hot toddies, mulled wine, or champagne.

  • A pleasing memory: Picture a memory, possibly from your childhood or from a more recent time, that you find particularly happy and satisfying. It could be a vacation long ago, a birthday party you loved, or time spent frolicking with a childhood pet.

None of these examples do it for you? Then come up with your own personal relaxation image. You might try one of these:

  • Soaking in a hot, soapy bath … soft music … candlelight …

  • Walking in a quiet forest … birds chirping … leaves rustling …

  • Lying under a tree in the park … warm breezes … more chirping …

  • In your most comfortable chair … reading a great book … no chirping …

What you see and hear usually dominates your imagination. But don’t forget your senses of touch, taste, and smell. By adding these sensual dimensions, you can enrich your images and make them more involving. Feel the sand between your toes; smell the freshly brewed coffee; taste the salt in the air.

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