November 30, 2018

Your favorite show just ended, and you can barely keep your eyes open to binge another episode, so you decide to call it a night.

After tucking yourself in and gently laying your head to rest, that’s when it begins...

Thoughts of work, the person who can’t seem to text you back quick enough, what you’re wearing to a wedding this weekend, how you still haven’t gone to the gym yet this week (and month), all start flooding your mind.

Before you know it, the sleepiness you initially felt has long gone and you’ve been laying in the dark for over an hour worried about things that you can’t possibly solve while in your PJs. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to just shut up the stressors keeping you from getting those ZZZs.

For most people, quieting the mind is no easy feat—and honestly, it shouldn’t be. The mind is meant to, well, think. Asking it not to do so is like asking water not to be wet—it’s impossible.

The mind is meant to, well, think. Asking it not to do so is like asking water not to be wet—it’s impossible.
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What if I told you, there was special type of mind trick out there for us worrywarts? Something that can help us put that crowded consciousness to use while making us feel good in the process? Enter, visualization.

Visualization, the Anti-Meditator’s Best Friend

Visualization is the use of mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind. Many psychologists use visualization as a technique to help patients with anxiety and depression use their imagination in a more positive way. Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains it as “a means of control in an uncontrollable situation.”

Research shows when we imagine things, our brain actually starts to create the response that would pop up if an imagined situation actually happened. And if we imagine more positive events happening in the future? It can increase our sense of happiness.

When we imagine things, our brain actually starts to create the response that would pop up if an imagined situation actually happened.
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I’ve been a longtime fan of visualization—but I didn’t always realize it had a name. In fact, visualization is something I had no idea I was doing as a kid to cope with certain worrisome aspects of my life at the time.

Your Childhood Imagination Is Self-Care Gold

Growing up I was very emotional. Hell, I still am, but it was even worse as a pre-teen—I felt everything and allowed all that was happening to me cause so much anxiety.

Often times as a means of escape, I’d close my eyes, take a deep breath and try to imagine myself in a more favorable situation. Not simply a daydream, but instead I’d carefully lay out how I wanted a particular moment to be.

If my parents were fighting, I’d imagine my mom, brother, and I living peacefully in a beautiful house somewhere in a new neighborhood. I’d visualize the smiles on our faces, feel the warmth of our hands holding on to one another, hear the laughter we’d share.

Lately, I’ve noticed myself having issues falling asleep, with my anxiety being at an all-time high—and I decided to bring the practice back into play.

Though I write a lot about self-care, I’ve never been the best at traditional meditation and figured this might be the answer my hyperactive mind needed in those moments in which I worked hard to find stillness. Instead of allowing my mind to fixate on the problem or anxious thought at hand, I now use it to imagine a more favorable future.

Instead of allowing my mind to fixate on the problem or anxious thought at hand, I now use it to imagine a more favorable future.
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For example, finances have been big on my mind lately, so to ease that stress, I visualize how it will feel once all of my budgeting and sacrifices pay off. I visualize myself having control over my finances, feeling more confident in the way I handle them, and from there indulging in certain activities like shopping, going out to eat and traveling. Eventually, the feelings of security help calm my mind and allow me to work on making it a reality in my day-to-day.

Greet Worry With Visualization

Whether it’s by combining it with your meditation or creating a vision board with your hopes and dreams, visualization may be just the thing we need to calm our fussy minds.

When feeling anxious, kickstart your imagination with these simple steps:

1. Get Real

First, take a deep breath and be honest with yourself about a moment of anxiety. Don’t fight it. Instead, pinpoint what might be making you feel this way.

2. Imagine a Place That's Safe

From there, close your eyes. If it’s an unfavorable situation you are currently in, think about a place that makes you feel safe. Somewhere far away that you may or may not have actually been to before, a place you imagine making you feel more relaxed.

If what has you stressed is instead something upcoming, think about how you’d like the moment turn out and the positive circumstances that would put it in your favor.

3. Get Specific

Incorporate all of your senses: What does this safe place look like? How does the sun, or the cool chill of a gentle breeze feel on your skin? What are the smells, tastes and sounds? Do you hear applause from your friends or colleagues?

4. Pivot Your Mood

Think about how you are handling the moment, and visualize yourself feeling strong, confident and brave.

Whatever our minds dream up, our bodies follow. With the rush of positivity that comes from these thoughts, your body’s reaction is to feel more at ease.

We can all learn a thing or two from that inner child we often try to suppress. For me, the key to living more joyfully is stealing from my childhood self's vivid imagination.


Read next: 3 Quick Visualization Techniques to Try Today

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