– A personal experience on using Visualization to help overcome anxiety.
Exposure Therapy, the most dreaded part of any phobic’s treatment. It’s the time when you have to actually face whatever has been scaring you, causing anxiety, or making you have panic attacks. But perhaps you should stop and wait just for a moment. Are you doing everything you can to make exposure therapy quick, easy and relatively painless? Could visualization help?
Some people aren’t afraid of anything and go through life without anxiety, shrug off bad news and thrive from stress. They are as tough as old boots. Over the last few decades experts have devoted hours to understanding why some people are more optimistic, fearless, and hardy than others. There are a few obvious reasons like upbringing, possibly some genetics, diet, and brain structure which play a role, but none of those things damn you to a life of uncontrollable anxiety, far and hopelessness. So what do the successful people do differently?
For years people have done visualization exercises for the purpose of relaxation, the standard one being to visualize yourself on a beach feeling the warmth on your skin. As relaxation techniques they are very effective for most people, resulting in a lowering of blood pressure and pulse rate, and helping relieve muscle tension. Most people report feeling calmer. This is great for general anxiety, stress and worry but only of limited help when it comes to tackling phobias. Relaxation is good and obviously it’s better to tackle a phobia with a relaxed body than with a tense one, but state of mind is very important and the site of the phobic situation, be it entering an airport, seeing the elevator doors or hearing the subway train approaching, can bring all of that relaxation crashing down.
So what can be done to make a different kind of visualization work for you? Let’s examine two options.
Firstly, when it comes to tackling a phobia sun-kissed beaches are probably irrelevant. Instead of fooling your mind into relaxing in some bogus situation why not imagine the real thing. Actually see yourself doing whatever it is you have a phobia of in a calm, relaxed and happy fashion as if you were “normal”. If you are claustrophobic and scared of travelling in an elevator why not visualize yourself leaving your house, arriving at a tall building, calmly walking over to the elevator, pressing the button to summon it, waiting for the doors to open, stepping in and watching the doors close, then feeling the feeling in your stomach as it rises and then imagine stepping out at your destination. Before you do this read about how to make visualization really work below.
1, Most important, always visualise in the “first person”, that means see it from your own eyes, don’t see yourself doing it as if you were an actor on a movie screen. Your mind will see it as someone else, not as you.
2, Don’t just use sight, use your other senses too. Think about everything that you might hear, feel and smell and recreate them in your mind. Think also of things that are not important to the situation but which you might hear anyway, people talking in the background, mobile phones ringing etc. Also do this with sights, smells and textures.
3, If you find visualization hard persevere, it will come.
4, If you find it impossible to visualize being calm and happy in the phobic situation then break down the visualization into parts. Spend some days becoming calm looking at the elevator from the outside, take as long as you need. Build up to it as slowly as you want and eventually you will get to be calm and happy in the situation you used to feel.
5, when it feels right, go for it in real life!