Although not all stress is harmful to the body, chronic stress can cause physical, emotional and psychological strain on the body. It can affect the body in a negative way because when you are chronically stressed, the adrenal glands are in high gear making cortisol, and cortisol can damage the body.
Symptoms of chronic stress on the body may be mild at first. A person may suffer a headache or cold. However, the longer chronic stress exists the more likely serious health consequences are to develop, and they can include:
- cardiovascular disease
- hair loss
- immune problems
- obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder
- sexual dysfunction
- thyroid problems
One way to reduce stress is through guided imagery. Guided imagery is a language the mind uses to communicate with the body in a positive way, and it usually includes pleasant images. To gain maximum benefit, these images often include using all of a person’s senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch—to experience the event. When a person uses all senses, his or her body responds as if the event were real. Having such an experience can then allow a person to heal themself subconsciously and achieve positive and desireable outcomes because it improves well-being, confidence, and health.
Guided imagery also leads to relaxation and improved physiological responses by the body, so that the brain can release chemicals to lower blood pressure, reduce pain, improve breathing, and relieve other stress-induced conditions. Guided imagery can also improve certain white cell functions important to the immune system and thereby increase its effectiveness.
There are also several advantages to guided imagery in relation to other relaxation techniques. For instance, there are no physical limitations such as those required when a person does yoga or tai chi. Guided imagery also requires no medications, so people don’t have to worry about adverse reactions that might occur if they were to use herbal theraphy or medications. Additionally, guided imagery is cost effective because tapes or CD are low-cost but highly effective, and they’re easy to use.
Step-by-Step Guided Imagery
There are various forms of guided imagery. Here is one example, with a few simple steps to help you achieve guided imagery on your own.
- Soothing music can enhance any guided imagery practice, so if you want put on some soothing music. Then find a comfortable chair and assume a meditative posture.
- Dim the lights, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.
- Picture yourself walking down an imaginary staircase, and with each step relax deeper and deeper.
- When you’re relaxed, imagine yourself in a favorite spot, such as the mountains, the beach, or near a babbling stream? Don’t worry if your mind wanders. If it does gently return to your practice.
- Try to make the event as realistic as possible. Is the weather hot or cold? Is the wind blowing? What do you smell? Do you hear birds chirping or is it completely quiet? Are you alone or other people nearby?
- As you relax deeper and the image becomes clearer, feel the positive emotions from being in such a place. Then mentally reinforce the imagery by internally saying something, such as “I am totally relaxed and stress-free,” “I am letting go of all tension,” or “I am relaxed. I am calm.” As you do so, notice how the stress pours out of your body by allowing it to flow out through your feet.
- Relax and stay with the pleasant setting for at least ten minutes. During that time, also notice how your body feels lighter, how aches and tension seem to disappear, and how your breathing becomes more relaxed.
- To end the session, take a few more deep breaths and see yourself climbing back up the staircase.
- Stretch and open your eyes. Then sit quietly for a few minutes and think about what happened. If you want you can also keep a journal and write down any thoughts that came to mind from the experience.
More Guided Imagery
Besides the imagery you can do on your own, there is this guided imagery CD put together by Martin L. Rossman, M.D. He is a physician and acupuncturist and has practiced holistic medicine for over thirty years. He has a single CD titled Stress Relief Through Guided Imagery, as well as Guided Imagery for Self-Healing Book and CD Set. Rossman’s guided imagery provides simple, effective ways to relax the body, calm the mind, and resolve stressful situations. He also teaches you how to reduce stress with either simple breathing techniques, deep relaxation, or creative problem-solving.