The Self-Soothing Series – Visualisation

how to use imagery to soothe and calm yourself

I’m back with another instalment of the self-soothing series in which I share tools and strategies to support you when you become emotionally dysregulated.

Many of us, including mothers, can become emotionally dysregulated in everyday life. Those who have experienced a lot of stress and trauma are likely to become more dysregulated more quickly, so it’s important to know some simple, accessible ways to calm yourself down. Today, we’re focussing on the power of visualisation.

How Does Visualisation Work?

According to neurological research, the brain cannot differentiate between reality and imagination. When you’re anxious, you may experience lots of thoughts and images of bad things happening. In turn, your body may respond with physical manifestations of anxiety. For example, you may notice your heart racing, feeling jittery, or butterflies in your tummy.

The good news is we can also use calming, soothing thoughts and images to regulate the nervous system. Your brain won’t know the difference between actually being on a gorgeous beach in the Maldives, listening to the waves rippling on the shore, and simply imagining you’re there.

Peaceful Place Visualisation Exercise

The exercise I’m alluding to above is called ‘Peaceful Place’. It’s a powerful tool and one I personally use on a regular basis. With this kind of visualisation, it’s important to let your imagination run wild.

  1. Start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
  2. Let any places or images come into your mind that really give you a sense of calmness and peace. It can be places you’ve been before, a place you’d like to go, or somewhere that’s completely made-up or imagined.
  3. As these images flow through your mind, try to pinpoint a place that really sticks out for you. It may be a beach, standing on top of a hill looking out to sea, or even being tucked up safe and sound in your own bed! There are no weird answers here – it’s about finding a place that helps you connect with feelings of calmness and peace.
  4. Stay with that place and use your imagination to bring it to life. What noises can you hear in this peaceful place? What can you see? What smells would you notice there? What would you feel on your skin?
  5. As you focus on the scene, bring your awareness to how your body feels. What sensations do you notice as you think about your peaceful place? Many people start to notice things like their breathing slowing down, their shoulders starting to drop, or their body feeling a bit more relaxed. If this is happening for you, continue to notice it, and take the calmness in.
  6. You can stay in this scene for as little or as long as you’d like. Some only need a minute or so, whereas others choose to stay there longer and really live out the scene in their mind’s eye.

After Visualisation

It’s common for people to feel a bit emotional after being in their peaceful place, especially if they rarely experience peace and calmness in everyday life. I’ve had clients cry with relief at this sense of peace, but the tears were not linked to sadness, so we continued with the exercise. If you start to feel any negative feelings or sensations, it’s important to stop. This exercise is solely about soothing and calming yourself.

Useful Links

Trauma – It’s Not What You Think It Is

Anxiety in the Body

Understanding ‘Mum Rage’

The Self-Soothing Series – Diaphragmatic Breathing

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