Sunday, March 12, 2006

Agoraphobia Strategy: Getting Your Imagination To Work For You Part 2

Besides dreaming up a secret place when I had agoraphobia, I used my imagination to create positive visualizations of myself being anxiety-free in real life.

I pictured myself sitting calmly in a classroom at school surrounded by other students. I saw myself coming up to bat in a baseball game and getting a game-winning hit. In the same way, I pictured myself shopping in the mall, sitting in church, or having fun with friends.

In each of these visualizations, I was careful to create added sensory details with my mind. I would not only see each image, but also hear it, smell it, and touch it.

For example, when I pictured myself sitting in the classroom, I saw the faces of the students around me and words written on the chalkboard. I heard the sound of my teacher’s voice as she gave the lecture. I felt the texture of the surface of the desk I sat in, and of the pages in my notebook. I felt the pen in my hand as I took notes. I spent time picturing each scene and let my mind fill in every detail I could think of.

Most importantly, I pictured myself sitting there in my desk calmly breathing, slowly and deeply, totally free of any worry or panic. In this way, I was able to experience the success of recovery and leading a normal, anxiety-free life before I actually recovered. The more I was able to see it in my mind, over and over, the more these images of success became a reality.

How to Pair Visualization with Relaxation Exercises

One of the more effective things I did was to pair visualization with my breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. Over time, this developed a mental association between positive mental imagery and a deep sense of calm in my body.

I started each relaxation session with deep breathing first. Then tensed and relaxed each muscle group until my body felt limp. Once my breathing was slow and deep and the tension in my muscles was released, I visualized myself at my secret place. This added a visual component to my relaxation response. Then whenever I started to feel anxious in public and said my cue word to trigger relaxation (see chapter seven), I could close my eyes and add a visual dimension. I did this by picturing my secret place which I had also learned to associate with a deep sense of calm.

Another way I used mental imagery was to visualize successes in real life while doing my relaxation routine. For example, I pictured myself being calm in public while doing deep breathing or muscle relaxation exercises. Then when I found myself in a setting that usually caused anxiety, like school, I associated that setting with deep relaxation after having pictured it so many times in my head when I was relaxing at home.

Practicing positive visualization, places I used to associate with panic became associated with deep experiences of peace and relaxation. Even though I only imagined these experiences of calmness and success, my mind started building positive associations related to places and situations I once feared. These new positive associations were as powerful as if I had experienced each imagined success in reality.

How to Put Together a Successful Visualization Program

Here’s a summary of how you can harness the powers of your imagination and make them work for you in your recovery from agoraphobia:

1) Develop a secret place and write out a script that you can record or have someone read to you. Then if you can’t find a place you feel safe and relaxed in real life, you will have one in your mind. You can always close your eyes and let your mind take you far away.

2) Practice positive visualization at least twice a day. Practice at least once in the morning and once in the evening before bed.

3) Combine positive visualizations of being calm in feared settings with deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. This way, positive visualization becomes part of your overall relaxation response and you can learn to visually associate relaxation with places you once feared.

I know from experience that if you can picture a new reality in your mind, you can eventually experience that reality in real life. Even if it feels like reversing the flow of a mighty river at first, by reversing the current of your creative powers to get them flowing in a positive direction, your imagination will become an asset for you in your recovery from agoraphobia.

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