How your imagination affects your anxiety

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In this week’s podcast we’re talking about how your imagination affects your anxiety. And how you can harness the power of your imagination to help you calm anxiety rather than letting your imagination run wild and make your anxiety even worse.

From imagination to anxiety symptoms in a heartbeat

When the mind imagines worrying situations your body gets dragged along for the ride: your heart starts beating faster, you might feel sick, or feel your stomach churning, you may feel dizzy, or shaky.

Your body doesn’t know the difference between a real situation and an imagined situation. Whatever you think - your body believes and will respond to physically.

How your imagination can fuel anxiety attacks

With an anxiety attack there is usually a small trigger - a symptom, or a thought - but when the mind gets hold of that initial trigger and runs with it our anxiety explodes.

Thoughts like: “Oh God I’m having a panic attack” “What if I’m going crazy” “What if I totally loose control” etc feed the initial anxiety and before we know it by imagining the potential horrible consequences of an anxiety attack we have fuelled the anxiety to the point that it blows up on us and that is exactly what we experience: a big anxiety episode - all thanks to our imagination.

The Lemon Test

Try this simple test to see how your body responds to what is happening in your imagination.

Imagine you are in your kitchen and in front of you on the counter top there is a ripe yellow lemon. Imagine taking a knife and cutting the lemon in half, and then in half again so you have four fresh and fragrant lemon quarters sitting there in front of you. Now imagine picking one up, smelling it, and biting into it. What’s happening to your mouth?

There is no real lemon, but I bet your mouth is watering right now.

You’ve just experienced your body responding directly to your imagination. That’s not a problem when you are imagining eating a lemon, but it is a problem if you’re frequently imagining something you find disturbing.

All your worst case scenario thoughts, all your “what if” thoughts get picked up by your body. Such negative thoughts nudge at your nervous system and make your heart beat faster. One nasty thought, one vividly imagined worry playing out in your head as if it were real, and your body kicks in to the fight or flight response instantly.

This is the downside of an active imagination, but there is another side that, when harnessed and trained, can help you feel safe and relaxed.

Using your Imagination to Heal Anxiety

There are many ways you can use your imagination to heal stress and anxiety - here are two quick and easy ways I have found helpful.

Guided Visualisation / Meditation When your mind is disturbed and feeding you unwanted thoughts one of the easiest ways to get relief is to use a guided relaxation let someone else lead you to a better place. An unsettled mind is easily soothed by words and music that help it sense peace and calm. In our Oasis collection (available on iTunes and Amazon) we have created a series of guided exercises and journeys to help you draw your imagination to a place of peace and safety.

Active relaxation Mindful walking, yoga, or QiGong can all help you engage your mind in awareness of your body. And you can add the power of your imagination by imagining your breath bringing you energy and oxygen with every breath in and releasing anxiety and tension with every breath out.

Find out more about using your imagination to help your anxiety by listening to the full podcast here:

Recommended Resources for this podcast:

Spring Forest QiGong

Tranquility: Guided Meditations to Calm Anxiety

Oasis: A Retreat from Stress & Anxiety