Mental imagery and visualization are powerful tools for enhancing teen mental health. When teenagers practice positive visualization, they learn how to regulate their emotions and relieve stress.
In addition, they can return to memories and scenes that hold pleasant, soothing associations. Hence, guided imagery for teens revitalizes energy that is sapped by anxiety, stress, and/or busy schedules.
Moreover, relaxation techniques for teens help them feel a sense of peace and ease. As a result, they have more control over their impulses and therefore make better choices.
“Visualization is effective as it bypasses our logical (or illogical) mind by tapping into a global sense of ourselves and our emotions. It allows us to remember emotions, or to promote an emotional state connected to certain contexts.”
—Dr. Michel Mennesson, MD, Psychiatrist at Newport Academy
How Positive Visualization Enhances Mental and Physical Health
When we imagine a situation, the primal parts of the brain react as if it was really happening. Therefore, positive visualizations have a beneficial impact on the entire nervous system. Thus, picturing yourself on a beach, in a cool forest, or in your favorite room in your childhood home automatically relaxes you on every level.
Along with easing stress, mental visualization techniques may also help people heal from substance abuse. In a study conducted in an intensive outpatient chemical dependency treatment program, one group of participants received psycho-educational addiction treatment. The other group practiced progressive relaxation and visualization in a group setting. After eight months, both treatments were equally effective in producing positive effects.
Research also indicates that visualization may even help fight disease. That’s because calming the body’s stress response supports the immune system.
As well as promoting mental health, this technique can also be used as a way to visualize your goals. Oprah, Bill Gates, Will Smith, and Jim Carry all report using mental visualization techniques to achieve success. This is also called “creative visualization.”
A runner might visualize herself crossing the finish line in a triathlon. Or someone interviewing for the job might visualize the interview beforehand, imagining everything going perfectly. Hence, visualization can serve as a “mental rehearsal.”
A study published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology looked at the effectiveness of visualization techniques for achieving goals. One group of job seekers received traditional career counseling and interview coaching. A second group also had career counseling and interview training. In addition, this group learned to use positive visualization techniques related to these areas.
Subsequently, in a follow-up two months later, researchers found that 21 percent of those in the group who did not use mental imagery were employed. However, 66 percent of the people who used the visualization techniques found jobs within two months.
The Role of Breath in Visualization Techniques
The power of the breath is key to the effectiveness of visualization. It starts by shifting the kind of breath that we use, says Michel. Therefore, we move from chest to belly breaths.
Breathing from the belly, at a slow and steady rate, activates the parasympathetic nervous system. As a result, the body and mind become calm. Slow breathing lowers our heart rate and dilates the blood vessels, therefore lowering blood pressure.
A growing amount of research shows that slow abdominal breathing is one of the best ways to increase what’s known as vagal tone. And good vagal tone is linked to better stress resilience. Furthermore, belly breathing reengages the brain’s frontal lobes. Hence, we gain more control over the state of our mind and body.
Conscious breathing offers the opportunity to tune in to the condition of both the mind and body. But the goal is not to eliminate or suppress emotions. Instead, the focus shifts to the physical sensations of the breath. Hence, teens learn to “ride the wave” of their emotions, going with the flow of their physical sensations without involving the mind.
Therefore, positive visualization creates a certain amount of distance from our emotions. “We compassionately witness what’s happening without being engulfed by our overactive mind,” Michel says. “Next, the visualization allows us to place ourselves in a different emotional state.”
Preparing for Visualization
Before you begin the technique, take these steps to prepare the mind and body for mental imagery and visualization.
- Choose a time when you will not be interrupted.
- Turn off phones and other digital devices.
- Find a comfortable position, seated or lying down.
- Begin taking slow, shallow breaths. Allow the breath to expand the belly rather than the chest. (Chest breath is a “stress breath.”)
- Continue this breathing technique throughout the practice.
Three Positive Visualization Exercises
Experience the calming effect of guided imagery for teens with these three positive visualization exercises.
1. Sky and Weather Visualization
Bring to mind an image of a tranquil, beautiful blue sky. It might be the bright blue of a perfect spring day, or the deep indigo of a summer evening. Moreover, let it be a sky that evokes in you a sense of peace and serenity.
Next, allow your worries, distractions, or emotions to take the form of clouds, storms, or rainfall that temporarily obscure the blue sky. Hence, each time a cloud or other form of weather appears, watch its progress. Then gradually allow it to drift away or break up. Now the blue sky is revealed once again.
Even when intense weather passes across it, the sky remains clear and peaceful. In the same way, the “weather” of our distractions and emotions passes. And a clear, peaceful mind and body are revealed.
2. Body Scan Visualization
Beginning at the toes and very slowly moving up to the head, send your attention to each part of the body in turn.
Focus on the sensations you feel in each area. Are your muscles tight and tense? Is there discomfort or pain in any area?
Next, as you focus on each part of the body, visualize the muscles and tissues in that area relaxing. If you encounter sensations of discomfort or constriction in a particular part of the body, direct a slow in-breath to that area. Visualize the breath bringing clean, restorative oxygen to that body part.
When you reach your head, imagine the breath filling your brain with this energizing oxygen, creating clarity and focus. As you exhale, visualize dark energy and toxic fumes leaving your brain and body. With each breath, your exhalation becomes cleaner and cleaner, until it becomes as clear as your in-breath. Experience gratitude.
This visualization is especially helpful when we’re feeling tense, unfocused, or upset. Hence, it empowers us to practice awareness. Also, it helps teens learn to recognize the signs that they’re beginning to get anxious, scattered, or panicky. As a result, they can focus on consciously relaxing the body to calm the mind before their emotions escalate.
3. Wave Visualization
Imagine a beautiful turquoise ocean under a wide blue sky. Then imagine a gentle breeze blowing over the sea. The waves swell and gently crash on the smooth, sandy shore. Visualize each wave as an emotion, coming and going.
Next, imagine yourself surfing the waves easily and skillfully. You ride each wave playfully, with confidence. Then you reach the shore with a sense of satisfaction and mastery. Riding the waves, you experience feelings of peace, comfort, and ease.
Mental visualization techniques are safe and effective for boosting teen mental health. Moreover, they can be practiced every day, for a few minutes or longer.
To summarize, positive visualization for teens provides stress relief, enhances optimism, and builds resilience.
Images courtesy of unsplash
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