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Guided Imagery for Stress Relief

How to Use Guided Imagery to Alleviate Stress


Updated July 10, 2013

What is Guided Imagery?

Guided imagery is a technique that involves achieving deep relaxation by imagining yourself in a peaceful place. Reaching that relaxed state can help offset the negative effects of daily stress, and might also help you manage stress-influenced health problems like high blood pressure and insomnia.

In some cases, guided imagery is even used in the treatment of a specific health condition. While in a relaxed state, such patients focus on images associated with their condition, then visualize their desired therapeutic outcomes.

How to Practice Guided Imagery:

To practice guided imagery, first find a quiet area and sit in a comfortable position. Keeping your eyes closed and your breathing deep, visualize yourself in an incredibly calming environment.

Whether you choose an empty beach, a meadow, or even just a backyard hammock, try to engage all of your senses by imagining how your peaceful place must look, feel, sound, smell, and even taste. The more vividly you capture your imagined location, the greater the healing effects of the technique, according to practitioners.

To enhance the guided-imagery experience, listen to ambient sounds related to your imagined environment (such as if you're visualizing a beach, play a recording of ocean waves). You can also use recordings or scripts to guide you through the exercise.

Health Benefits of Guided Imagery:

Here's a look at guided imagery's benefits beyond stress relief.

1) Pain Management

In a 2005 study of 44 people with chronic pain, patients who listened to a 7-minute guided imagery tape at least three times daily for four days ended up describing their pain as more tolerable and easier to control by the study's end. The tape's exercises focused on helping the patients to relax and ultimately change the images they associated with their pain.

Previous research suggests that guided imagery may also be effective in managing chronic tension headaches.

2) Coping with Cancer Therapy

For women undergoing breast-cancer treatment, practicing guided imagery may strengthen immune defense, according to a 2009 study of 80 women receiving chemotherapy followed by surgery, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy.

3) Stopping Smoking

Two years after instructing 38 smokers to practice guided imagery for 20 minutes daily, researchers found that 26% of participants had kicked the habit (versus just 12% of study members who did not use guided imagery).

Learn about other natural remedies to quit smoking.


Eremin O, Walker MB, Simpson E, Heys SD, Ah-See AK, Hutcheon AW, Ogston KN, Sarkar TK, Segar A, Walker LG. "Immuno-modulatory effects of relaxation training and guided imagery in women with locally advanced breast cancer undergoing multimodality therapy: a randomised controlled trial." Breast 2009 18(1):17-25.

Lewandowski W, Good M, Draucker CB. "Changes in the meaning of pain with the use of guided imagery." Pain Management Nursing 2005 6(2):58-67.

Mannix LK, Chandurkar RS, Rybicki LA, Tusek DL, Solomon GD. "Effect of guided imagery on quality of life for patients with chronic tension-type headache." Headache. 1999 39(5):326-34.

Wynd CA. "Guided health imagery for smoking cessation and long-term abstinence." Journal of Nursing Scholarship 2005;37(3):245-50.

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