Psychologists often used imagery techniques to help patients, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), overcome negative emotions. According to a recent study, we can all can use self-guided imagery techniques to overcome the different problems we face each day. The study also found that these techniques can alter the way your brain functions, meaning you can use them to optimize your mental wellbeing and experience more moments of happiness.
Investigating the Link Between Images and Emotions
The human imagery system and our emotions are intimately intertwined, explains Dr. Svetla Velikova, the study’s lead author. “If we visually remember an image from an unpleasant interaction with our boss, this can cause an increased level of anxiety about our work. Imagery techniques can help to process and let go of negative emotions.
To determine whether these techniques could be as effective when practiced by individuals without direction from a mental health professional, Velikova and her team spent two days teaching study participants a series of imagery techniques, such as how to…
- Cope with negative emotions from past events
- Envision future events and goals
- Improve social interactions
- Achieve emotional balance.
Participants then spent the next three months practicing these techniques at home for 15-20 minutes each day.
To assess the effects of the self-guided imagery techniques, Velikova and her team gave each participant a psychological assessment and took electroencephalographic (EEG) measurements both before and after the study. Overall, participants were “more satisfied with life” at the conclusion of the study. Furthermore, the EEG data showed significant changes, including activity in the right medial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain linked to our experiences of pleasant emotions and known to influence how satisfied we are with our lives.
Further Exploration of Imagery Techniques
Various forms of imagery techniques date back centuries. They were common practice in ancient Greece…Egypt…India…and China, as well as in parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. In the 1920s, some innovative Western psychologists begin to use imagery techniques with their patients. Broadly speaking, the goal of imagery techniques is to replace negative feelings and images with positive ones.
There are a number of imagery techniques, and many free guides are readily available online for those interested in learning more about different approaches. To give a sense of what those techniques might involve, here’s a basic method for using imagery techniques to achieve relaxation:
- Begin by taking several slow, deep breaths, then gently close your eyes.
- Imagine yourself in a location that fills you with a sense of complete peace. For some, this might be a beach. For others, it could be a mountaintop, a forest grove, or a favorite chair in a favorite room somewhere.
- Place yourself in this location. What would you do there that would make you feel calm, or happy, or both?
- Draw your attention to the sensory elements of the location. For example, if you’re sitting on a beach, let yourself feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, smell the salty ocean, and hear the rhythmic lapping of the waves and the cries of the gulls. The more sense you can involve, the more vivid and real the image will become.
- Spend five to ten minutes immersing yourself in the image.
- Remind yourself that you can return to this place whenever you like, then open your eyes.