Guided Imagery: Techniques, Benefits and More


Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that involves dwelling on a positive mental image or scene. It is a tool that psychotherapists use, but a person can also learn it and use it at any time.

This technique is sometimes called visualization or guided meditation. There are many benefits to using guided imagery, such as reducing stress or improving a person’s sense of well-being.

People intentionally visualize peaceful scenarios or images. While a person may choose to visualize a pleasant scene, some people use other means, such as imagining disease-fighting white blood cells and imagining the desired outcome.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits and techniques of guided imagery, plus a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

Guided imagery is a relaxation technique. People who try guided imagery can imagine events, scenes, or other things that will induce feelings of relaxation and calm.

Relaxation techniques are generally safe for healthy people. the goal relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, is to stimulate the body’s natural relaxation response. This response may include the following physiological changes:

  • slower breathing
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduced heart rate

A few studies suggest that the intervention may have the following benefits:

Relieves pain

Guided imagery can help distract someone from pain.

For example, arthritis and other rheumatoid diseases (AORDs) usually involve joint pain and inflammation. Due to the side effects of drug treatment, many people with AORD might try psychosocial strategies, such as guided imagery to relieve their pain. Some to research suggests that guided imagery is effective in pain management in people with AORD-related health conditions.

Reduces stress

Guided imagery can help relieve chronic stress, a problem that can have harmful effects on the brain and body.

To research examining the effect of guided imagery on 35 pregnant teenagers, found short- or long-term stress reduction. This supports the use of guided imagery for stress management in some people.

Another Research study examining the effect of guided imagery on 111 adolescents, found that guided imagery provided in a group format reduced saliva cortisol levels and feelings of stress. Chronic stress can cause a slight increase in levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In contrast, the intervention did not decrease levels of a salivary enzyme called amylase, which increases after encountering a stressor.

Further research is needed to determine the effect of imagery on stress.

Reduces anxiety

Spending time in nature can reduce anxiety, but it’s not always available to everyone. Aware of this, a research study explored the effect of nature-based guided imagery on 48 participants, with moderate levels of anxiety. After comparing nature-based and non-nature-based guided imagery, they found results indicating that both interventions can reduce anxiety. However, the nature-based variety was more effective.

Help to quit smoking

Smoking is the primary cause preventable deaths in the United States. To research found that it would be practical to incorporate guided imagery interventions into helplines. This approach can also reach a wider audience.

Quit smoking helplines refer to telephone advice for people who want to quit smoking. Guided imagery for smoking cessation can aim to get people to cope with their cravings and help them maintain motivation.

Further research into the value of guided imagery for the purpose of quitting smoking would be beneficial.

Reduces symptoms of depression

Intrusive negative mental images can be an important factor in the onset and persistence of depression. This raises the question of whether positive imagery can help, however, there is little research to suggest this might be the case.

A clinical trial study evaluated the effect of guided imagery on 80 participants on hemodialysis. People on hemodialysis usually suffer from anxiety and depression. They found that the level of anxiety and depression was lower in people who had received the guided imagery intervention than in people who had not.

Improves sleep quality

For example, older people facing surgery often have poor quality sleep. To research on the effect of guided imagery and relaxation techniques on 90 elderly people undergoing abdominal surgery, suggests that guided imagery was effective in improving sleep quality.

Another research study looking at the effect of a 30-minute guided image recording on people in a progressive care unit found that the intervention helped relieve their insomnia.

The following are examples of guided imagery techniques:

  • imagine a pleasant scene in a peaceful place to soothe anxiety or relieve stress
  • imagine white blood cells fighting a disease, such as an infection or cancer
  • imagining a successful performance or outcome, such as at a sporting event or quitting smoking

A counselor or audio tape can lead a person in these techniques. Alternatively, someone’s own thoughts can direct them.

A person can follow the steps below to try guided imagery:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable place.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Take a few deep breaths so the body can begin to relax.
  4. Visualize a peaceful, calm setting, such as a garden, a lake, or somewhere by the sea.
  5. Imagine the scene and add more details. Explore the scene with all the other senses, for example, imagine the chirping of birds, the scent of flowers and the warmth of the sun.
  6. Linger in the scene for a few minutes while trying to savor the calm and the feeling of relaxation. A person can choose to stay on the premises for as long as they need to recharge their batteries.
  7. Open your eyes and gently stretch into the present. People need to remember that they can come back to the scene at any time.

Here are some tips to help beginners:

  • Choose a quiet place where there will be no interruptions.
  • Turn off cell phones and televisions.
  • When you imagine a scene, try to engage the senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch.
  • A person may wish to shop around to choose a guided imagery strip to guide them through the process.
  • Don’t rush the process.

Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that people can use to reduce stress and increase their well-being.

It usually involves imagining peaceful scenes, events, or objects. Guided imagery should help stimulate the body’s natural relaxation response.

Incorporating guided imagery in stressful situations or in life in general has many benefits. Guided imagery can be easy to do. It starts with taking a few deep breaths to relax, then follows with your technique of choice.


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