For many, the physical symptoms of stress may be the first that are noticeable and stagnant. The reasons may be as long as the list of symptoms themselves. We often pay more attention to physical signs because they are an ongoing indicator of how we are feeling. Seeing someone for physical symptoms is generally more acceptable, socially, than working with a professional because of negative thoughts.
While there are many ways that we can reduce the anxiety and physical symptoms, today we will focus on guided imagery. Taking control of our physical symptoms can be powerful. How powerful, you ask? Think about the placebo affect. The placebo affect is the known study that individuals will start to feel better, even if they know they are not taking the correct medication. The mere idea of getting better can improve one's health because the brain is such a powerful tool. How can we use this to our benefit with use of guided imagery?
We can focus on the problem area(s) and redirect the energy in a more positive direction. This will be abstract, but try to stay with me. Since I can't pick a focus area that will work for everyone, I'll focus my example on an area that may affect many of you.
Example: Imagine you have a dull aching headache right behind the eyes. You feel the headache as "red" and notice the heat. All medical conditions have been ruled out, yet you feel this headache frequently and intensely.
You tell yourself- I'm focusing my attention on the area that brings me pain. I'm thinking about the sensations in this area as I feel this red heat radiating through my head. I feel this heat spreading, and it's causing my discomfort.
I focus on the red heat as I imagine it moving into tiny fragments. Slowly the fragments start to move down my spine and through my neck. As they leave my head, I picture the color slowly transforming into this cool blue. The blue beads disperse all around my body. My legs and arms and torso finish soaking up the red heat and all that's left is a cool blue. I can manage the pain in my head because I know the cool blue in my body will help.
Did you feel the shift? Several factors can assist in this guided imagery practice. When someone can imagine the full process and feel the steps happening, they are more likely to have success. If it feels awkward to you at first then you are not alone! Practice and consistency is very helpful with ensuring this technique is effective.
For more information and tools, please talk to your counselor about wanting to reduce your somatic anxiety. Tools and guided imagery examples are also often available on websites, such as YouTube.
Megan Bowling, M.A., LMFT
*Megan Bowling, Marriage and Family Therapist, has no affiliation to the different YouTube examples that may or may not be available*
*Please rule out all medical conditions, as they may also have a direct correlation on your physical health*