Guided imagery is meditation that focuses on imagining a place that brings you a sense of peace to ease stress and anxiety.

It’s natural to experience stress or tension from time to time, especially when life gets hectic. When these moments occur, many people turn to meditation and other strategies to help them relax.

Guided imagery can help you find inner peace and calm by simply picturing a place or experience that relaxes you.

Guided imagery, aka visualization or guided meditation, is a relaxation technique that uses your imagination to help promote a sense of calm.

It involves intentionally picturing a peaceful place or situation to help you release mental and physical tension.

Guided imagery can be practiced on its own or with other meditative strategies. A 2021 study found that combining visualization with progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing can be especially effective at increasing relaxation.

Engaging in guided imagery isn’t difficult, but it can take time and patience to master it. With regular practice, it’s possible to start seeing results within a few weeks or months.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • a quiet, comfortable space
  • a couch or cozy chair to sit on (you can lie in bed or on a yoga mat if that’s more comfortable)

You can choose to work with an expert specializing in meditation practices or other guided therapies.

You can also find guided imagery audio recordings online or through your favorite podcast or streaming music platform. Many of these are free for download, and they’ll walk you through a guided meditation exercise.

You can also perform a visualization session on your own by taking the following steps:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfy position and close your eyes.
  2. Take slow, deep breaths.
  3. Choose a soothing mental image, such as a place that relaxes you or a memory that makes you happy.
  4. Engage each of your five senses by applying them to your mental images. Ask yourself: What do I see, hear, feel, taste, and smell?
  5. Focus on the moment and let yourself relax while continuing to breathe. You can stay in this state for as long as you want.

Consider trying this meditation for a few minutes, then increase how long your sessions are as you become more comfortable.

Whether you’re new to guided imagery or you’ve been practicing for a while, here are some things to consider to help you reap greater benefits from your meditation sessions:

  • Get comfy. Wear comfortable, loose clothing while you practice and sit or lie down in a quiet and cozy spot.
  • Silence your devices. Put your phone on do not disturb or airplane mode to help prevent distractions.
  • Relax your body first. Consider doing yoga or another physical relaxation technique to physically relax before you begin. A calm body helps to promote a calm mind.
  • Breathe. Take several deep breaths before you begin, and continue breathing deeply during your session.
  • Journal. Record how you feel before and after each session. This can help you track both short- and long-term progress. It also allows you to look at what does and doesn’t work for you.
  • Start small. Getting started with any meditation can be daunting, so you may want to ease into it. Practicing as little as 5 minutes a day can help you see results. As you become more comfortable with guided imagery, you can increase your session lengths.
  • Be patient and persistent. It can take time to see results, so try not to get discouraged if you’re not an expert overnight. Having patience and practicing regularly can help you reap benefits over time.

Guided imagery can do more than calm your mind. Regular practice can provide various benefits.

Easing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression

Research from 2014 suggests that negative mental images are common features of some mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and stress.

In this case, practicing guided imagery with positive mental images may help reduce symptoms of these conditions. But more research is needed to confirm this belief.

A 2019 study found that patients with cancer who practiced guided imagery for 20 minutes a day for 1 week reported fewer depressive symptoms, as well as less pain and anxiety.

A 30-minute visualization session may be as effective as a 15-minute massage in reducing stress, according to a 2017 study.

Reducing pain

Stress can affect your mental health, but research from 2015 suggests that it may also impact your physical well-being by amplifying how you perceive pain.

Guided imagery may help lessen pain in several situations.

In a 2019 study, guided imagery helped reduce postsurgery pain in children ages 6 to 12 years old.

Adults experienced similar results. A 2016 study found that guided imagery was effective for adults with pain after orthopedic surgery.

It may also help to cope with the uncomfortable effects of cancer treatment, according to a 2019 study.

Promoting better sleep

Stress and anxiety may be to blame if you’re having trouble getting a good night’s rest. Visualization can help.

A 2017 study suggests that guided imagery may promote better quality rest by reducing stress, anxiety, and other mood conditions.

Mindfulness meditation practices such as guided imagery may help ease stress to promote better sleep in adults over the age of 55 years old, according to a 2015 study.

Yes! Guided imagery is generally considered safe to practice.

But visualization isn’t without risk. This practice can promote feelings of anxiety or increase depressive thoughts for some.

This is often associated with negative images or images that may stress you out.

If guided imagery is causing you to have negative thoughts or feelings, you’ll want to stop practicing it right away.

Consider speaking with a mental health professional for help. They can recommend other relaxation strategies that may work for your unique situation.

Guided imagery is a simple and effective relaxation technique that can help ease symptoms of stress and anxiety, promote better sleep, and reduce pain.

You don’t need a lot of equipment for this meditation — only a comfortable spot and your imagination.

If you’re looking for resources to help you get started on your visualization journey, you can check out Psych Central’s page on the 9 best online guided meditation options.