The many “shelter in place” and “stay at home” orders across the country have healthcare researchers concerned about the effects of social isolation. Many people affected by the orders are stuck inside with no access to the outdoors or ability to engage in activities they enjoy. People who cannot go outdoors may experience increased stress and anxiety as a result.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Judith Gordon, PhD, a professor and Associate Dean for Research in the University of Arizona College of Nursing, offers suggestions for dealing with the potential negative health effects of social isolation by using Guided Imagery. Dr. Gordon and her colleagues have used Guided Imagery successfully to help people make positive lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, eating healthfully, and getting more exercise. Guided Imagery also has been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety.
Guided imagery is a proven method that uses your imagination to help you deal with stressful situations, including social isolation. This technique is also called visualization. But Guided Imagery includes more than just visual images. Guided Imagery involves imagining sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile senses, and emotions in a particular situation.
Here’s a sample of Guided Imagery to help you experience how guided imagery works: Imagine you are in a kitchen with a bowl of lemons on the counter. You see their bright yellow color and distinctive shape. You reach out and select a ripe yellow lemon. You feel the weight of the lemon in your hand as you slide your fingers over the dimpled waxy skin. Now, put the lemon down on the counter, pick up a knife and carefully cut into the lemon. You see the yellow flesh and the juice dripping out onto the counter. You smell the sharp citrusy aroma. You cut a slice and put it in your mouth. Bite down on the tart, juicy slice, and let your mouth fill with the tangy juice.
Guided Imagery can help alleviate stress associated with social isolation. You can create a vivid scene in your mind of a place or activity that you find relaxing, like sitting on a long, sandy beach listening to the waves or walking along a desert trail on a sunny day and hearing birdsong. These scenes can take you anywhere you want to go as well as relax you. The possibilities are endless and can be personalized just for you.
The trick to making the most of Guided Imagery is to create a very detailed “script” describing your favorite scenes or activities. Add lots of evocative language (think adjectives like “clear blue sky” or “shiny, smooth green leaves”) and include all your senses, especially slow, deep breaths and relaxed muscles, and feelings of happiness and well-being.
After you’ve created a Guided Imagery script that you like, record it on your phone or ask a friend or family member to record it if you don’t like the sound of your own voice! It's easy to send scripts and audio files by email or text. You can create as many audio files as you like.
Listen to one audio file several times each day until you can “automatically” recall the images vividly. The more vivid the imagery, the more effective it will be at reducing stress. Then, you can move on to the next file. If you can automatically recall the Guided Imagery, you can use it even if you don’t have access to the audio file.
When you are feeling isolated or stressed, listen to or recall your Guided Imagery. Stroll through beautiful village, hike up a mountain, sail on the ocean. Guided Imagery can take you on infinite, enjoyable journeys!
Guided Imagery can help alleviate stress associated with social isolation. You can create a vivid scene in your mind of a place or activity that you find relaxing, like sitting on a long, sandy beach listening to the waves or walking along a desert trail on a sunny day and hearing birdsong.
Tips for Creating your own Guided Imagery
1. Describe the scene in detail:
- What do your surroundings look like?
- Who are you with?
- What sounds do you hear?
- What scents do you smell?
- What do you feel on/in your body or what do you touch?
- How do you feel/what emotions are you experiencing?
2. Write and edit your “script” using lots of descriptive words.
- Use lots of adjectives and adverbs.
- Think about colors and textures.
- Focus on happy and calm emotions.
3. Record your script as an audio file on your phone.
- Each type of phone is different, so if you need help recording the file, do an Internet search for your particular model of phone.
- If you like, pick some relaxing music and play it while you record your script.
- Ask a friend or family member to record the script for you.