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Visualization is the Best Hack to Beat Stress Before it Becomes Life-Threatening

Visualization is the Best Hack to Beat Stress Before it Becomes Life-Threatening

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing to experience. Some stress, in fact, heightens our sense, helping us deal with tricky situations. It is the "fight-or-flight" response that our body triggers in times of threats.

What happens when stress becomes a habit?

Everybody experiences stress. For a pre-schooler going to school may be stressful and for a retired person missing an episode of his favourite sitcom would be. What is fun or easy to one may be stressful to others. However, when acute stress (short-term stress) turns into chronic stress, it is something to worry about. When pounding heart, sweaty palms and shortness of breath become a habit, it needs to be toned down.

According to Scott Eblin, author of 'Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative', we spend only 40 hours a week doing what we enjoy doing. Rest of the time we eat, sleep, bath or work. So, we are mostly in a chronic state of flight or fight, which can be worrisome and can affect you in long term. The author says that when in danger our sympathetic nervous system puts our bodies on high alert, which is a good thing when we are really in danger. However, it can be quite damaging if our bodies stay on such high alert every day.

Visualization, an effective and easy solution to ward off chronic stress

Research shows that around 40 per cent of Indians suffer from stress, and also that 25 per cent of illnesses are linked to stress, anxiety or depression. Stress increases the risk of developing everything from the common cold to heart disease. It is responsible for all kinds of relationship troubles.

The best thing to do is to work on it before it becomes irreparable. Visualization is an effective way to do it. Whenever we feel stressed, we should picture a peaceful scene or a place that we loved visiting. We can use all our senses. We can even try to hear a beautiful voice, say birds chirping. We can also recollect visuals of our last holiday with our family. Or, even our childhood images.

This has a counter-intuitive approach. When we visualize, our body cannot differentiate between a thought and reality. According to Elbin, "We also have a parasympathetic nervous system, called 'rest and digest'. 'Fight or flight' is the gas pedal; 'rest and digest' is the brakes. We need to use the brakes as well as the gas pedal."

According to brain imagery research, visualization works because neurons in our brains interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action. When we visualize an act, the brain tells our neurons to perform the act. Visualizing creates behaviours that will be similar to what we imagined. This is also used by therapists, who call it Guided Imagery technique. "Guided imagery is a mind-body intervention by which a trained practitioner or teacher helps a participant or patient to evoke and generate mental images that simulate or re-create the sensory perception of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and images," according to Wikipedia.

(Also read: Why You Should Have A 'To-Don't' List Along With A 'To-Do' List)

(Image Credit: Thinkstock)

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