Calm Scene Picturing as a Self Help Technique for Anxiety

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A Calm Scene is one which you train yourself to picture in your mind so that your brain learns to automatically associate it with feeling calmer. Therefore, when you teach yourself this image you ensure you are feeling calm.

The way our brains work tends to leave those of us with a quick acting arousal system at a disadvantage because ours learn unhelpful, or painful associations far too easily.

The higher the level of negative arousal before the survival instinct alarm is switched off, the more likely the survival instinct is to remember it.

The more extreme the negative emotion, the more forceful the startle warning will be the next time.

(If you don't yet fully understand this, re-read the section on Causes of Anxiety)

How use of a Calm Scene can switch off the warnings

Calm Scene is a technique by which we can start to redress the balance by learning to associate a chosen visual image with a pleasant feeling.

Visual images, whether real scenes, photos or even pictures in our minds, can be very powerful.

Everyone probably has experience of an image which they've learnt to associate with something sad, or frightening, which triggers this feeling whenever the image comes to mind. For example, if you had been involved in some sort of accident somewhere you may well have found that you immediately experienced those same feelings again when you passed by, saw a photo, or even got reminded of that place in some way.

The idea of Calm Scene is to become relaxed and immerse yourself in your chosen imaginary place - be it a garden, a beach, a woodland glade, or whatever. Once you have practised this several times, your brain starts to associate the calmer feeling with the image. Thus later, when you want to feel calmer, you simply have to picture your Calm Scene and your brain will follow suit by providing you with the associated relaxed feeling.

The best way to learn it is by listening to a recording which describes the scene to you after initially taking you through some simple calming techniques.

There are free downloads of three such scenes which I use a lot with patients.

garden calm scene

The image I use on this first calm scene download is of a beautiful garden in which you imagine yourself lying on a hammock or swinging settee. If you can feel yourself rocking gently as you also feel the occasional brush of the breeze across your skin and the gentle warmth of the sun, so much the better.

(There are further instructions as to how best to use the downloads on the relevant page.)

Using this technique to help let go of unwanted thoughts

As well as teaching you to visualise a particular Calm Scene, this recording can also be used to start to practise letting go of unwanted thoughts once you realise you're having them.

It is easier to learn to do this when the thoughts you are trying to release are of no great importance. Once you have mastered the technique you will then stand a better chance of using it to release the kinds of thoughts that distress you.

If you suffer with anxiety it is very likely that you are well aware of those times when you think anxious thoughts and wind yourself up further, but you don't know how to stop them. To try and push such thoughts away or even distract yourself often doesn't work. This is because if you are consciously trying NOT to take notice of something you are also aware of it.

It is impossible to NOT think of something. For example, suppose I say to you that in a moment I want you to imagine anything you wish but NOT a yellow spotted elephant? You will have a fleeting image of a yellow spotted elephant first because your mind has to imagine it in order to know what not to think of!

When we try not to think of something we are effectively focusing on it!

There are instructions as to how to begin to learn a technique for moving your mind away from things you realise you don't want to think about on the downloads page. When you have learnt to do this with ordinary, non-important thoughts, you will stand a better chance of being able to do it with those thoughts that have a degree of raised arousal attached and which the survival instinct is trying to keep you focused on because it (wrongly) believes you to be in danger.

As for using the Calm Scene, the idea is that you practise listening to the recording - I usually advise once a day for a couple of weeks or so.

After that time you will probably have quite a clear image of the scene in your head. This will also probably have linked itself in your mind to feeling a bit calmer.

Then, whenever you find yourself wanting to let go of any kind of unhelpful thinking in everyday life, you simply allow your body to go dead weight and for a moment or two picture yourself in that garden, feeling yourself swaying slightly, the gentle breeze occasionally wafting over you, and hearing the sound of the birds and the stream...

This usually serves to switch off whatever warning the survival instinct was attempting to give you, and your arousal level will reduce. Each time the warning returns you do the same again. 

Eventually your survival instinct will decide the warning is no longer appropriate because you are not responding to it, so it will stop giving it.

If you already have mental images of your own special places, you may wish to simply picture them in your own time whilst listening to beautiful classical music.

There is a series called, Solitudes, by Dan Gibson. Some of these combine classical music with nature sounds. These are my own favourites with a background of the sea.

For country sounds there's a selection of tunes by various composers or there's Pachelbel in the Garden

In the Solitudes series by Dan Gibson there are many other beautiful tracks combining different kinds of music - classical, new age - with nature sounds. Browse them for yourself by clicking this link:  

Dan Gibson Solitudes

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