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Relapse Prevention: How to Relax with Imagery

No matter who you are or what your situation, improving stress management skills can improve your quality of life.

But if you’re in recovery and fighting to avoid relapse, knowing a few effective de-stressing techniques can make the difference between continuing sobriety and an emotion-driven return to drinking or drugs. Not to get melodramatic here – but for those in recovery, relaxation exercises can be literal lifesavers.

Because they’re so important and because stress levels tend to go up in early recovery, you should learn and practice a few techniques that work for you. Some examples of common stress-busting exercises include deep breathing for relapse prevention, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and the topic of this article – imagery exercises.

So take a few minutes now to read through the steps and experiment with imagery for yourself. It doesn’t take long to learn but you will get better with practice – in fact with enough practice, some people can escape to serene relaxation just by thinking of a certain word or image.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Relaxing with Imagery1

  1. Start off by finding a place where you feel relaxed, safe and comfortable – someplace where no one will come in and disturb you for a few minutes.
  2. Sit comfortably in a chair and close your eyes. Concentrate on taking slow and deep breaths.
  3. When you feel ready, scan your body from your feet to the top of your head looking for any kind of tension. When you feel tension, try to relax it completely, imagining that you expel the tension with each slow exhalation.
  4. Now, imagine a place where you feel great – safe, comfortable and at ease. It can be a place that you know well or a place from your imagination. Examples could be a secluded tropical beach, a place from your childhood or even a place you’ve only seen on TV or in a book.
  5. Picture yourself in this environment. If you imagine a tropical beach, imagine yourself laying on the sand or in the lapping surf. Try to bring all of your senses into the experience. What does the sand feel like? Imagine the warmth on your skin. What does the air smell like? Try to smell the tropical plants and the smell of the sea. What do you hear? Try to imagine the sound of the waves and birds. What are the colors like? Try to picture the blue of the sky and the turquoise of the water.
  6. Enjoy some time in this peaceful place. What do you call it? By giving it a name, you’ll find it easier to return to this relaxation simply by recalling the name and the images you associate with this name.
  7. Stay within the scene you’ve created until you feel calm. When ready to leave, take a moment to transition slowly back to the ‘real world’ – keeping your eyes closed for another moment and continuing to breathe slowly and deeply.

Though imagery exercises don’t always come naturally, with a little practice and persistence, you’ll find they offer a pretty immediate antidote to the stresses of early recovery – and of life in general.

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