Entertainment Magazine

Stress Reduction: Close Your Eyes and Visualize!

By Rohan @rohanforsale

Keep-Calm-and-Visualize-OnThe amygdala, also known as the reptilian brain is the oldest part of our brain from an evolutionary standpoint, we share this part of our brain with all mammals and reptiles. The amygdala is responsible for our most basic survival instincts. It has a direct line to our nervous system and musculature, and in times of great danger will completely bypass the mammalian brain and the neo cortex in order to ensure our survival. It enables us to jump out of the way of speeding vehicles and run or fight for our lives in a much more automatic and efficient manner than if we tried to use our logical, cognitive brain.

The other thing you have to realize about the amygdala is that it’s a very old brain. The amygdala has remained basically the same for millions of years. It doesn’t understand television, it doesn’t understand video games and it doesn’t understand complex stress and relationship drama. What does this all mean? It means that the amygdala can not differentiate between real threat and perceived threat, real pleasure, or perceived pleasure. Let’s look at a couple of simple examples:

Last one to find the amygdala is a rotten egg!

Last one to find the amygdala is a rotten egg!

* The Scary Movie: The reason we can feel scared or threatened by a horror film is because our amygdala is responding to the threat on the screen by increasing our breathing and heart rate, releasing adrenaline and other chemicals into our system and mounting survival energy. Of course we also have a logical neo cortex, this part of our brain knows that we are safe and are simply enjoying a film. If we had only an amygdala we might run from the screen (as animals without a highly developed neo cortex often do) and if we had only a neo cortex we wouldn’t be able to relate to the fear of the characters or enjoy the film at all, knowing that it’s all fake. This goes for all kinds of movies or other media. We can experience everything from fear, to joy, to excitement and sexual arousal without any direct stimulus thanks to the ancient amygdala who thinks everything is happening directly to us!

* Our Inner World: As we go through life and enter relationships, find work and build up debts and bills our levels of stress increase. We get in the habit of visualizing the worst outcomes and we use our quiet times to ruminate over problems and fears. Just like the scary movie, our inner dialog and inner visualizations effect the amygdala. The amygdala reacts to certain images and key words, and then it shifts our physiology depending on what it thinks is best for us at the time. Let’s look at some common connections between our thoughts and visualizations and, the way our body reacts:

  • Sexual imagery, things that turn us on = Sexual arousal despite the absence of actual sexual activity.
  • Stressful, fearful thoughts “My boss is going to kill me!”, “I’ll never get through this!” = Fear, anxiety, mounted fight/flight/freeze energy despite there being no actual physical threat.
  • Scary/Painful visualizations. Rerunning memories of bullying or abuse, or imagining potential future disasters = Fear, anxiety, panic mounted fight/flight/freeze energy as though the events were actually happening in real time.
  • Happy visualizations. Imagining yourself on a beach, with more money that you could ever need, with a great friend or lover, with the perfect career = Warm, nice feelings as though these things were actually the current reality.
Aww, she's visualizing Ro!

Aww, she’s visualizing Ro!

So as you can see the amygdala is not your enemy. Whether your amygdala works for you or against you depends on the kind of stimulus you expose it to and the kinds of thoughts and visualizations that you run through your head on a daily basis. Just think of all the days we’ve spent essentially living in a fight/flight/freeze state even though there is no immediate, physical threat! What a rip off! If the amygdala is as easy to trick and as malleable as it seems to be, why not keep it fed with warm, happy thoughts and visualizations instead? Think of all the times your mood has been miraculously lifted after watching a comedy film or show. Your circumstances didn’t change, and yet you were laughing and enjoying yourself, whereas only moments before you were terrified for your life!

Reading a happy or positive book, watching a funny or uplifting movie and spending time with people who raise your spirits are all great ways to get out of a cycle of convincing your amygdala that there’s a tiger chasing you when there’s not. However there’s another great technique that we can do all by ourselves using our senses, our most powerful tool in manipulating the amygdala. I call it Close Your Eyes and Visualize!

Step 1 – Busy your ears: The ears are easier to trick than the eyes, so make sure you are listening to something that takes you where you want to go. Right now I’m listening to a rain forest (click here to listen) Thanks to the internet you will find just about any natural or man made soundscape that you could desire. Find a good pair of headphones or plug in your speaker system and put on your soundscape. You can of course also psychically go to a park, beach, river or other outdoor escape if you like and have the option to do so.

Step 2 – Close Your Eyes: Now it’s time to focus on what you hear, listen carefully to all the different sounds. Now try to build a picture in your mind’s eye of what this place would look like. Is it a thick green rain forest filled with animals and colorful birds? It it a deserted tropical beach at sunset? Is it a warm summer’s night in the country? If your mind is quiet then enjoy the relaxation, if your mind is busy keep it focused on adding detail to your inner picture.

Step 3 – Trick That Amygdala: Why wait for your holidays when the amygdala can’t tell the difference anyway? Why wait until everything in your life is perfect to feel happy and at peace when you have the capacity to enjoy it right now? Stay with your visualization and soundscape for as long as you like. The more you can relax your amygdala the healtheir your nervous system will be and the more stable your mental health will be.

And there you have it, it’s as simple as that! Like I said, I’m doing it right now. I have a dream of one day writing my books and articles from sticky South East Asia, but until then I can put on a tropical rain storm and feel like I’m already there. It’s a powerful tool!

So be sure to treat your amygdala with respect. It can’t tell the difference between real or perceived threat, or real or perceived peace so you might as well send it nice signals, thoughts and visualizations! It’s so rare that we’re actually in any real, immediate danger so why not provide the poor thing with some nice thoughts, visualizations and stimuli


Have you ever tried peaceful visualization? What do you do to reach that peaceful place?

Thanks for reading, all the best!


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Rohan Healy is the author of “Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism in the 21st Century” and “The 7 Things That Made Me Genuinely & Irreversibly Happy: And How They Can Do The Same For You”

Click the book titles to visit their Amazon pages, read the reviews, and sample or purchase the books.

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