a snow globe in a wintry setting

Anxiety: Calming with Creative Visualization

Predisposed to anxiety, I have battled it my entire life and I’m sure I’ll continue the struggle for the rest of it.  Nighttime, as a mother, can particularly heighten anxiety and serve up sleeplessness in cruel doses.  I read an anonymous quote that sums it up.  “Mother’s don’t sleep.  They just worry with their eyes closed.” 

Sometimes I worry with my eyes closed…and open.  When this happens, I may use creative visualization as a strategy to ease anxiety and summon sleep.

A cat appears sleepless with anxiety

For those who don’t struggle with anxiety, it’s helpful to construct a visual that mimics the experience.  When anxiety strikes, I oftentimes feel like I’m trapped inside a snow globe someone shook with vigor, pacing.  My worrisome thoughts swirl–stuck as the whizzing snowflakes–while the glass divides me from presence or connection.  Physical symptoms may accompany this constriction: rapid heart rate and breathing, chest tightness, trembling, nausea, perspiration, even dizziness.

Sometimes a specific event can trigger a bout.  Other times anxiety arrives silent and inexplicable, leaving me with the joint task of trying to decode it and ax myself out.  Mostly, anxiety remains a part of me to some degree with fluctuations in its mildness or severity.

At times, however, I can experience a spell when anxiety seems to creep into hibernation.  Thankful, I nurture the serenity of this internal landscape, doing everything I can to keep it intact.  But when anxiety inevitably returns, the urge to panic arises.  As such, I’m swift to hand the reins to my imagination for some creative visualization.

For example, after minimal anxiety for weeks, I awoke in the middle of the night to its call.  My heart rate and breathing elevated.  Worst yet, the sensation in my chest mimicked snakes waking, slithering, hissing.  I could feel the rush of my worries close behind.  So before that happened, I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths.

Quickly, I conjured an image–a beautiful serene meadow of flowers.  Unfortunately, anxiety refused to be silenced with pretty flowers.  Instead, the discomfort in my chest now manifested in literal snakes slithering through the meadow, hissing the entire time.  The snakes, plain and simple, moved as the expression of anxiety.

Instead of giving up on the visualization, I allowed the snakes to proceed.  I then imagined myself as the flowers, fearless, dipping down and listening to what the snakes had to say.  It appears they had a lot to say…so many fears and worries.  I stayed with the snakes and acknowledged that they were serving me in some way.

Not only my awareness; but my gracious acceptance of those snakes changed the tide that night.  Going deep into this visualization, I discovered the snakes were benign.  Once they spoke their concerns, legitimized them, they fell fast asleep.  And so, my anxiety began to lessen.  My heart rate dropped.  My breathing calmed.  I, too, returned to sleep, which was a feat.

Picture of snake symbolizing anxiety

At times, perhaps anxiety exists to tell you something.  And in that something is consciousness.  You are aware of it, stepping outside of it, and allowing it room to speak rather than berating or wishing it away, which always exacerbates it.  You work with anxiety–a part of you.  It calms, feeling validated, heard.

In a strange play of synchronicity, as I brainstormed writing this post I found a black snake slithering up a sliding glass door in my house.  At first, I feared because snakes do terrify me.  But then I paused, sat near the glass, watched it move.  Mind you, the glass divided us–allowing me to interact with the snake so intimately–and that realization solidified that I, too, held the power to separate us, as I did with anxiety.  The snake and I, we would never be best friends.  I wouldn’t open the door wide and allow it to slink allover me just as I wouldn’t let anxiety strangle all pieces of me.   However, I could face it, befriend it in a strange way, even soothe it.

Like the image below, I am the tall tree in charge, and anxiety is a smaller branch of me.  I permit it to stay without judgment.  We co-exist.  Still, I remind anxiety that I am more powerful than it.

While this tactic of creative visualization may not always work, it does work for me sometimes, and it did on that night.  Then a black snake appeared on my door and cemented this fact.  So, I offer it to you.

When anxiety strikes, create your own visualization to befriend and soothe it.

I wish you restful nights of well-being and blissful sleep.

A cat sleeping peacefully, anxiety free

How to Use Creative Visualization to Ease Anxiety in Someone you Love

If you don’t suffer from anxiety but know someone who does, you can try creative visualization.  First, resist the urge to tell your loved one not to worry or to be present because her present moment is worry.  Instead, imagine your loved one trapped in a snow globe.  Then, say something along this line.

I see your battle.  It is real.  Let me sit with you for a few moments, hold your hand.

Imagine placing yourself along with her in the snow globe.  Then you could say, I want to help you find a way out.  Use your creativity to construct a visualization for her that includes anxiety and her power to see it, listen to it, and overcome.  Speak in a soothing tone.  Continue to hold her hand.  In doing so, you are handing her the ax to break free from the snow globe.

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anxiety quote with trees in a lightning storm...

I am the tall tree in charge, and anxiety is a smaller branch of me.  I permit it to stay without judgment.  We co-exist.  Still, I remind it…I am more powerful.