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For Our Military Heroes -- Stress Reduction: Mental Healing Through Imagery
As a medical doctor in the receiving hospital at Valley Forge, PA, I saw first hand the physical and emotional toll of the Vietnam War on the returning vets. At that time I did not know of mental imagery (visualizations) and its potential as a powerful healing tool to help our veterans readapt to civilian life.
Mental imagery can help heal the whole person - ease and help repair physical suffering and pain, reduce anxiety, depression, and guilt, reverse PTSD, and restore purpose and meaning to life. Requiring only a few seconds of time, it can be done anywhere, at any time, at no cost.
As warriors, veterans have been conditioned through their training and experiences to live on hyper-alert, ready to respond to the slightest stimuli in a world of potential danger. At home, these once useful traits need to be toned down, recalibrated, to live in a world of peace.
Using their most powerful “weapon”, their minds, veterans can re-train themselves to be less reactive, slow down and once again “smell the roses.” Mental imagery is the mind thinking in pictures.
We do it all the time, but we rarely recognize it, as we have all been trained to focus on words. Images bypass our habitual thinking patterns and conditioning. It is the communication system between mind and body, giving us a new internal education on how to respond to the world in a new way.
Here is an exercise called the Room of Silence, to reduce anxiety and sensitivity to loud noises from one of my many books on imagery.
The Room of Silence Imagery Exercise
Sit up in a chair, close your eyes and breathe out slowly three times. Remember, just the act of long, slow exhalations and brief inhalations will reduce anxiety. You are doing The Room of Silence Exercise to quell or stop anxiety, and it takes up to 15 seconds.
- Imagine yourself in a room together with the feeling of anxiety.
- Turn your back on the anxiety and find the door to the right out of that room to go into another room.
- If there is noise/cacophony go through that door to your right, eventually coming to a room of silence where the noise has stopped.
- When you come to that room of silence, look around and see what you discover there.
- You may have to go through door after door after door in each room until eventually you come to the room of silence and when you do, the anxiety is gone.
- See what you discover in that room. And when you are finished, you can breathe out and open your eyes.
Why This Works
The reason I ask you to discover what you may see in that room of silence is because, by itself, it may serve you as a reminder of how you can be free of anxiety. The next time that the anxiety comes, you may not have to go through all the rooms. Just by recalling what was in the room of silence may be enough to stop the anxiety. It will remind you of a time you shed the anxiety and left it behind. The memory is both powerful and pleasant and can stop the anxiety state almost instantaneously. What you find in the room of silence is what you find. There is no predicting what will be there. What is there is what you need.
One Veteran’s Experience During This Imagery Exercise
A young man imagined himself going through various rooms until he found the room of silence, and discovered there a picture on the wall, a picture of a shepherd with lambs.I asked him to go into that picture and become the shepherd. He led the lambs into a meadow, where he saw a valley into which he descended, and there he felt much calmer, more peaceful, and found a person who was very kind to him and with whom he could discuss the anxiety in a clear, free and open way.
You can find many more imagery exercises for physical and emotional ailments in Healing Visualizations: Creating Health Through Imagery and in my students Phyllis Kahaney and Rachel Epstein’s forthcoming book: Reversing Trauma through Mental Imagery: The Warrior’s Manual to Health and Wellbeing, due out in 2015.