What Are Mindset Minisodes?
I’ve been hosting the Phoenix Helix Podcast for over 8 years, and there are now over 200 episodes in the archives! The long-form interviews you know and love will continue every 4 weeks. In between, I’ll be sharing short episodes inspired by my book: Healing Mindset – A Guide to the Mind-Body Connection for People With Autoimmune Disease. Stress is a powerful trigger of inflammation and autoimmune activity, and most of us have experienced stress-induced autoimmune flares. That’s the power of the mind-body connection working against us. However, we can also make the mind-body connection work for us! Simple techniques can help us relieve stress and send an anti-inflammatory cascade through our bodies instead. That’s my goal with these episodes. In each one, I’ll teach a simple technique you can start using right away.
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Visualization: The Power of Imagination
Our brain has a negativity bias and it impacts the way we use our imagination. We tend to spin worst case scenarios in our minds. In cognitive behavioral therapy, they call this “catastrophizing.” It’s one of the ways our brain tries to prepare us for danger, but what it really means is that we’re constantly facing imaginary threats that never actually happened. And our brain responds to imaginary threats very similarly to actual threats. Have you ever felt your heart race while reading a thriller, or screamed while watching a horror movie, or cried when a fictional character died? We have real emotional and physical responses to mental imagery, and this is also true for the ones we generate ourselves with our own thoughts. (The movies in our minds.) Once in a while this is fine. It can be entertaining, enlightening, and even cathartic! Our bodies are designed to move in and out of a stress response, letting go of that “ramped up” feeling and allowing peace to reign again. This is called resilience.
However, when we continually use our imagination to trigger an inflammatory stress response, it can become our default state, leading to chronic inflammation and a loss of resilience. Half the time, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. So many of our thoughts run on auto-pilot. The good news is that we can use the power of imagination beneficially too. We just have to make an effort to do so. Positive visualization not only interrupts that stress response, but research shows that it can also reduce anxiety, improve performance, increase mobility, and help manage pain.
Technique: Using Positive Visualization to Soothe Autoimmune Symptoms
Chapter 8 of my book is dedicated to the positive power of visualizations, and today I want to share one of the techniques from that chapter.
Begin by visualizing a peaceful place in your mind. It can be someplace you’ve been before, or a place created by your imagination. Access all of your senses when you imagine yourself in this place. For example, if you picture yourself at a secluded beach, imagine the feeling of the sand beneath your feet, the smell of the salt in the air, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the way the light glistens off the water, the sound of the waves as they roll onto the shore. This type of visualization taps the relaxation response and helps induce a receptive mindset. Sometimes that alone will make you feel better.
The next step is to tune into the symptoms you’re experiencing that are causing you discomfort. It might be pain, itchiness, fatigue, difficult emotions, etc. Now come up with an image that’s the opposite of the symptom and picture it either focused in that spot or flowing through your body. For example, when I was at rock bottom and my joints were excruciatingly painful, I would imagine butterflies landing softly on the pain points, and as they very gently flapped their wings, I imagined them lifting the pain away. For itchy skin, you might visualize your skin renewing, the rashes disappearing and new baby-soft skin taking its place; imagine yourself touching that softness—what would it look and feel like? When it comes to deep fatigue, it often feels heavy, so you might visualize a gentle vibrating light flowing through your body, dissipating the heaviness, and imagine your body lifting into the air like a soft white cloud. Choose imagery that resonates with you.
Color can also be a wonderful focus and is used often in guided visualizations. Many of us associate the color red with pain, so replace that with a river of blue or green flowing through your body. Fatigue and depression might feel grey, whereas yellow is often associated with energy and joy. Picture the sun in the center of your belly, sending its warm rays all the way to the tips of your fingers and toes. What color represents strength to you? What color represents resilience? You can send a rainbow of color through your veins with your imagination.
These are just a few examples. Take some time today to play with visualization. Explore your imagination. Try different images until you find the ones that soothe your body and lift your spirits.
My Book: Healing Mindset
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