For people who have anxiety, which is a common partner of depression, visualization can be a means to reduce or increase stress. It takes fierce will to untangle one’s self from the negative thoughts associated with anxiety. To fully reverse the spiral of thinking and move the other direction – towards positivity, hope, joy – is a monumental task. I personally find that the hardest challenges in my life are internal, not external. For anyone, visualization can be a powerful tool. One can prepare for a job interview, a date, an intense conversation by imagining all of the likely scenarios and the appropriate response. That tool has gotten me quite far in life, and I find that I am rarely caught off guard in any given situation. I can come in with a snappy, well calculated answer to difficult questions. I do my homework, and come away with impressed prospective supporters, business partners, board members, and so on. When I am unhealthy, in the cloud of depression and the fear that comes with it, my visualizations turn negative. They are worst-case scenarios, the confrontation I hope never happens, compounded by my imagining my own worst-case response. And it spirals from there. I have found, as I try to resist these thoughts, that it is nearly impossible for me to hit “pause” on these thoughts. I have to finish the negative thought, my mind tells me, even though the opposite is true. I need to not finish the thought.
For people like me, there are two options. First, you can stay on the spiral, going around and around the circle of negative thoughts. You can internalize the feelings of all those scenarios, all the horrible what ifs. What if the house doesn’t sell. What if she doesn’t forgive me. What if they never find out the truth, and my reputation is permanently damaged. What if they do find out the truth, because that would be even worse. What if the conversation with my boss about a leave of absence goes sideways. So much of the time these fears are grounded in reality. You can point to situations in the past that have gone that way. You can focus on that, and live in that fear.
There’s the other option. It’s easier said than done, but it’s a real possibility. You can visualize your best friend counseling you. What would your best friend say to you about this situation? They would probably say it’s not a big deal, that you are still valuable and loved and it doesn’t matter what the other person thinks. If the house doesn’t sell, it’s okay. If you lose your job, that doesn’t mean that you are a failure. Even if you have had a long string of failures, maybe like ten spectacular failures in a row, you still aren’t a failure. Imagine your best friend next to you, coaching you through that tough conversation coming up. They would probably reassure you, yes your boss is an asshole, or your estranged spouse is a bitch, but that’s okay. If you have a really good friend, they’ll correct your thinking. Take responsibility where you can, with grace, and apologize. Taking responsibility for your failure doesn’t mean you are less. That’s not the other option yet. Here’s what actually is.
You imagine your reality the way you want it. The same method that I teach my son when he wakes up from a nightmare. You replay the scene the way it was supposed to go, where you are safe from danger, you aren’t afraid, and you are living in your truest identity and sense of self. It doesn’t have to be a visualization where you’ve hit the lottery and grow superpowers. It isn’t imagining away the evil and suffering in the world, because that will still be there when you open your eyes. It’s visualizing internal security, your sense of self. And the visual is accompanied by all of the external control you have available, and so you control what you can, and you don’t worry about the rest. The visual is God on your side, door’s opening, total and complete favor. Which is what’s true about you anyway. You go in with a smile on your face to that tough conversation with your boss, son or daughter, your neighbor, because you are expecting goodness. You have imagined joy in yourself no matter the resolution, and there’s a good chance that is exactly what will happen.