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Imagination & Stress - Cause, Or Cure?

Imagination & Stress - Cause, Or Cure?

Imagination is a two edged sword. On the one hand, most of the stress experienced by human being isn't a response to any kind of real danger - like a lion appearing around the corner would be to a gazelle - but is in fact a response to IMAGINED horrors, terrors and worst case scenarios.

So imagination has a lot to answer for - but what is the answer? Should we switch imagination off so we can stress less, or can we use the very thing that causes us the most stress to live beautiful and worthwhile lives?

"A man without imagination is an angel with broken wings." SFX

Imagination and our ability to think ourselves into situations in which we're not is what being a human being is all about.

We can't switch off our imagination any more than we can switch off our breathing - both would lead to a very permanent form of stress cessation that we're really not looking for just yet.

Even people who think they don't have an imagination (because they don't write poetry or paint landscapes!) imagine all the time.

Often, this imagining is outside our conscious awareness - we don't even know we are doing it, until we slow down and pay attention to what we are imagining in the background.

For example, a lady who was suffering from extremely high stress was imagining, EVERY TIME she thought of her son, of some kind of worst case scenario - if he was dancing in a club, she'd be imagining he was being involved in a brawl, getting stabbed and bleeding to death in the gutter. If he was at the beach, she'd see him drowning. If he was travelling, she would imagine horrendous car crash and plane crash and train wreck scenarios, always ending up with her darling son cut up and bleeding to death somewhere far from home.

The woman was a total nervous wreck as every time she imagined these things, she would get a massive shock of adrenaline into her system, over and over again, and she didn't know how to disperse those hyper-doses of adrenaline in her daily life so it only got worse, and worse.

We may shake our heads at this lady and say, "That's ok, she obviously crazy, but that doesn't have anything to do with MY STRESS. I have REAL reasons to be stressed ..."

The human ability to imagine a situation before it has actually arrived is a curse as much as it is a blessing.

We do this so fast that most of the time, we are entirely unaware of what it is we are imagining.

People who suffer from major money stress have a habit of imagining bailiffs banging on the doors, and themselves and their loved ones on the street, in the freezing cold, their kids staring up at them with enormous eyes ... "Why, daddy? Why ..."

Every time they get a bill, that imagination runs yet again - and of course, they freak out with stress. Even though this hasn't happened, and most likely never will, especially not like that.

I am sure that if you "looked inside", you would likewise find such negative imaginations and fantasies of ruin, pain, death, torment, loneliness, desolation, destruction and whatever else our overheated brains, out of control and under high stress, swamped with adrenaline, will come up with.

So how can we cure this major cause of human stress?

We need to take control of our imaginations.

That is really not as difficult as it may seem once you know what's happening and how you are causing a lot of your own stress; we just need to learn AND PRACTICE to make different imaginings, or internal representations as they're known in the trade, instead.

The lady who used to imagine all these bad things happening to her son started to retrain herself to STOP, and to replace those imaginings with something positive instead - her son driving safely, dancing happily, swimming and splashing in the shallow waters, having a good time.

The difference this made to her stress levels, her headaches, her skin rashes, and how much she "had to drink" every day was tremendous, even in the first week already.

There is of course a metaphysical aspect to all of this; namely that there is a possibility when we imagine things, that we are somehow helping them come true.

And none of us want our "worst case scenarios" to come into being, and least of all by our own thoughts and actions!

"Re-training your imagination" really isn't as hard as it may seem.

If you can't imagine things easily, start by REMEMBERING certain things instead - a time when you earned good money, when the son was driving safely, when a good new job was found, when healing took place.

ANY good imagination or memory, daydream or fantasy will help stop stress, and actively RELIEVE stress, because the body can't tell the difference between an imagined car crash or a real one.

That's extraordinary but true; so you can use this to de-stress even further.

Taking your imagination onto a nice holiday, for example, even for just a few moments, is IMMENSELY stress relieving.

Thinking of beautiful things, of pleasant things, of BEST CASE SCENARIOS, is also an outstanding anti-stress device.

Please don't think that by thinking of pleasant things you are not "facing reality".

Imagining worst case scenarios isn't "facing reality" either - that's just as much an imagining as the other.

The only difference is that one will make us sick with stress, and the other will heal us from stress.

So keep an eye on what your imagination is doing, and start taking some control of what you are thinking about.

Direct your thoughts towards positive outcomes and goals, or at least pleasant and enjoyable memories.

That way, you can use your imagination to create a space of freedom for you to heal, rest, relax and even grow into a much better and much more enjoyable future.

"If you fill your mind to overflowing with beautiful things, there can be no room left for doubt." SFX

Silvia Hartmann

January 2009

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