I’ll admit it: I think mental visualization is kind of hokey. Always have. So if you had told me five years ago that I would be sitting here, suggesting that you use a meditation to deal with negative emotions, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I’m a big fan of Michelle May, M.D., founder of the “Am I Hungry?” mindful eating program. So when I read that she suggested an exercise to help you sit with your anxiety (or depression, or whatever) and feel it—rather than resorting to less-than-constructive coping mechanisms—I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? The visualization has actually worked really well for me, particularly when I feel overwhelmed at work (which I’m guessing is probably something most of you can relate to). Here’s how it works:
While using mindful breathing, imagine yourself sitting at the edge of the ocean. Place your hands on the area of your body where you’re experiencing discomfort. Imagine breathing it closer to you, just as a wave moves toward you from the ocean to the shore. Allow the wave to wash over you. While breathing out, allow the discomfort to pull away from you and recede back into the ocean. Continue to visualize the waves building, rolling toward then over you, then rolling back out into the ocean. Align the rhythm of your breathing with the sequence of the waves.
Simple enough, right? As May says, “This wave meditation will help you become more relaxed and less fearful of the discomfort of the feelings in your body because you recognize that they ebb and flow by the ocean and that even intense emotions will subside as you observe them.” Lately, when I’ve tried this technique, I can actually feel my stress decreasing with each breath. I don’t think I’ll be visualizing myself running a faster mile as I fall asleep at night (even though experts recommend it), but I am happy to say I was wrong—at least about this meditation.