When the World Feels Dangerous. Here’s How to Create a Safe Place.March 26, 2020
Brooke Feinerman, PhD
Brooke’s training is in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University, and a PhD in somatic psychology from Pacifica. She has additional training and certificates from Harvard’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine.
In the midst of feeling overwhelmed with stress, fear, anxiety, the unknown, and uncertainty, the mind and body need to find a place of rest. A safe place allows the body to relax and enter into homeostasis, which is the balance point within the body that allows for healing. When the external world feels out of our control, one practice that can alleviate some of the stress and fear is to practice visualizing a safe place. Studies have shown that creating an actual visual representation through an art piece, photograph, painting, drawing, collage, or other visual form can help heighten the physiological response of relaxation in the body. Additional studies have shown imagery creates a greater increase in positive affective response and feelings of well-being, then verbal processing alone. The use of imagery in creating a safe place helps create positive affect and emotion. These positive emotions in turn can help booster the immune system and generate feelings of well-being, decreasing anxiety and fear. Mental imagery can have a profound impact on our mood, motivations, behaviors, emotions, and bodies. Neuroscience has provided evidence suggesting brain structures that participate in mental imagery and are connected to the same underling neural networks used for actual perception.
Action to Take: One way to create a visual representation of a safe place for yourself is to take several deep breaths and allow yourself to take an internal trip through your memories until you can recall a place where you truly felt at peace, calm, and safe. This might be someplace in nature or a location you would love to visit where you imagine would feel safe, calm, relaxed, and at ease, such as a beach or mountain top. You might find your chosen place is a place where you are alone, or you might notice familiar people you love who make you feel peaceful. Once you have that place held in your mind’s eye, spend a few moments noticing the colors and textures. Imagine what it might smell like in that location, what sounds you might hear, and what sensations you might feel. For example, if you are on a mountain top maybe you can imagine the wind against your face, or if you are on a beach, you can conjure up the sensation of the sand between your toes, the sound of the ocean waves, and the coolness of the water against your legs. After a few moments, open your eyes and create a visual representation of what you experienced. You can do this activity alone, with your family, or with your children. You can use images from magazines or those you find on the internet; alternatively, you may choose to paint or draw the image. You might also want to create a mixed media image, meaning you could also write words that came to you superimposed on the image you create. Once you have completed your image or collection of images, use it at least once a day as a visual reminder of serenity and safety in your life. You might not be able to physically go to that place right now, but as you visit the image each day try to fully embody what it would feel like to be there. Use all of your senses to imagine what you would feel in your place that is safe, pleasant, and comforting to you. As you embody the feeling, your body will be positively affected, creating an internal physiological response that cultivates a sense of calm and relaxation.
This article is intended for information purposes only, regardless of if the information is presented by a medical practitioner, physician or other professional. This article is provided to educate and inspire you on your personal journey, and is not a substitute for specialized medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be relied upon for specific medical care or in the place of specific medical guidance provided to you, by your care provider.
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Renner, F., Murphy, F. C., Ji, J. L., Manly, T., & Holmes, E. A. (2019). Mental imagery as a “motivational amplifier” to promote activities. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 114, 51-59.
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