UArizona Nursing Professor Suggests Using Guided Imagery to Deal with Stress and Social Isolation

Apr 2, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Judith Gordon, PhD, a professor and associate dean for research at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, suggests using guided imagery as a means to deal with the potential negative health effects of social isolation.

Dr. Judith Gordon (here) and her colleagues use guided imagery to help people make positive lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthfully and getting more exercise (Source: University of Arizona]. Dr. Gordon and her colleagues have used guided imagery successfully to help people make positive lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthfully and getting more exercise. Guided imagery also has been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety. Their most recent paper on the topic appeared in the December issue of the journal Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications.

“The many ‘shelter in place’ orders across the country have health-care researchers concerned about the effects of social isolation,” Dr. Gordon said. “Many people affected by the orders are stuck inside with no access to the outdoors or ability to engage in normal activities. People who cannot go outdoors may experience increased stress and anxiety as a result.”

Guided imagery is a proven method that uses a person’s imagination to help them deal with stressful situations, including social isolation. This technique also is called visualization. But guided imagery includes more than just visual images. It involves imagining sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile senses and emotions in a particular situation.

Dr. Gordon provides the following sample of an exercise to illustrate how guided imagery works:

Visualizing the scents and flavors of actions like slicing lemons, the feel of a cool breeze while walking on a beach or the whisper of wind through mountain trees all are part of the healing power of guided imagery [Source: Getty Images].“Imagine you are in a kitchen with a bowl of lemons on the counter. You see their bright yellow color and distinctive shape. You reach out and select a ripe yellow lemon. You feel the weight of the lemon in your hand as you slide your fingers over the dimpled waxy skin. Now, put the lemon down on the counter, pick up a knife and carefully cut into the lemon. You see the yellow flesh and the juice dripping out onto the counter. You smell the sharp citrusy aroma. You cut a slice and put it in your mouth. Bite down on the tart, juicy slice and let your mouth fill with the tangy juice.”

Dr. Gordon said the trick to making the most of guided imagery is to create a very detailed “script” describing favorite scenes or activities. After a guided imagery script has been created, it can be recorded as an audio file that can be listened to several times each day to alleviate stress. The more vivid the imagery, the more effective it will be at reducing stress.

“After you’ve created a guided imagery script that you like, record it on your phone or ask a friend or family member to record it if you don’t like the sound of your own voice,” Dr. Gordon said. “It's easy to send scripts and audio files by email or text. You can create as many audio files as you like.”

Researchers at the UArizona College of Nursing feel guided imagery, or visualization, also can help with stress from the COVID-19 pandemic [Source: Getty Images].

She suggests listening to one audio file several times each day until you automatically recall the images vividly. The more vivid the imagery, the more effective it will be at reducing stress. Then, you can move on to the next file. If you can automatically recall the guided imagery, you can use it even if you don’t have access to the audio file. 

“When you are feeling isolated or stressed, listen to or recall your guided imagery,” Dr. Gordon said. “Stroll through a beautiful village, hike up a mountain, sail on the ocean. Guided imagery can take you on infinite, enjoyable journeys.”

For additional tips on how to create your own guided imagery script, click here.

More information on the college’s activities as to the COVID-19 pandemic is at this link.

The UArizona Health Sciences COVID-19 Resources webpage can be found here.

For the latest on the UArizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.

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NOTE: Photos available upon request.

About the University of Arizona College of Nursing
Established in 1957, the University of Arizona College of Nursing has been transforming nursing education, research and practice to help people build better futures for more than 60 years. Consistently ranked among the best programs in the nation, the college is strengthening health care’s largest workforce and the public’s most trusted profession through its undergraduate and graduate programs, offered online and on-campus in Tucson and Phoenix. Headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., where integrative health has been pioneered, the UA College of Nursing is home to the world’s only Integrative Nursing Faculty Fellowship. With key focal strengths in integrative health, cancer prevention and survivorship, and nursing informatics, the college has more than 7,000 alumni worldwide promoting health and wellness in their workplaces and communities. For more information: nursing.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

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