How does imagery affect our mental health?

What do we mean by imagery? An image is anything that pops into our mind that is non-verbal (i.e. word-based). So, for example, it can be a picture of something, a moving image – a bit like a film – or even the memory of certain smells or tastes. The important part about an image is that it isn’t happening now. These visualisations are often based on memories, but sometimes they can also be of things that may occur in the future (for example imagining a holiday you have coming up!)

Images are often seen as more powerful than words. And studies have shown us that imagining either negative or positive images can have a substantial impact on our emotions, despite not necessarily being real. Recent research has even found that images can have a physical effect on our bodies. One such study cited by Holmes et al. (2019) found that people who were asked to imagine having a bright light shining in their eyes, physically responded through their pupils dilating as if the light were real – despite knowing it wasn’t. This demonstrates a clear link between our body and mind.

Knowing the impact of imagery, what does this mean for our mental health?

Having positive images or remembering memories from happy events (such as a holiday or a fun night with friends) can significantly help to boost our mood when feeling low. These kinds of visualisations can help remind us to plan for the future or make decisions, while also enabling us to navigate challenging periods.

There may be times in our lives when we struggle to remember positive events or find it hard to recall uplifting images. There may even be occasions when we are picturing something upsetting or frightening. These could stem from distressing events that have happened to us, but they may also be of things that we are afraid could happen.

When and how to seek support

If you find you are having distressing images, and they are negatively impacting your life, you may find it useful to seek support through a talking therapy such as CBT.

At Xyla Digital Therapies, we offer flexible online CBT treatment which you can access from the comfort of your own home. Our sessions are available 7 days a week and are booked in at a time that suits you – we offer sessions between 8am – 10pm. To access CBT with us, you need to be referred from your local IAPT service. You can find your local IAPT service by clicking here.

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