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A brief guide to guided imagery

Patient information A-Z


This is a very simple technique that some people find useful in a number of different situations, such as:

  • When unhelpful or intrusive thoughts keep playing over in your mind
  • If you need to distract yourself from what is going on around you, such as during an investigation or a procedure
  • To help relax and switch off your mind, particularly if you are finding it difficult to sleep for example
  • To help you feel calmer if you anticipate experiencing difficult symptoms, such as pain, nausea or vomiting

Guided imagery usually involves imagining yourself in a place where you feel safe, happy, comfortable and relaxed. This may be a place that you have been to, either recently or in the distant past and have fond memories of. It may be a place that you have read about or seen in a film. It may be somewhere completely imaginary that you would like to be, such as at a beach or in the mountains. You can create the scene as you would wish for it to be.

How to do it

Focus on your breathing and body

Get yourself as comfortable as possible either sitting or lying down

Close your eyes or focus your attention on one spot

Spend a moment just paying attention to your breathing

Focus your attention on the breath as it goes in, feel your chest rise and then as you exhale

Now bring your attention to your body

Spend a few moments just attending to the muscles in your body, starting from your toes all the way up to your head and just notice if they feel tense or relaxed. If they are tense, try to release that tension

It is normal to be distracted during these exercises. If this happens, then just notice it and bring your attention back to the task

Start to use your imagination

Once the breathing is under control, and the body feels as comfortable as it can be – start to use your imagination.

Imagine you are standing at the beginning of a path

  • Now start moving down it as you count from one to ten.
  • You can walk down it, run down it, fly down it, skate down it, drive down it – however you want to travel along the path.

When you get to ten, imagine a gate in front of you

  • Touch the gate and it will open.
  • Walk through the gate.
  • Touch the gate and it will close behind you.

Start exploring

Now find yourself in the place where you feel safe, happy, comfortable and relaxed.

Start to explore this place, focusing on each of your senses in turn

Look around you and pay attention to the scene that surrounds you. Notice the colours and textures
Listen to all the sounds you can hear, focus on each sound in turn
Touch things around you – notice the sensations, textures and temperatures for example
Smell – attend to all the smells you associate with this place
Taste – focus your attention on all the tastes from food and drink that you associate with this place

Leaving your this place but knowing you can always return to it

Spend as long as you like exploring the place you have created in your mind

When you are ready to leave it, then see the gate in front of you again.

  • Touch it to open it and walk through it
  • Touch it to close it, knowing you can always return, and no-one can spoil it for you

Return to everyday life

See the path, and start moving down it.

This time move down it while counting backwards from ten to one.

When you get to two, open your eyes.

At one, be back in everyday life.

When to do it

You may find it helpful to practice this exercise when you are not feeling stressed or anxious. As you become more practiced at it, you should find it easier to use when you are distressed or uncomfortable.

Contacts and further information

If you require further information please leave a message for:

Dr Lynda Teape
HCPC Registered and Chartered Clinical Psychologist in Palliative Care

Box 63
Elsworth House
Addenbrooke's Hospital
Hills Road

Tel: 01223 274404 (internal: 274404)

Office hours: Monday to Friday 09:00 to 17:00

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

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Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151