How Your Imagination Can Help You Overcome Your Fears

Posted on January 16, 2019

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The ability to engage in imagination is what makes us as a human species unique and different from the rest of the animal kingdom. It enables us to consider different scenarios, soothe us during difficult times, and even help us solve problems. Research has found that what we imagine can affect our minds and bodies in concrete ways such as how our minds and bodies anticipate the actions we imagine as though it were a real action and how imagining hearing a sound or see a shape can alter our perceptions of the world in real time. To sum it up, research has proven that our brains perceive what we imagine as actual experiences and this neurological perception might help us overcome our persistent fears and anxieties.

Exposure Therapy is one of the methods recommended by psychologists to help address phobias or anxiety disorders. Its aim is to desensitize the individual to the stimuli that triggers their fear response through repeated exposure of the stimuli in a safe environment. It works by enabling the individual to dissociate the stimuli from threat and negative consequences. Apart from this, researchers have now found that imagining a threat can also help overcome anxieties and phobias as it can alter the way the stimuli is represented in the brain. This was discovered using fMRI scans to assess brain activity in both real and imagined scenarios involving the unpleasant stimuli and their physiological responses with sensors on their skin.

In the study, researchers conditioned participants to associate a particular sound with a subsequent electric shock that brought discomfort and found that participants that actually heard a threatening sound and those that imagined it without subsequent electric shocks have very similar brain activities. The areas of the brain that processed sound, is associated with learned fear and signals exposure to risk were all active. Furthermore, after repeated exposure to this threatening sound without the electric shocks their fears dissipated, removing the association of the sound to the shock. This is like the process of “extinction” in exposure therapy.

Additionally, these researchers suggest that imagination may even be able to “revise” memories that were unpleasant by reconsolidating and updating the way you think about the experience. However, it might not be as effective for all as those who have more vivid imaginations may be able to benefit more from this process of manipulating their associations than those with less vivid imaginations.

Ultimately, this article proves to us the power of imagination and our mind and dispels the common misconception that to reduce fear or negativity, one should imagine only pleasant and good things.

Category(s):Anxiety, Fear

Source material from Medical News Today

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