visual coping techniques

Visual Coping Techniques

There are plenty of ways to release your feelings when you have words at your disposal. You can write a journal, engage in talk therapy, or chat with a friend. But what do you do when you need to get a hold of your emotions and you don’t have words to calm you? You need visual coping techniques.

Lauren Marks tackles this issue in her book, A Stitch of Time (our current online book club selection). Her brain gives birth to a duck that she trots out whenever she needs to feel calm.

No Words Necessary

Part of the reason talk therapy is so successful is that it’s calming to take thoughts out of your brain. By speaking them aloud, they lose their power. Fear-inducing ideas suddenly feel a little more manageable. But what do you do when you can’t release those thoughts through words?

Lauren Marks finds that thinking about ducks helps her to feel calm when she begins to panic. She writes on page 215:

It didn’t have to be ducks, of course, but I found them pretty reliable as a touchstone. So whenever I got overwhelmed, I guided my mind to ducks. Cartoon ducks, usually. They wore scuba gear or tutus, they played brass instruments, they smoked cigars, and they were incredibly gassy. Words weren’t welcome in these animated sequences, just bright, silly images. This helped reverse the anxiety cycle for a little while. After those shorts played out in my brain, I still needed to face the issues at hand, but I could do so with a much more relaxed mind.

She uses these mental movies whenever she begins to panic about losing the progress she has made in treating her aphasia. Playing them in her brain breaks the anxiety cycle and allows her to tackle her fears from a place of calm rather than a place of panic.

Finding Your Visual

How can you create your own mental movie? It helps to keep replaying the same visual images so your brain is trained to relax when the thoughts begin. Imagine a place you like to visit or a person you love. Now create a small scene in that space or with that person. Look around: What are you doing? What do you see, hear, or smell?

Introduce a funny element into the mix to lighten the mood. Lauren used ducks, but you can use anything that will make you crack a smile.

Once you have a happy scene in your brain, mentally record it and then bring it out whenever you start feeling anxiety. You can use it before stressful appointments, or even schedule a break midday to “watch” your mental film. Think about how you feel both before and after you sit and think about your scene for a few minutes. Do you feel calmer after you’ve broken the anxiety cycle?

We’d love to hear what you’re using as a mental movie to create your own visual coping techniques.

Image: Andrew Wulf via Unsplash



  • Suzanne
    November 3, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    I experienced something similar last night. I was in a newly discovered safe place of calm and relaxation, an actual physical space. But suddenly, it didn’t feel safe because of a conversation that was in progress as I stepped in.

    I didn’t want to leave that safe spot, but my anxiety was building. I decided to join the conversation to share my perspective which was received well. But my nerves were shooting signals. If I had a neuro event, would I be safe? Logically, yes. Emotionally, not convinced.

    I stepped out of the room and could feel the panic really set in. (Sorry this is so long.)

    Then I remembered the swimming pool in the desert at my sister’s this summer. I pictured the rocks, the sand. I closed my eyes and felt the water and the deep warmth of the desert sun. Then I remembered how I mulled Psalm 23 in that pool this summer.

    I mulled the words slowly again, floating in the pool, surrounded by rocks (I love rocks!) in a safe place.

    My Shepherd is with me. I am safe.

    I opened my eyes and although I was still shaken and silent that night, there was also a deep peace.

    After reading about your ducks, I added a laughing cactus in sunglasses to my scene!

    And now? I’m smiling and am thankful I had a place to share what happened last night. Thank you. ❤

  • Violet Cox
    November 15, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I think the concept of “visual images” is a novel way to break the anxiety cycle that some individuals with aphasia experience. Personally, I often use what I call “sky painting” to help me through moments of anxiety. I paint scenes in the sky. Usually I imagine people or animals or objects in the clouds, then I develop a story. Inevitably, I become so engross in the story that I forget my anxiety, and I laugh at my silly art and story! I never thought I would even find a place to share my “visual images!” But it works for me. Possibly there are others who do this same thing – pictures in the clouds – but never realize how deeply calming it can be. I’m thinking now, as I write, that this level of “inner speaking” might serve as a catalyst to evoke some actual verbalization in individuals with aphasia. What do you think?

  • Linda Quick
    November 15, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you Suzanne, for your comments! I have Aphasic. Three years ago, 8/27/14. Psalms 23 & Proverbs 3:5-6, help me!

  • Jean Purcell
    November 15, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Suzanne’s comment (not at all too long!) about swimming pool (in the desert) and rocks gave me good ideas. (I love water flowing, pools, & rocks, too, from interesting small to boulders like those on our property). Today is first reading about using visuals. So glad to get these emails & info.

  • Jean Purcell
    November 15, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    P.S. Also love Psalm 23. Now will reflect more on its importance in relation to calming help.

  • Leslee Lee
    December 3, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I had a stroke almost 4 years ago. I think i have a form of aphasia but have no diagnosis. How do you get evaluated to know for sure?

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