Can Guided Imagery Help With Multiple Sclerosis?

Guided Imagery
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Multiple sclerosis is notoriously difficult to treat, but a mind/body practice called guided imagery may help patients boost their wellbeing. A type of self-care technique, guided imagery involves focusing on positive and peaceful images in order to reduce stress and bring about certain physical benefits.

While scientists are still trying to determine how guided imagery might influence health, this practice is based on the theory that the mind can affect a number of bodily functions. To that end, some proponents of guided imagery suggest that the technique can strengthen the body’s self-healing abilities and alleviate MS symptoms.

Although guided imagery shouldn’t be used as a sole treatment for multiple sclerosis, it may have powerful benefits as a complement to standard therapy. In fact, many patients report using guided imagery in order to take a more active role in their treatment and increase their coping skills.

Why Do People Use Guided Imagery for Multiple Sclerosis?

In people with multiple sclerosis, the body mistakenly attacks its own myelin (a substance that coats your nerve cells) and, in turn, triggers such symptoms as muscle weakness, chronic pain, coordination problems, fatigue, and difficulty with bladder control. Because there’s no cure for multiple sclerosis, patients often incorporate alternative and complementary therapies like guided imagery into their treatment plan.

According to some proponents of guided imagery, this technique can offer a wide range of benefits to people with multiple sclerosis, including:

  • Reduced pain and stiffness
  • Increased energy levels
  • Relief of stress and anxiety
  • Improved mood

It’s also thought that guided imagery can help patients overcome their fear and nervousness when undergoing difficult or painful treatments.

What’s more, the lack of physical effort required of guided imagery may be especially advantageous to people with multiple sclerosis (many of whom may face some degree of physical disability).

How Does Guided Imagery Work?

According to Belleruth Naparstek (a psychotherapist, author, and leader in the field of guided imagery), this technique acts as “a kind of directed daydreaming, a way of using the imagination very specifically to help mind and body heal, stay strong, and even perform as needed.”

There are many ways to carry out this directed daydreaming, but most approaches involve visualizing a comforting scene (such as a quiet beach or tranquil forest) and conjuring up all the pleasant sensory elements associated with that scene (including scents, sounds, and textures along with sights). In more advanced approaches targeted toward specific conditions (such as multiple sclerosis), guided imagery may involve imagining disease-fighting activity taking place inside the body.

Although beginners may benefit from practicing this technique with the help of a healthcare professional, a variety of resources (including books and audio recordings) can provide you with guided imagery scripts.

The Science Behind Guided Imagery and Multiple Sclerosis

At this point, very few studies have tested guided imagery’s effects in people with multiple sclerosis. However, some preliminary research (including a small study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine in 2018) indicates that guided imagery shows promise as a complementary therapy for MS.

In the 2018 study, a small group of people with multiple sclerosis either practiced a technique called Healing Light Guided Imagery or took up journaling for 10 weeks. At the end of that 10-week period, the nine study members who’d practiced guided imagery showed greater improvements in mood, fatigue, and physical and mental quality of life (compared to the eight participants who completed the journaling program).

In addition, a report published in the journal Patient Preference and Adherence in 2014 lists guided imagery (along with meditation and music) among the strategies that may help ease the injection-related anxiety/phobia commonly experienced by multiple sclerosis patients. (Certain medications used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis are administered via injection.)

Helpful Hints for Practicing Guided Imagery

To make the most of your guided imagery practice, keep the following advice in mind:

  • For optimal relaxation, always practice guided imagery in a quiet, comfortable setting.
  • Aim for two guided imagery sessions per day (such as first thing in the morning and right before bedtime).
  • Consider including calming music in your guided imagery practice. It may help you to relax more easily and quickly.

It should be noted that mind/body practices like yoga and tai chi may also alleviate some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

If you’re considering the use of guided imagery in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (or any other chronic condition), make sure to consult your physician before you begin practicing the technique.

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