A simple trick to switch off your stress response:
with your eyes
Have you ever wondered why humans love a view? A big coastal sky, or getting to the top of a hill?
It’s calming. It helps us to get perspective. And in our ancient brains, unconsciously, it helps us feel safe. We can see that there are no imminent threats. We can relax.
The main job of our brain is to keep us alive. To keep us safe. And more than 50% of our brain is organised around our dominant sense - vision.
Our eyes are our first line of defence
When we feel stressed the first thing our brain does is to try to get us safe. So it has to assess the threat fast.
Our vision is narrowed and focused on the person or situation so that we can take in every detail to work out our safest option as quickly as possible.
It’s the reason that some people experience tunnel vision when they have a panic attack or experience trauma.
Many people talk of being hyper-vigilant when they feel anxious. Their brains and eyes are constantly, actively scanning for threats and assessing every potential point in the surroundings.
Being constantly on alert is exhausting. And it keeps you in Fight/Flight/Freeze all the time.
How our eyes focus
Our vision can be focused in 2 different ways: foveal or peripheral Foveal vision is when we focus our attention immediately in front of us. We use this when we are assessing threat but also when we stare at our computer screen or our mobile phone, when we are driving, talking to someone, watching TV, playing sport or reading a book.
Foveal vision is linked to arousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – the part of the involuntary or autonomic nervous system (ANS) associated with activity, adrenaline and the Fight/Flight/Freeze stress response.
Peripheral vision is the field of vision you have that’s broader and, without moving your head when you soften your eyes, you’re able to notice what is to your left and right, and what is above and below.|
Peripheral vision is associated with arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – the part of the nervous system associated with relaxation, calmness and healing.
When we consciously shift into peripheral vision we can switch off the stress response.
We can either use the SNS or the PNS.
Both systems can’t be on at the same time.
So shifting your focus from front-focused vision to peripheral vision is a quick and simple way to shift your state to calm when you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
You are sending a message to your survival system that you are safe.
There are no threats in your immediate environment.
And when you combine peripheral vision with an abdominal breathing technique like the Square Breathing you are powerfully flicking the Fight/Flight/Freeze
So how do you turn on your peripheral vision?
There are 2 quick techniques:
"Look for the plane in the sky"
When you are sitting or walking, lift your chin and keep your eyes focused just above the horizon.
Like you are looking at a plane in the sky.
Soften your focus by relaxing the muscles behind your eyes.
Can you be aware of things at the very edge of your vision without moving your eyes?
You will feel your jaw relax and your breathing deepen.
Keep looking up with your chin tilted. Count to 30.
Then bring your eyes back to normal.
Notice how your body feels now.
Try this guided visualisation
Find a point straight in front of you above eye level to focus on.
Like you are looking at a plane in the sky.
Lift your chin and keep your eyes still.
Take in every detail of the point your are looking at.
Stretch your eyes wide and then relax your eyes to look at that point in soft focus.
Take a deep breath in and then let it out slowly.
After a while you may find that the rest of the room gets a bit fuzzy or hazy and you get a kind of tunnel vision.
Now gradually become aware of the area immediately around this point, to the sides and slightly above and below.
Then gradually broaden your awareness of the area a little further out until you’re aware of all that is around you.
Could yousee your fingers wriggling at the sides of your head if you were holding your hands up, without moving your eyes?
That is the periphery of your vision.
And notice that you can extend your awareness all the way around behind you while you keep your eyes still and lifted.
Notice that your breathing has slowed down a little,
and the muscles of your face have relaxed,
and your jaw is dropping too.
And as you stay there for a little while longer … you can really enjoy that sense of slowing down inside.
You might find that your hands begin to get warm … or it might be that you simply feel a sense of overall calmness and ease that comes from helping your body to relax… and slow your breathing down … and even your heartbeat is slowing down now.
Feel your mind and body and emotions coming back into balance….
And now, as you realise you can easily practice this whenever you like at home or at work.
You can come back to normal conscious awareness …
Still relaxed but also alert and energised, ready for the rest of your day.
The Benefits of Practicing Peripheral Vision
You experience less stress.
It is very difficult for your fight or flight response to stay activated when you are breathing deeply into your abdomen and you shift your eyes to peripheral vision.
When you’re in peripheral vision you’re really relaxing, your mind is clear, your thinking flows and you feel calm and refreshed.
Just imagine how much you could benefit from being in a relaxed, centred, calm, yet focused state rather than feel stressed and anxious if you practised this regularly.
Quite simply, learning to shift into peripheral vision and being able to maintain that state over time is one of the best things you can do to enhance your brain, mental and physical health.
You can come out of fight/flight/freeze whenever you choose now.
This helps you to reduce your adrenaline and cortisol levels and
helps to keep your GABA levels high.
This increases your clarity of thinking, you can creatively solve problems, and you can experience an overall sense of well-being.
If you would like to learn about your GABA levels and how you can keep them high to help you feel calm, relaxed and balanced then you could