All in Autonomic Nervous System
ocal vision is associated with increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system (the GO! branch of the autonomic nervous system). This can be a good thing when we need to focus on something specific for a certain period of time since autonomic arousal can boost our ability to pay attention. But if we remain locked in this high-focus mode of visual perception for longer than our nervous system can tolerate, we may experience feelings of stress, anxiety, tunnel vision (or “one-track mind”), and hyper-vigilance. But there’s good news! Panoramic or peripheral vision is associated with a decrease in autonomic arousal, or the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This decreased arousal may be experienced feeling safe and calm and with having a broad yet flexible awareness of your surroundings.
The way our autonomic nervous systems assesses and respond to threat vs safety is highly individual and is conditioned by many factors including genetics, family dynamics, trauma history, experiences in educational systems, overall physical and mental health, social supports, etc., etc., etc. Another way of saying this is: Situations and events are not in themselves stressful (or not) or relaxing (or not); they are not threatening (or not) or safe (or not). It is the nervous system’s response to a situation or event that determines whether it is experienced as stressful, exciting, enlivening, relaxing, threatening, etc. One of the cool things about working with the nervous system is that we can learn to sense and, with practice, shift which how our own unique systems respond to experience. We can learn to give ourselves the support we need — and to be skilful about seeking support from others — to excel and meet our goals.