If you ever feel overwhelmed, anxious, headache-y, overstimulated, panicky, generally too tired to function, can't fall asleep, or have just been staring at a screen for too long, this blog post is for you. Yes, YOU. We've all been there, and are all in need of useful tricks to bring ourselves back to the ground and reset. This one is my favorite. I can personally vouch for it helping me get through the last year I taught preschool - a high-stimulation, fast-paced, easily overwhelming environment. I would have used it much earlier in my brief career as a preschool teacher if I had learned it sooner.
- Rub your hands together to warm up your palms. Gently place your palms over your eyes so your fingers cross over your forehead. Keeping your hands soft, arrange them over and around your eyes such that you can block out as much ambient light as possible. When I say gentle, I mean gentle. Pressure against your eyes or suction-cupping your palms to your face is not useful here. The warmth of your hands is enough.
- Close your eyes, and let them settle into the darkness. You may find at first that the darkness is not very dark, but as your eyes and nervous system calm down and become less busy, the darkness will get darker. Find the darkest spot, and through closed lids, gaze softly into the distance, like you were looking at a magic 3-D picture or staring into space. Even if you are nearsighted, the most restful place for your eyes is gazing softly into the distance. Stay like this as long as you like.
- So as to not shock your nervous system, do not take your hands away all at once. Instead, keep your eyes closed and slowly take away and bring back a finger or two, letting in a little light, then coming back to darkness. Each time, let in a little more light until your eyes have adjusted through closed lids to the ambient light. Bring your hands back to your face, open your eyes, and repeat the process.
This whole process can be done with eyes open. Personally, I find eyes closed much more soothing.
What does this little exercise accomplish? By reducing external stimulation, it gives your parasympathetic nervous system (calm, sleep, meditation, etc) a chance to push past the bullying of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight, anxiety, etc). It also reduces muscle activity around your eyes, which then has a profound impact on muscle activity through the rest of your head and jaw. The last part of it, letting light in slowly, trains your pupils how to adjust easily to light and dark.
Give your nervous system a little break from this busy, exciting, stimulating world we live in.