When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it can be really hard to keep things in perspective. You can start to develop a sort of “tunnel vision”, where you can only see the problems and challenges in front of you and it's hard to focus on anything else beyond that. You lose sight of the bigger picture, you lose patience, you feel stuck, and all you can see is the negative.
We all have experiences with this - sometimes it's just a momentary state and other times it becomes a persistent issue - either way, we develop that tunnel vision when we're under stress because we have what’s known as a negativity bias.
Negativity bias is the tendency to see the negative more readily and to dwell on it. This leads us to remember traumatic and difficult events more readily than positive ones, recall insults more readily than praise, and react more strongly to negative events and stimuli than to positive ones.
This is by design – it’s a survival mechanism. Your mind is on alert looking for negativity – the threats and the dangers – and when you encounter something dangerous you hold on to the memory of it so that you can prevent yourself from facing it again. This is all in an attempt to protect you and keep you safe from harm.
This certainly comes in handy, BUT…
When you are constantly focused on the negative, it ends up limiting your perspective.
Without greater perspective, you tend to be more reactive and you might end up seeing things as more urgent or disastrous than they actually are. You can also miss or misread the details of a situation, which can leave you with a limited understanding and keep you stuck in negativity and fear.
But if you can step back and get some perspective you can see the whole story - the details and the greater context, the negative and the positive.
Instead of seeing things in terms of what you have and don’t have or what you’ve done or not done, you can step back and take note of your progress in the context of your larger goals and you can reflect on what you’ve learned or gained along the way.
You can get a clearer picture of what’s happening, or what needs to happen, and see the consequences, patterns, possibilities, and alternatives, all of which allows for better problem-solving. Being able to get some perspective also gives you a greater feeling of confidence because you can see the bigger picture and you can see that there is a way forward.
Sometimes getting perspective simply involves being able to shift how you’re thinking about things or asking yourself: What’s another way I can look at this?
But as I mentioned previously, shifting your perspective in this way is not always that easy, especially when you’re under a lot of stress, because that negativity bias is kicking in and keeping you focused on all of the negative.
Sometimes you need to find new ways to help readjust your focus – to zoom in or zoom out – so that you can find the clarity, perspective, and relief that you are looking for.
When you are finding it hard to get perspective, you might need to broaden your view, or zoom out, and try redirecting your attention outside of yourself and your current experience. Here are some ideas for how you can zoom out to get perspective:
Try stepping back and looking at your situation from another person’s perspective or ask for someone else’s perspective.
Remind yourself of your “why”. What are the bigger reasons for why you do the things that you do? How is it all linked to your values and your long-term or bigger picture goals?
Look for greater meaning. Things happen for a reason and ultimately it’s up to you to figure out what that reason might be.
Get outside or get away. Step away from what you’ve been focused on or go outside to get some fresh air. It’s even better if you can go somewhere with an expansive view to give yourself a visual reminder that the world is much bigger than you and the challenges in front of you.
Enjoy yourself and laugh. Doing something enjoyable and seeing the humor in things helps clear your mind, lift your mood, and allows you to see outside of problems or obstacles.
Help others. This is a great way to temporarily redirect your focus beyond the problems and struggles you might be having and feel good about yourself in the process.
You might also need to find ways to zoom in so that you can get a clearer perspective - and I don’t mean zooming in on the problems or obstacles in front of you - I mean focusing in on YOU and your well-being and focusing on the present moment.
When you focus on how you can take care of yourself and direct your attention away from the past or future and into the present moment, you allow your nervous system a chance to rest and recharge, which allows for clearer thinking and a fresh perspective.
Here's some ideas for how to zoom in:
Give yourself a break and rest. Even if it's just for a few minutes at a time, every little bit helps.
Exercise or move your body. This helps relieve tension, redirects your focus to the present moment, and can clear your mind.
Spend time alone. Get some alone time to give yourself a break from the input from others and take some time to really listen to yourself and your needs.
Appreciate the present moment and practice gratitude. Slow down and take in the good things in the present moment to counteract the negativity bias. Take note of the little things that surround you that are pleasant and enjoyable and really allow yourself to take it all in. This might mean noticing the sun coming in through the window or the warmth it creates on your skin. Savoring a sip of coffee or tea. Enjoying the sound of birds singing or simply sitting in a comfortable chair. Take a moment to experience and appreciate it.
These are just a few ways to help you break out of that tunnel vision and get some much-needed perspective, but any way that you can step back, clear your mind, and adjust your point of view will help give you a better outlook and a clearer vision for moving forward.