Tunnel vision is being so focused on one item that nothing else seems to exist. Everything beyond fades out into darkness, and the only thing occupying your mind is what is visibly in front of you. I have experienced this while writing my book Heels to Holster. I have been so focused on getting it published that I have neglected to add to the blogs on my website (ShirleyWatral.com). It is easy to fall into tunnel vision when one item gets all our attention or one life event seems to consume us, like coronavirus. The news media is consumed with COVID -19. They are experiencing tunnel vision and are reporting on very little else. It is as if the world stopped and we are stuck in a COVID-19 tunnel.
There are two types of tunnel vision. One is when we consciously focus on one item and the other is the effects of our body reacting to outside stimuli. When we are threatened and we get in fight-or-flight mode our nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones, which includes adrenaline. These hormones cause our brain to process incoming information differently and we get tunnel vision, our heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and muscles tighten. We may not realize the effects adrenaline has on us unless we lived through a traumatic event or studied the body’s reaction to stress.
I used to think the term “tunnel vision” only applied to the visual sense. After reading an article by Rich Gasaway called Situational Awareness Matters Understanding Stress – Part 5, I have a different understanding of tunnel vision and how it applies to our other senses, not only vision. It is more of a tunnel of our senses when referring to the actions of our brain on our visual and audible senses during stress. Vision becomes focused on one small area and peripheral vision diminishes. The audible sense is narrowed and is focused on one voice or sound. With visual and audible senses narrowed, your situational awareness has deteriorated. Whatever we can do to reduce stress at those critical times of fight-or-flight will help us act instead of react in times of crisis.
There are ways to counteract this deterioration. One way is to constantly scan the area by keeping your head moving and looking around to help fight the effects. You can also focus on controlling your breathing. The more you know and understand the effects of stress on your senses, the better you are able to control your stress level. Johns Hopkins University did a study of how the body reacts to stress. They found when a person’s vision became tunneled, the audible senses decreased as well and when hearing was tunneled the visual performance decreased. If one goes they both go.
Along with vision and hearing the sense of time is affected. Stress can cause time to feel like it is slowing down or speeding up, and you lose track of how much time truly has passed. I can relate to this. As I worked on writing my book, I realized I had no concept of how much time had passed while I was going through this very stressful time in my life. If it wasn’t for the notes I took along the way and court documents to refer to, my time frame for events would have been really distorted.
I try to be prepared for the unexpected when I am out in public. I check my surroundings and have an evacuation route and an idea of where I can go for cover or concealment when I am in a movie theater, restaurant, or in a check-out line at a store. If I have a plan in mind and something were to happen I am one step ahead of the game and more likely to be able to act instead of react because I already established a plan in my mind. I have also added scenario classes to my list of training. In my next blog will share my experience with scenario training at W.O.F.T.