Both chronic and acute stress narrows one’s mental perspective. Most often, this is referred to as “tunnel vision.” We become fixated on the problem at hand or its negative impacts on our lives, and much else fades away. The result? The predicament usually looks and feels bigger and more insurmountable than it actually is.
Research demonstrates that broadening one’s mental perspective helps put a problem in a more realistic and manageable framework. It allows us to compartmentalize, which is the ability to mentally place a problem aside long enough to focus on other things. It’s not the same as denial, where we pretend there is no issue to address.
Here are some approaches that help broaden mental perspective:
- Spending more time in nature. It’s a big world out there, and when we enter the natural realm, we realize our problems, while significant, are not the whole story.
- Speaking of nature, certain locales work better than others for broadening mental perspective, including vistas, shorelines, open spaces like prairie and farm fields, and the sky, particularly on a clear night away from city lights.
- Journaling. Putting one’s stress-related thoughts on paper helps with compartmentalization. When we put the journal away, it helps us mentally put away the problem.
- Mental Distancing. Subconsciously, we tend to associate a personal problem with a physical space. Notice if you tend to worry or ruminate more while in a specific location (usually a room). Getting up and leaving that space, even for a short time, creates mental distancing, meaning the problem doesn’t seem so “in your face.”
- Humor. Stress is no laughing matter, but when we find occasion for some mirth, our problems seem less overwhelming. Seek out media and people that give you a good laugh.
- Remember. Recalling past problems and challenges one has successfully overcome helps put present ones in a more hopeful framework.
Seeing the bigger picture that surrounds one’s smaller but still significant woes helps dial down stress. The axiom, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff” is clearly not true. But big stuff looks smaller when we gain perspective.