How Folding Your Arms Can Help You Power Through Peripheral Staring

I’ve discussed staring at people’s privates in Visual Tourettic OCD in previous blogs. But let me talk about peripheral staring and a technique to help suppress the tic for a few seconds when you need it most.

Peripheral staring is not gazing at people in and of itself, even though that’s how it might appear. Instead, it’s turning towards the distraction concerning people and what they’re doing. Or being distracted and looking out the corners of your eyes.

For example, suppose I’m on a bus, and someone is making a shuffling noise opposite me. The noise is like a magnet pulling my head sideways, but it seems I’m being rude when I turn and appear to look at the person making the noise. Or other times, my eyes dart to the side when I feel the presence of people beside me. Of course, it’s difficult to say what I’m looking at exactly, but my thoughts are that it’s a harmless check that’s near-automatic. So, my thoughts are not about looking because I’m intrigued. It’s about not looking and hoping I can stop myself. 

Misophonia

Looking feels like something in my brain that needs discharging. I might liken the irritation to Misophonia, a hatred of sounds that make me react emotionally. Usually, the emotion is anger, but it can come with other emotions, such as sadness. Some of my triggered noises are when people eat, swallow, sniff, cough and rattle packets. 

Misophonia also affects me when people are around me without making any noises. For example, suppose I feel them too close; it’s as though I can hear them making sickly noises when they’re not. It’s as if their presence equals noise. For example, I can sense or “hear” breathing that triggers intolerance and emotional distress and I need to drown it out.

Noise Equals Presence

But with peripheral staring, it feels like people’s noises are about their presence, demanding attention from me, like on the bus, and someone is shuffling behind me or beside me. In that case, I can hear their noises like a presence grating on my nervous system. It doesn’t make me angry or stir up other emotions as it does in Misophonia. Instead, it triggers sensory discomfort and threat. And when I can see them in my periphery, it makes me feel more jittery. So, of course, when I turn and look, it’s with an automatic fear response, a type of hyperarousal, a cowering response preventing me from processing their indirect noises and movements with sense information. My nervousness explains that I’m not interested in them and want to stare, but being overwhelmed with sensory overload makes it difficult to let them know you mean no harm.

As a further example, imagine I’m in a library this time. Everyone around me is quiet. But then, I’m triggered by a person beside me. Because she’s in my field of vision, perhaps the parts of my brain responsible for emotions in Misophonia also respond to the sensitive aspects of peripheral vision, like too much jittery awareness for the nervous system to manage. So, the hyperawareness makes me jolt and release the tic I want desperately to suppress. 

3-Step Competing Technique

There are different techniques you can use to suppress the urge to look in situations I’ve just described. I’ll share one involving competing responses where a specific discomfort must overpower the premonitory urge to stare. This technique addresses the tic, not an obsession and compulsion related to it. It’s a skill you can use in legitimate situations where you want to avoid unnecessary drama where people can be offended when you continually “look” at them. 

So, imagine I’m travelling on public transport and get the pulling urge to turn and look when I hear noises opposite me:

  1. I will fold my arms and push my hands into my biceps. It tenses the head, neck and shoulders, so turning to look is restricted, which is what you want.
  2. I concentrate on the discomfort of squeezing my hands into my biceps and pushing harder, which competes more intensely with the premonitory tension to release the tic and look.
  3. I then relax my arms but keep them folded loosely and use the competing response when I need it to help suppress a tic for a few seconds. 

I like this competing response because no one seems to notice you’re doing it throughout the journey. But remember, it restricts movement, so if you have muscular or skeletal problems, check with your doctor first before you do it.

Questions welcome in comments section below.

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