How Folding Your Arms Can Help You Power Through Peripheral Staring

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

First, 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. Looking feels like spontaneous activity in my brain that needs discharging. So, my thoughts are not about looking because I’m intrigued. It’s about not looking and hoping I can stop myself. 

Misophonia

I might liken the feeling of peripheral staring to Misophonia. It is a hatred of sounds that makes you react emotionally. Usually, the emotion is anger, but it can come with other emotions, such as sadness. Triggering noises are when people eat, swallow, sniff, cough and rattle packets. 

Misophonia can also affect you when people aren’t making any sounds. It’s as if you can hear them making noises when they’re not. So for example, you can sense or “hear” breathing that triggers intolerance and emotional distress, making you want to scream.

Similarly, peripheral staring triggers sensory discomfort and threat. So, seeing people in your periphery makes you feel more jittery, and you feel the urge to look. Again, it feels like a hidden internal sense causes it.

As a further example, suppose you’re in a library. Everyone around you is quiet. But then, you’re triggered by a person beside you. Then, the sensitive aspects of peripheral vision, like too much jittery awareness for the nervous system to manage, are let loose. So, the hyperawareness makes you jolt and release the staring tic you want desperately to suppress. 

3-Step Competing Technique

You can use different techniques to suppress the urge to look. 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 doing it.

Questions welcome in comments section below.

3 responses to “How Folding Your Arms Can Help You Power Through Peripheral Staring”

  1. When at restaurant I only have a slight urge to check the person in my peripheral. I don’t look that often. For me, it’s a constant fight to keep myself from looking down all the time. I tend to look around a lot (at tvs, chairs etc.) and back down at the table or wherever I am. When waiting for a plane I resign myself to looking down at my phone.

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. I’m curious to know what you fear will happen if you look up rather than stay looking down. For example, are you afraid your eyes will land on an area you try to avoid?

      • When I look down I don’t see people in my peripherals anymore because my plane of vision is tilted. When looking up I fear people will pop into my peripherals. I have schizophrenia so maybe it’s a bit of delusion that looking at people in my peripherals is staring.

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