Here’s a neurological hack to get you from a state of anxiety and fear to one of calm, balance and centredness. It’s called Hakalau – spreading out our attention.

How does the nervous system work?

There are two states of arousal in our nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The first is where we get our stress response – stress, anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions. Then we have parasympathetic nervous arousal, which gives us relaxation.

While we can’t do anything about the feelings each of those states gives us, we can switch between those two states – and that is done with our eyes.

When we are in foveal vision, focusing in one thing, like the thing that is causing us to panic. We go into tunnel vision which leads us to the stress state. When we are in peripheral vision, it switches our brain to parasympathetic nervous arousal and we relax. And the great thing is, we can use these techniques anywhere.

How to switch states

Start with four Ha Breaths (take a deep breath in through nose, and out through mouth while making a ‘ha’ sound). Make the out-breath twice as long as the in-breath – a 1: 2 ratio.

Then find something in front of you to focus in on – this could be a mark on the wall, a candle, a landmark in the distance or anything else.

As you look at that, put more attention into your peripheral vision. Open up your awareness to 180 degrees – this is horizontal and vertical peripheral vision. Notice what’s above, below, left and right. As you put more attention into the periphery, you’ll feel more relaxed.

When you’ve done that, begin to open up your awareness to 360 degrees, get a sense of what’s behind you. Many find it easiest if they imagine a tennis ball floating above and the behind your head. As you mentally follow this imaginary ball, you’ll notice your awareness expands around you like a bubble. That’s the state of Hakalau.

As you go through your day and you don’t feel calm, you’re in foveal vision. Pause, take some ha breaths, then do the above exercise. It’s impossible to be in the parasympathetic mode and stressed at the same time.

With tablets and phones, people spend more time focusing in on the screen, which is more likely to put you into the stress response. Get into the habit of being aware of your periphery and being in the parasympathetic mode, even when using a mobile device.

And remember – the problem is never outside of you. It’s not coronavirus, it’s not the economy. It’s our response to that. We can’t change the virus, the markets, business, the economy. But we can always change the way we respond to that.

Stay, calm, stay in peripheral vision, and we can get through this.