Imagine, a herd of Impala in the woodlands. Standing by the stream, grazing and socializing, feeling safe and relaxed. Suddenly, from inside the brush, a noise. As if simultaneously with the sound, each and every head of the herd turns at the exact same time, as if connected by a thread, in the direction of the potential unknown threat. As quickly and as automatically as those heads turning, their sympathetic nervous system takes over and their physiology begins to charge up and mobilize for action. How will they defend themselves? Cortisol begins to rush through their bodies, their heart and breathing rate speed up and their muscles brace.
Moments pass, but nothing materializes. Alas, it was just a twig snapping when stepped on by another impala coming to join the herd. The lone impala steps out into sight and the herd realizes that there is in fact, no threat. What do they then do before going back to their grazing and socializing? Each and every impala scans their environment. They are biologically wired to do this scanning once they believe the threat will not materialize. They orient to where they are and see that they are in fact safe, and this allows their sympathetic nervous system to come back down and the physiological changes that occurred in response to that potential threat return to their resting baseline. Their nervous system returns to where it feels safe and where it allows for attuned social engagement.
This impulse to orient, as is wired into the impala, is also biologically wired into us. If you watch, after they are startled, healthy babies will look around their environment. However, as we develop, often, we do not follow this biological impulse like that baby, and that impala do, as our neocortex overrides it as it is focused on other things. In fact, overtime, this impulse can be extinguished all together.
As humans, in our constantly overstimulating, high stress environment, our twig is snapping hundreds of times a day. Each and every time our metaphoric twig snaps, our nervous system responds in the exact same way that impala's nervous system responds to that potential threat in the brush. When we have low nervous system resiliency, that sympathetic charge will be higher and those physiological changes will be more significant, and it will be much more difficult to come back down, and often, we simply don't.
When we purposefully orient we are helping our nervous system complete that stress response cycle. Every time we simply look and see where we are, we let our system know we are safe and there is no longer any threat. This simple act sends a message to our nervous system and says hey, you can chill out. All is okay. It was just a twig. This allows those physiological changes to return to our resting baseline, or at least, when we first start orienting, settle a little bit. This simple act "empties our cup". Remember, our nervous system is like a cup, it only has so much room, and when it is too full, it overflows and this is when we feel overwhelmed and incapable of doing the things we need to do. Sometimes we even feel helpless.
So, ORIENTING. You may think, come on, there is no way that simply looking around can help me to feel better. But you would unfortunately, be mistaken. Purposeful orienting not only allows our system to settle in the moment, but overtime, we are setting up the conditions to restore that process of organic resetting of the nervous system after stressful experiences. We are reestablishing that biological impulse so we can organically orient when we become stressed, without thought to do so. Orienting, it may seem like no big deal, and in action, it is no big deal, but in effect, simply looking around and really seeing where you are, is in fact, A PROFOUND TOOL OF SELF REGULATION.
Try it now. Look around you. Turn your head and let your eyes wander where they want to go. Name 3 things you see. If you see something you like, pause, really see it, and tune into your body as you look at it. Do you notice anything? Just be curious. If looking around seems too stimulating, choose one thing to look at that you like, or is neutral to you. Do this as many times a day as you remember. Let your system know, its just a twig.
ORIENTING. JUST DO IT.