Special Photo Essay: How Stress Affects the Way We See Places

It’s no secret that stress and anxiety affect how you perceive your environment — particularly when you’re somewhere unfamiliar.  Your surroundings can look blurry, distorted, dull, glassy, and just plain intimidating when you’re nervous and overwhelmed.  The question is, just how different do things look when you’re under stress?

While in Istanbul a couple weeks ago, I stayed down the hall from a woman who didn’t leave her hotel room for two days because her journey was “just too much” and “not what she was expecting.”   She looked like she wanted to fall asleep in her bathtub with a good book and a glass of wine, and forget all the “adventures” just outside her door.  What did she — and other nervous travelers out there — see that others didn’t?  Here’s an exploration — and a reminder that our mind creates our own reality.

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1. People with a fear of flying can feel lightheaded and suffer blackouts, particularly during landing and take-off.  The world below can look dark and out of focus.  The reality?  Your plane window isn’t that dirty — and although it’s a lot to take in, that wonderful first view will be one of your longest-lasting memories.

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2. Surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar skylines, we may not get the full detail in front of us even if our vision is 20/20.  Why?  Our minds tend to “blur things out” to protect us from sensory overload.

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3. We tend to view people and our surroundings in more simplistic terms when we don’t understand the culture of the place we’re visiting.  Even though we know it’s not accurate, we can see only the outlines and colors of the unfamiliar instead of “the full picture.”

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4. Buildings we’ve never seen before can be intimidating and look distorted to us, while strangers may seem larger than life.

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5. We can struggle to bring even the most relaxing scenes into focus, and see only a clutter of dark objects in our ship’s path.

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6. We may be oblivious to detail even in less distracting environments — and may barely notice the sun shining down on us.

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7. Exotic locales can have a two-dimensional, mottled quality to them, like something we saw in a book long ago — and not quite real in front of us.

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8. We can revert to tunnel vision, especially when we see something that looks too precarious to be true.

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9. When we’re a bit turned around getting back to the hotel, we can literally feel pushed back or pulled forward by our surroundings — and we don’t even notice our reliable landmark in the distance.

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10. If just being at the airport stresses you out, you may see a tube of dread waiting out on the tarmac instead of the full picture.

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11. Know you have a stunning view outside your window? Look too hard, and you’ll see yourself staring back; relax, and you’ll be floating above the clouds.

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11 thoughts on “Special Photo Essay: How Stress Affects the Way We See Places

  1. I remember when my aunt and I first arrived in Paris via the train from Belgium. As we made our way out of the massive, and at the moment, intimidating terminal, we were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city–as far as the eye could see were buildings and a huge city that seemed to go on forever….the same happened the first time arriving in Rome—the sheer scope of the city, the deafening sounds of such a large city, the smells, the lack of familiarity can certainly cause one to hesitate, step back, have a moment of sheer panic…as in all the Italian I’ve learned has simply vanished from my brain panic. I can remember thinking we’d never find our way—and this coming form one who had been here before and was accustomed to travel—but it’s as you say—this is the initial reaction and the protective mode of our brains and inner self—-giving oneself a minute to breathe before striking out to find the means of transport…in our case either a train into town or even the easy route of a taxi—“please take us where we need to go”…letting someone who is familiar take over for a minute until catching ones breath….but yet, you’ve got to love it 🙂

  2. Great post, points well made with those pictures!

    All you say is true – on the other hand, if you’d stayed home, you wouldn’t have even seen a blurry/darkened/simplified picture, so you are still ahead for that.

  3. Hi, beautifully captured. loved all the pictures, I also liked your perspective about travelling with stress, when should travel with a free mind. Though I haven’t traveled with stress but once I traveled with full on anger and the journey ended up being really weird. 😉 🙂

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