Pūnaha io: Nervous System

In the last few weeks I have seen a trend return to my optometry practice; Highly stressed school kids, who have minimal refractive error who are unable to read or see in the distance due to an overloaded sympathetic nervous system.

It is commonly teenage girls and here are some commonalities of the trend:

  1. Extremely disengaged
  2. No other interests
  3. End of school term three/ beginning of term four
  4. Headache
  5. Tired
  6. Blurred Vision
  7. Large Pupils ( also pupils that can’t hold constriction when light is shone into the eyes, termed “Alpha-Omega Pupil” in syntonics)

What are the Solutions?

  1. Address external stressors– this takes some high level conversation and patience from parents. These are young girls dealing with a large amount of influence on their plate. As parents we need to try not to project onto them, listening, relaying and empathising is often the first step. Objectively naming the problem and ensuring the child feels heard is key.
  2. Creating space with overwhelm- acknowledging our primitive reactions, exploring our autonomic nervous system; fight or flight. I’m always astounded at the reaction when I explain Sympathetic Tone over Parasympathetic Tone, often these patients, will have high levels of calm and execution in something they love. Fostering this releasing space is often powerful. Highlighting a space where they are highly capable often shows them that all is not lost, and they are strong and resilient individuals.
  3. Consider Anti-Fatigue Lenses– they both neutralise the small refractive error as well as aid in near focus. These are often needed as the end of the school year is both the highest demand visually but also the highest pressure time on already stressed kids. When seeing a child with this cluster of symptoms in summer I will always wait until the middle of term one the following year to readdress the condition. I make a point to massively congratulate the child for what they have battled through for the last half of the year. That’s Real Grit!!
  4. Consider Visual Training-exercises, like weight training or physical exercise, helps the nervous system better tolerate the stress and allow it to function with more ease and freedom.
  5. Look at Other Modes of Stress Release- Councelling ,Breathwork, Meditation, Yoga, Thai Chi, Ecstatic Dance, Colouring, Baking, Cooking, Ice Baths, Soft Gaze exercises, Journaling, the list goes on.

Now I’m sure Covid is having an impact. I’m sure a lack of ability to be surrounded by social structure, lunch times out in the field, possibly running around is adding to pressure on these children. Constant uncertainty each day and a bombardment of conflicting information and loud opinions is not doing much for the ability to make a decisive decision and instill confidence in developing minds.

It’s a bit Heart Breaking and we probably all see similarities of these symptoms in our own adult selves. Tha’ts where it’s important not to project our own stress onto our children but conversely allow ourselves that vulnerability to our children to help equip them with the tools to get through adversity, and perhaps we too can engage in these practices for self care and mental fitness to model to our children.


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