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Hi, pod fam! 

I am SO excited for you all to listen to this podcast because this guest has seriously changed my life and the way I see things. LITERALLY. 

Vision is so much more than just seeing things blurry or in focus. It’s how we take in information and the ways in which we respond to the world around us. This week’s guest is my personal eye doctor, Behavioral Optometrist Dr. Marni Bessler. She’s sharing how much we can learn from the way we see the world, including how the way we live can shape our vision and worldview.

Let’s get juicy! 

My Intro to Behavioral Optometry

Right before my 28th birthday—literally, the day before—I got something stuck in my eye, or at least it felt like there was something stuck in my eye. It was this really uncomfortable sensation that prevented me from sleeping. I reached out to Dr. Marni Bessler in White Plains, NY, who introduced me to the field of behavioral optometry (I had no idea it existed!). She helped me see that vision is more than just seeing things blurry, having 20/20 vision (or not), or having an astigmatism. 

“Behavioral optometry is more like how we take in information and how visual perception affects how we move in space, and how we respond to things in our worlds.”

—Dr. Bessler

I stepped out of that appointment with a full picture of how my eyes work together, where they’re overcompensating, what my vision says about my personality (like that I’m very detail-oriented but ALSO want to see the big picture), and glasses outfitted with a prism to help me see the full picture. Immediately, I booked an appointment for Nick, started telling all my family & friends about Dr. Bessler, and insisted we bring her on the pod to share with you all the insights she shared with me.

Here’s a taste of what the field of behavioral optometry can teach us.

What’s the difference between traditional optometry & behavioral optometry?

Traditional optometry—which is where Dr. Bessler’s career began 20 years ago—is focused on eye health and helping people see. You’ll go in for a vision test and come out with a reading of your eyesight (whether that’s a “perfect” 20/20 or another number—giving you a sense of how far and close you can see things clearly on your own).

A behavioral eye exam starts with a routine exam, but it adds a behavioral component (how might your vision be affecting your behavior and vice-versa) and looks at the visual system more deeply. Your doctor might ask if you’ve had any history of Lyme disease, a concussion, or neurological issues; or they might ask (especially for children) if there are any activities you avoid (like reading) that might indicate an issue with your vision. The goal is to get a well-rounded view of how you perceive 3D space. 

Some other components of the exam might include:

  • Looking at something closer, farther away, raised, lowered, a disorganized picture 
  • Seeing if you favor one eye over the other 
  • Getting a sense of whether your body is in a state of underlying panic 
  • Conducting a vision stress test to see when your brain sort of gives up (you might be seeing double or can’t focus) + assessing how quickly you recover from this giving up/breakdown
  • Assessing your posture when walking (and how specific lenses affect your motor movement/posture)

How does visual perception affect how we move in time and space?

Vision is our dominant sense—our lives are guided by our vision. It’s also not just something that happens to us—it’s something we essentially create once the info gets into our brain. This translates into our posture, tells us how far away things are, what things are, where we are, and how to anticipate the changing world around us.

So, behavioral optometry recognizes that seeing clearly is important—but how we gather, use, and react to the info our eyes send to our brains can tell us so much.

Does vision connect to our personalities? 

Behavioral optometry can tell us a lot of really cool things about ourselves, but it’s not like the field of psychology. Dr. Bessler can’t look at a patient and their readings and tell exactly who they are. But the in-depth exams can help her look at how someone’s eyes react and maybe how they’re suggesting conclusions from those reactions.

A big personality trait that can be indicated by vision and perception is whether you’re a peripheral person (taking in the big picture), a more focused person (detail-oriented, sort of misses the forest for the trees), or even a bit of both.

What causes some of these vision issues?

There’s sort of a nature-nurture approach to vision issues. Some things are caused by genetics or interruptions within the womb or birth—others are developed in the first couple of years of life. Dr. Bessler tells us the way our vision develops is by how we solve problems as babies. 

We might develop visual confusion because our eyes aren’t coordinated and aren’t working together. And so we can develop “bad habits” of using our vision—resulting in less efficient ways to see. The way we try to problem-solve for these issues as infants may stay with us throughout our lives, unless there’s an intervention to learn other skills.

How Prisms Help Our Visual System Grow

One of the biggest things Dr. Bessler focuses on in her practice is helping to expand your worldview and visual system. Looking at screens all day can shrink our worldview. Some issues include:

  • Messing with our fight-or-flight response because our brains aren’t getting the peripheral stimuli they want and use
  • Making our eyes/brain more sensitive to light or things moving quickly
  • Overstimulation from peripheral movements
  • Possible underlying cause of anxiety because we’re stuck inside looking at tiny things in front of us 

Dr. Bessler uses prisms—added to glasses—to help shift light perception. It takes some of the strain off your visual system, shifting things up and out to expand your worldview. They can also be used in the opposite way, to help ground you and bring things down and in. The goal is to help compensate for enough time to retrain your eyes—not to rely on them forever.

She added prisms to my glasses to compensate for one eye being slightly nearsighted and the other being slightly farsighted. It’s made SUCH a big difference already.

The 20-20-20 Rule

You may have heard this one before, and that’s because it’s such an easy and important habit to get into. Every 20 minutes, look off at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Dr. Bessler adds to this, suggesting physically getting up and taking a walk outside to give your vision and brain a chance to expand from the closed space you normally sit in. And exercise your peripheral vision while you’re at it: look straight ahead and see how many trees you can count in your peripheral view.

As always, tune into the episode for allll the juicy goodness in this ep! Be sure to share your thoughts with me on our NEW IG, @shoporganicolivia

xoxo,

Olivia

Connect with Dr. Bessler:

Visit Dr. Bessler’s website

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