How does one stay sane amidst all the madness happening around? Well, with a little awareness, effort and practice one can learn how to come back to one’s window of tolerance.
With awareness and practice, we can learn to stay in our window of tolerance
What Exactly is ‘Window of Tolerance’?
Neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel coined the term ‘window of tolerance’ to describe our brain/body’s tolerance level to stress. When we are in our optimal window of tolerance we are able to think rationally and calmly make decisions.
Normally, most of us are able to manage daily hassles and stay within our window without getting overwhelmed. However, during extremely difficult times, our autonomic nervous system gets overloaded. Depending on our past programs, our response during stressful conditions is either hyper-arousal ‘fight-flight’ which means anxiety, irritation, or angry outbursts. Or we become hypo-aroused by freezing and shutting down – leading to depression, hopelessness, and lethargy.
When we are outside our window of tolerance our pre-frontal part of our brain (the executive center) goes off-line and we operate from the limbic fear center. We react rather than respond. Our body is in a state of dysregulation and we end up having not just mental problems but also develop health issues.
Knowing Your Window of Tolerance
Everyone has a different window of tolerance. So some people get upset over minor trifles while others can stay calm even in the fiercest storms.
Your window of tolerance range depends on your past life history and current environment. Now if you have experienced childhood trauma your tolerance level will be quite narrow. Your capacity to self-regulate and get back to calm is seriously diminished.
I know I was always a hair-trigger away from blowing up over even minor upsets. However, now since healing and having safe, supportive relationships my window of tolerance has expanded. But still, there are times when I have to reign myself to stop myself tripping into a blowout.
Moreover, it takes awareness to know what and how you get triggered. As parents, it is particularly challenging to stay within our window when our kid throws a tantrum. Most of us yell and tell them to shut up. It’s ironic how we expect small kids with their undeveloped nervous systems to stay within their window while we adults blow up.
Even though we don’t live in ideal times, we can learn how we can calm our nervous system and deal with challenges calmly and sensibly.
How to Manage Your Window Of Tolerance
1) Know Your Triggers
Try to understand what things trigger you. My coping strategy is to avoid them as far as possible. Sometimes one is not able to like one cannot avoid our kids even though we may find them triggering.
If someone does something that bothers you, tell them, don’t bottle it up which only leads to unintended flares and hurt feelings. Be firm with kids that they cannot make unnecessary demands – but do pay attention and allow them space to do their thing if it is no bother. Sometimes we parents interfere too much and then trigger ourselves.
2) Find ways to release the tension
Find someone to talk to, if that is not possible there is always social media. I find sharing on Facebook closed groups an effective way to get a perspective and vent. Or write away your emotional pain. I have found writing very therapeutic.
Talk to a therapist or even calling a free help-line can help you get it off your chest. I have done this, just the sound of a helpful and soothing voice helped me come back to my window of tolerance.
3) Self-care Calming Techniques
It is important we indulge in self-care, particularly when we are feeling stressed. Those micro-moments of soothing can bring on our relaxation response. What’s more even thinking about doing these activities can shift us back in our window of tolerance.
Alternately, some find deep-breathing relaxing and helpful in getting them back in their tolerance zone. I find intense breathing difficult with my scoliosis twisted rib-cage. I prefer listening to calming sound music or uplifting podcasts/youtube videos along with doing some housework like cleaning, cooking, or baking. Recently, I discovered giving myself a quick face massage is an effective way to shift me back into my window.
4) Be Flexible and adaptive
Don’t be rigid. Learn to be flexible and adapt to any situation. You will realize that there are so many things we thought are necessary but are not really required. Charles Darwin said ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’
5) Have Faith and Develop Equanimity
Life can be difficult and uncertain, knowing and accepting this truth will help develop equanimity within us. Having faith and believing that this too shall pass gives us the courage to push on.
Remember the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Rudyard Kipling aptly said in his poem IF:
If you can keep your head when all about youAre losing theirs and blaming it on you,