September 4, 2020

Window of Tolerance

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Have you ever had a moment where you felt too tired to think? Or when you had a difficult time connecting with your emotions? Perhaps you’ve felt overwhelmed to the point of needing to “do something?” If you’ve felt any of these feelings, it may be possible that you are outside of your window of tolerance.

What is Your Window of Tolerance?

Your window of tolerance is the space between your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system helps you to rest and relax, while the sympathetic nervous system is what activates you to respond to dangerous or stressful situations. When you inhale, you activate the sympathetic nervous system and when you exhale, you are activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When you are in the space between these two systems, your body is well regulated emotionally and you likely feel that you are at your best.

Outside of Your Window Of Tolerance Level

When you are outside of your window of tolerance, your body responds as if it is under threat. Remember that phrase of fight/flight/freeze? When we are outside of our window of tolerance, fight/flight/freeze gets activated.

You may be outside of your window of tolerance if you experience a significant adrenaline rush, are feeling anxious, impulsive, irritable, or impatient. At its worst, you may find yourself wanting to impulsively spend, over or under eat, use drugs, or engage in unsafe sexual practices. If you feel this way, it means that your sympathetic nervous system has been activated and you likely are wanting to fight, flee, or fawn. Aundi Kolber in her book Try Softer, defines fawning as the actions that we take to appear vulnerable & sweet so that others will not want to harm you.

If, on the other hand, you feel cut off from your emotions, you dissociate – or lose track of time and awareness of yourself, maybe you feel numb or deeply depressed – even to the point of suicidal thoughts, your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated. At its worst, you may not be able to get out of bed, and may be catatonic (sitting very still) in an effort to “freeze.”

Compassionate Support

In counseling, I often work to help people identify where they are at and to compassionately understand how they are doing before trying to make any changes within oneself. With that said, the first step towards offering yourself self-compassion requires noticing – without judgement – how your body responds during tense situations. For example, “I see that my heart is racing and I’m having a difficult time taking deep breaths.”

Secondly, I want to encourage you to be curious. What could be causing you to feel this way? Was it something that someone said? That you said? Something that you’re working on? An interaction that you just had? Something you saw, smelled, tasted, or touched? All of these things could contribute to your body responding in an activated way.

Lastly, I encourage you to offer compassion for yourself. In my next few blog posts, we’ll explore together how to offer compassion when you are overwhelmed & when you are overly disconnected from yourself. Stay tuned!

Call Today

If you’d like to continue to process how to help your body when you feel out of your window of tolerance please reach out. There are many providers at Optimum Joy who would love to explore this with you.

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin

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