Ever feel like you just can’t keep it together?
It happens to the best of us. There are days we can manage, and other days that seem like we are spread too thin and feel more reactive. In some cases, this becomes a cycle that lasts for longer than we’d like.
One of the most important things to understand about managing stress and healing from trauma is that we all have a Window of Tolerance and how to come back within it so we can feel more grounded and in control.
Your Window of Tolerance
When your nervous system is regulated, you usually operate within a Window of Tolerance:
- There is an easy charge and discharge between the stress response (body gears up to deal with stress) and relaxation response (body settles).
- You are generally more present, mindful and grounded
- You are able to relate to other people and have empathy
- You can communicate more clearly and think rationally
- You can feel like you can manage what life throws at you
When you are within your Window of Tolerance, more traditional therapeutic approaches can be quite effective because your rational mind is online.
Are You Outside Your Window of Tolerance?
When your nervous system is dysregulated, you are outside of your Window of Tolerance:
- Emotions and life are more difficult to manage
- Your ability to think clearly and communicate clearly goes offline
- It is difficult to be present, mindful, grounded and have empathy for others
- Your rational mind is offline and you are operating from your limbic system and reptilian brain instead
- Your instinctive, self-protective survival responses are activated: fight / flight / freeze
- You might often swing between extremes and feel like you are going crazy:
- Stuck on “ON” (fight / flight): increased sensation, hyperactive, more easily triggered, rage, anxiety, panic, fear, mania, hypervigilance, racing or obsessive thoughts, fast movements
- Stuck on “OFF” (freeze): absence of sensation, dissociation, depression, exhaustion, disconnection from relationships, mind in a “fog”, reduced or slower movements, defeat, shame
When you are outside of your Window of Tolerance, your rational mind is offline and your body and emotions are reacting in instinctual self-protection, which can make traditional approaches to therapy less effective. This might be why you cannot access certain skills you may have learned in counselling, or why your rational mind may judge you for being stupid and tell you that you should just get a hold of yourself, but your emotions and body sensations still seem out of control.
Our nervous systems evolved to keep us safe from short-term, immediate threats, like running away from or fighting off cheetahs or bears. However, humans are more often exposed to longer-term, chronic stressors and traumatic experiences that can overwhelm our nervous systems and leave us stuck and sick.
Did you know?
Animals in the wild are rarely traumatized, even though they experience threats every day. The difference? They usually only experience short-term stress. They either fight or flee successfully and survive, go into a freeze state if fighting or fleeing were not successful.
Animals in the wild will then pass through the immobility response and discharge all that stored energy by trembling, yawning, breathing heavily and running off. Shaking after a stressful experience can sometimes be a little alarming if we do not understand that it is a natural, normal response that will pass. It is necessary to come back down to a more grounded state of presence and aliveness.
Unfortunately, humans and domesticated animals do experience chronic stress. Our lives today are no longer as simple as when our main threats were weather and being chased by bears.
Unlike wild animals, we are often prevented from discharging all that survival energy. This can happen because we feel embarrassed or afraid of our reactions, or because we have been taught that they are not ok and shamed for them. We then get stuck in repetitive patterns, thoughts and emotions that don’t have a chance to get released (like repressed anger, because we couldn’t defend ourselves or we were taught that being angry was not polite, or spiralling anxiety because we couldn’t escape).
Visit the rest of this website to learn more about how The Refuge can help you reconnect with hope and healing to once again find safety within, feel empowered and in control, and come home to your authentic self.