Our nation is literally on fire. What do we do when our capacity, our “Window of Tolerance” is almost closed or nailed down tight? Sometimes our emotions are way too big and overwhelming and we don’t know what or how to handle them. “When we are outside of our window of tolerance, our nervous system responds by going into survival mode: fight, flight, or freeze.” In today’s conversation, I offer wisdom and insight into widening our window of tolerance so that we can sail through the storms of life with greater stability and security.
The Window of Tolerance
With everything going on in our world and nation, I felt this week was the perfect time to introduce Dr. Dan Siegel’s concept, “The Window of Tolerance,” (WOT). It is a tool that helped me personally and now I use it in my private practice and work.
Simply defined, the WOT “is the optimal zone of arousal where we are able to manage and thrive in every day life.” Yet, when we experience trauma of any sort or EVEN a crisis such as this global pandemic and horrific racial discrimination as we have seen in our nation these past few weeks, our WOT can shrink and even sometimes, get nailed shut. Typically this sounds like, “I’ve had enough. I can’t take anymore. I’m coming out of my skin.”
Take a few minutes to read through this excellent graphic offered to us by NICABM.
Widening our Window of Tolerance
In simplest terms, I like to say that trauma is anytime our emotions are too big for our body. Typically, we can “sail along” and manage life, but when stressors mount, we sail into either a state of “hyperarousal” or hypo arousal.”
One specific strategy or tool to help us widen our window of tolerance is “mindfulness.” Early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, I took an 8-week course from Brown University on “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.” It was eye-opening, heart enlarging, soul-expanding. Had I not personally experienced its’ exercises and practices: the guided body scan, sitting meditations, walking meditations, guided chair yoga, standing yoga, and floor yoga and silent meditations, I might have been skeptical or even “afraid” of going outside the comfort zone of my Christian belief system. I am so glad I accepted my daughter’s invitation to join her on the journey because it was highly valuable. I met men and women from all over the world. As one classmate said, “We are a checkerboard of faces,” speaking to our “ZOOM WINDOW SQUARES.”
To be a part of something so global during a global pandemic was both priceless and providential.
My nervous system has never known such peace and equilibrium.
A secondary tool to widen our window of tolerance is the “Three-Minute Breathing Space” (see the M.A.S.T. PDF below). This simple tool takes us out of “autopilot” and into the present moment. Isn’t that what Jesus told us to do so long ago, as recorded in Matthew 6:25-34:
Releasing Stored Trauma Widens the Window of Tolerance
Maybe this conversation on “The Window of Tolerance” has evoked an emotional response that surprises you. Some subconscious little negative “trigger” that perhaps surprised you. Boy, do I understand that! If so, take a little time to listen and meditate on these “Waiting Room” audio meditations that I created to coincide with Practice 6, “Wait for the Peace that Passes All Understanding,” in “Overcoming Hurtful Words: Rewrite Your Own Story.” These beautiful meditations guide you through the second stage of the Heartlift Method: reframing past fault lines that keep you from moving forward.