The “Window of Tolerance” (Ogden, et al. 2006; Siegel, 1999) is the optimal zone of arousal where we are able to manage and thrive in every day life.
This can be thought of as sailing within a river of well-being (Siegel & Bryson, 2012) where we are able to respond to all that comes our way without getting thrown off course. When we are outside of our window of tolerance, our nervous system responds by going into survival mode – fight, flight or freeze.
We can either feel overwhelmed and go into hyper-arousal or we can shut down and go into hypo-arousal. Our window of tolerance can be narrow or wide and is different for all people and at different times in our lives.
“We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”
— Thomas s. Monson
Mindfulness practice and an understanding of the window of tolerance help us to regulate our emotions.
Mindfulness is present moment awareness. It means paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, and feelings in the body as they are happening and adopting an attitude of curiosity and compassion.
The practice of mindful awareness can help us to feel better, especially if we are struggling with difficult emotions, fluctuations in our mood or physical pain. It is a skill of stepping into a mode of “being” present with whatever is happening, rather than reacting and getting stuck on autopilot.
Mindfulness teaches us to:
- Be more present and engaged in everyday life, rather than being lost in thoughts about the past or worry about the future
• Step out of autopilot so we can be more purposeful in our day-to-day choices
• Notice our direct experiences (body sensations, emotions, thoughts) – whether they be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral
• Regulate emotions and ride the waves of their intensity
• Learn to respond rather than react to or avoid difficulties
• Relate to ourselves and others with kindness, warmth and compassion
When we can widen our window of tolerance, we can enjoy more smooth sailing regardless of the waves, obstacles and adventures we encounter.
Emotion regulation depends on our ability to be mindful of fluctuations in our level of arousal and to respond wisely. By becoming aware of body sensations, thoughts and emotions, we can learn to recognize when we are in our optimal zone of arousal or drifting ineffectively into hyper or hypo-arousal.
Mindfulness gives us skills to:
- Enjoy when we our sailing within our river of well-being
• Notice when are heading into rough waters and steer us back on course
- Recognize when were in the danger zone and bring ourselves back to safety through grounding skills
• Grounding skills can serve as a life preserver in those moments of extreme distress. Use these skills to help bring yourself back into the window of tolerance.
What about hypo-arousal?
- Numb, no feelings or energy,
• Cannot think, shut down, ashamed.
• Emotional overwhelm, panic.
• Feeling unsafe, angry, racing thoughts, anxiety, etc…
Smooth Sailing, once you have gone outside your window of tolerance and become aware of chartering a new course for you..
Take deep breaths; extend your exhale
• Release gripped hands
• Stand tall; feel the ground beneath you
• Take a brief walk
• Notice your feet connecting with the floor
• Orient to and label objects in the room
• Listen to a song you enjoy
• Call a friend you trust •
And then take a moment to reflect on all that you discovered.