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Finding your Window of Tolerance

If you feel like you've been in survival mode during this pandemic, you're not alone. The Window of Tolerance is designed to help when things feel out of control and ease you back into a calmer state, according to The Rumpus.
Finding your Window of Tolerance Experiencing nature is just one way to shift back into your Window of Tolerance. Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash.

The Rumpus

Wednesday 5 August, 2020

Are you feeling wired, hyper-vigilant and awake? Panicky, fluttery in the belly, a bit shaky? Or exhausted, flat and drained?

It’s so very likely that right now many of us are in Survival Mode: our flight/fight response is ON, adrenaline is surging and we are unconsciously and consciously primed to perceive danger. This is so understandable right now. We’ve never been through this before.

Being in this state is a biological, physical and psychological response, but it takes its toll when we find we are in Survival Mode ALL THE TIME.

The Window of Tolerance (WoT) is a tool designed to remind us to be aware and notice when we are outside our Window of Tolerance, without judgement.

Being inside the window means we are connected to our logic brain. We can learn new information, make clear decisions, we can feel compassion for others and listen, we can think creatively and we can also care for ourselves. It’s so important to find space in our window right now for caring for ourselves. This helps us to be able to do care for others like our children, elderly, and friends and family.


The Window of Tolerance. Concept developed by Dan Siegel. Image by Kiara Mucci. Supplied by The Rumpus.

Being hyper aroused can look and feel like:

Anxiety, insomnia, sense of dread and danger, hyper aware of noise, hyper vigilance, being ‘wired’ and a bit manic, pounding chest, twitching eyes, shaking hands, irritability, anger, not being able to stop, sit down, having too many things happening in your head at once and feeling a bit out of control.

Hypo-arousal can look and feel like:
Complete and utter exhaustion, feeling numb, flat, no motivation, immobilised, depressed, sad, unable to get out of bed.

Noticing some of these experiences is important to also help figure out what helps us.

In these strange, kinda scary days, we invite you to take a bit of notice: are you outside your Window of Tolerance?

Most of us will probably answer yes, for each of the past days this week at least. Try not to judge yourself. Instead, try some of these practices even just for 5 minutes, when you notice some of these experiences of hyper or hypo arousal:

  • Moving your body is one of the best ways to bring us back into our WoT. Dance in the lounge room, do star jumps, run on the spot, stretch or do some yoga, high kicks, boxing - whatever floats your boat!
  • Music can shift experiences in our body. Put on your favourite song and sing! Loudly.
  • Write whatever is in your head, for 3 pages. Could be a menu, a to do or a journal entry. A story, a poem or just a dumping of thoughts. This exercise is known as “Morning Pages” from Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. Writing can be a release, and calm our busy brains.
  • Draw. Draw ANYTHING for 5 minutes. Pen to paper, it doesn’t matter if it’s good, if it makes sense and if you’ll keep it later. Drawing has been proven to reduce stress hormones and do similar things as exercise to our brains and emotions.
  • Get some nature. The smell, sounds, perspective and full body experience of being near trees, ocean, mountains has a powerful affect on our psychological state.
  • Do a sensory, repetitive activity: knit, stitch, get some clay, some Lego! See, chop veggies, weave! All of these things are a kind of meditation that also regulate our emotional state with the sensory touch and using our hands.
  • Get into the garden. Reflecting on the cycle of growth, of tending to plants, pulling out weeds and watering interacts with our brain chemistry too. And it feels good too.
  • Headspace app has some free meditations and visualisations called ‘Weathering the Storm”

This is by no means a full list! You have to find what works for you, and it might be a whole bunch of things. Build your toolbox of strategies to bring you back into your Window of Tolerance, when you notice those experiences of distress and overwhelm.

It’s not a magic trick. It’s like noticing you are hungry, and planning what food your body needs, but also making its delicious too. Cos pleasure is part of being connected and calm too.

Take care friends.

The Window of Tolerance is a concept developed by Dan Siegel.

If you are in a state of extreme distress or feel in urgent need of support please contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36

A version of this article originally appeared at The Rumpus website

About the author

The Rumpus is a non-profit organisation that uses PLAY as a tool to unlock skills and build mentally healthy communities and workplaces.