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How trauma can affect our ability to self-regulate
The window of tolerance was originally described by Dr. Dan Siegel, in his book, The Developing Mind, as the optimal zone of arousal in which a person would be able to function and deal with day-to-day stress most effectively. It allows you to respond to the demands and stress of everyday life without much difficulty. It is the comfort zone in which we have the ability to self-soothe and self-regulate our emotional state. It is when we are most productive.
Most people can deal with the demands and stress of everyday life without much difficulty, staying within their window of tolerance. However, no life is free of things that upset our apple carts, and when our balance is interfered with, due to trauma, extreme stress, or mental illness, we end up leaving our window of tolerance (sometimes we go crashing through it like the Kool-Aid man).
This is where we begin to dysregulate and experience fight or flight responses – our bodies’ physiological responses to keep us safe. If you’re human, you know how this feels, physically. When it isn’t possible to fight or flee, our bodies will collapse to the freeze state, where we shut down and sit in a feeling of numbness and surrender.
In reflecting on my work in coaching others, I see so clearly how our mindset, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence are interconnected with the idea of tolerance and self regulation, especially when life goes off the rails.
So, what do we do?
Learning to take a healthier, more productive approach to trauma and extreme stress can help us face our challenges, rather than run, stand still, or throw punches. Becoming aware of what events send us out our window of tolerance is the first step. Identifying the cause or trigger, as well as how it feels in our body, and recognizing the severity of the feeling, allows us to better prepare the next time it occurs.
There is an entire body of work around how to manage these difficult feelings and expand our windows of tolerance, including practicing mindfulness, self-regulation, and positive self-talk. We’ve barely scratched the surface here, but it’s a topic I plan to delve into even more in future articles, blogs and posts. For more information about how to expand your awareness and ability to deal effectively with trauma and extreme stress, visit https://www.mindmypeelings.com/blog/window-of-tolerance.