We all have the ability to tolerate at least some distress. Some people have a lot more tolerance than others. Our Window of Tolerance is the place where we are comfortable in a healthy head-space, we’re present, and able to learn and access our most updated set of skills to handle whatever is happening in that moment. To learn how to expand your window of tolerance, start by noticing when you’re in it (calm), and when you’re out.
When we’re outside of our window, we’re either dialed – anxious, moving too fast, fidgeting, can’t sit still, on edge, snappy, or we’re down – depressed, sad, moody, blah, overly lethargic, slow, zoned out, or shut down. These are all survival responses to distress. Basically the goal is to avoid whatever distress you’re dealing with.
The reason why it’s so difficult to see things clearly, and settle down when we logically know that everything is going to be okay is that when we’re outside our window, we’re only accessing our survival brain, sometimes called our lizard brain. This part is there to protect you and keep you alive in dangerous situations. This part of your brain doesn’t pay attention to time and age, so it’s not always aware of your current reality. That means it’ll believe that you’re in a different time, and that you are in danger, even when you’re not. When your mind gets triggered, it switches into survival mode and starts running whatever programming it thinks is necessary (like anxiety or depression) – it basically takes over and you’re not in control. These triggers are almost always stuff from our past, our brain has learned to watch out for similar situations.
Grounding skills can help you get back into your window of tolerance. First, remind yourself how old you are, this helps your brain realize that you’re not in the past. Then, notice where you are, look around the room and identify an object to focus on, count to 10. This will help you get oriented, and present. Take the time to allow yourself to settle down and regain control so that you can solve the problem in front of you. You can also practice these grounding techniques when you’re not stressed out, so that your brain is ready to use them when you need them.