By Paige Zuckerman, Clinical Director
You might be finding that lately it feels like life is ‘a lot.’ Maybe family, work, health, money, your spiritual life, your pets…they’re all asking for time, resources and headspace. Maybe you’re even feeling overwhelmed and burned-out.
If you can relate to this, you’re not alone.
So what causes us to reach that place where we are hanging onto life’s ledge by our shaky, loosening emotional grip?
The Window of Tolerance
As it turns out, we all have a finite container for our ability to regulate our mental health, or in this case our emotional state and nervous system response. Each of our containers is different in size depending on many factors, most of all our contexts. A sound way to think of this is as a window. The “window of tolerance” is a term originally coined by Psychologist Dan Siegel to describe the space wherein we can function our best, and how to understand when and why we might be outside our window.
As you can see above, there’s a space within our Window of Tolerance where we can feel our most ‘baseline,’ or our generally normal, more stable sense of homeostasis. In the upper edge of our window, we will feel anxiety and intensity, or the ‘fight’ responses. In the lower end of our window, we will tend to shut down, tune out or even dissociate. When we exit the ideal middle zone of our window and exit our tolerance space, our autonomic nervous system will bring distressing symptoms into the picture. We may feel ill and fatigued, and may have notably less energy.
How Do I Stay Within my Window?
So what do we do with this awareness? How do we bring ourselves back into our window of tolerance? This is where tools like therapy, meditation, your favorite exercise, listening to music (not while scrolling your feeds), taking your dog for a walk and the wide array of restorative self care can come into play. This is also the invitation for rest, breaks and boundaries. Saying “I can’t right now, and I’ll get to it soon” or even just a ‘no’ can mean so much for your mental health.
You Can Do This
You have more power than you may perceive when it comes to your window, and responding promptly to care for yourself and seek support when you recognize being out of your window is one way to use that power. Another, perhaps even more important power, is to stay committed to practicing the tools and self-care strategies that proactively hold you in your window of tolerance and help expand it.