All tagged window of tolerance
The way our autonomic nervous systems assesses and respond to threat vs safety is highly individual and is conditioned by many factors including genetics, family dynamics, trauma history, experiences in educational systems, overall physical and mental health, social supports, etc., etc., etc. Another way of saying this is: Situations and events are not in themselves stressful (or not) or relaxing (or not); they are not threatening (or not) or safe (or not). It is the nervous system’s response to a situation or event that determines whether it is experienced as stressful, exciting, enlivening, relaxing, threatening, etc. One of the cool things about working with the nervous system is that we can learn to sense and, with practice, shift which how our own unique systems respond to experience. We can learn to give ourselves the support we need — and to be skilful about seeking support from others — to excel and meet our goals.
Developing a mindfulness practice is kind of like learning to see the water we’re swimming in. Even more than that, it involves the discipline of assuming there is almost always more going on than we can see from deep inside our habitual mental and perceptual grooves. But I’m not going to lie: It ain’t always pretty. To those embarking on a mindfulness journey in the hopes that stress and anxiety will magically melt away I say: buyer beware! Seeing what your mind is full of can be a bit sobering at first. But it’s interesting what happens when just you keep looking. Instead of being tangled in reactivity, we begin to see: Oh, this is frustration…or anger, or worry, or judgment… Seeing that we are having a reaction — and not simply reacting, out of habit — gives us an opportunity to choose a response that is in line with our values and goals.
I use a Window of Tolerance model as a framework for understanding self-regulation. The term “Window of Tolerance” was coined by Dan Siegel (Siegel, 1999) to describe the zone of arousal in which we can handle stressors with relative ease and resilience. When we are operating within our window, it’s not that we don’t experience stress or elevated arousal but that, when we do, we have a feeling of “I’ve got this.” We are able to mobilize the energy and focus we need to complete the task or deal with the stressor in front of us — whether that’s giving a recital performance or simply working through a tough passage in a piece — and then quickly and smoothly return to a state of ease and equilibrium.