There is a popular phrase going around called window of tolerance and people looking how to expand your window of tolerance. What does that actually mean?
Imagine two glasses, one is 3/4 full and the other is 1/4 full. Obviously, the last glass can receive more before it begins to overflow. This is what it means to say one person has more capacity than another. It’s not a judgment of the value of either person, it’s just reality.
Past and current events determine how much capacity you have and affect a person’s ability to function. A glass can only hold so much and so can we.
You can learn about your unique system and how to work with it to expand your capacity and empty out what’s keeping you from receiving more.
Do you know what the single most important aspect of your healing is?
Your Nervous System.
Here’s the thing, you can rework all the old stories, eat the perfect diet, engage in all the therapy, do mindset jujitsu, and even work through tough traumas—but if you’re not doing it with your Nervous System on board, you’re not going to create sustainable change.
Because if you’re doing any of the work from a place of survival– you can’t access healing.
Your nervous system is the temperature gauge for how you feel internally. At all times your nervous system is trying to gauge what about the situation is safe and what is dangerous.
How to expand your window of tolerance
Window of Tolerance: Each person has a range of arousal in which they can feel their feelings or experience something in a way that is tolerable for their bodies.
- anxiety, overwhelm, scarred, out of control
- sluggish, depressed, exhausted
Both of these are signs of a dysregulated nervous system swinging one way or the other.
When you are fully or partially out of your window of tolerance, you become dysregulated.
When you are dysregulated:
- You don’t see reality for what it actually is
- Your reaction will be bigger than the situation, you are not in control of your emotions
- The farther you are outside your window of tolerance, the more off-line your prefrontal cortex (logical, rational, controlled thinking) becomes
- Your healing system is shut off
- When you are dysregulated, your thinking is very rigid and black-and-white, you make mistakes and bad decisions
- To determine what your body is perceiving as a threat
- To create neural pathways of regulation so your body more often automatically goes there
- To become aware of when you are outside your window of tolerance and do something to connect to safety so you can respond from a regulated state
- Learn what emotions you are feeling and what beliefs they are connected to.
The ultimate goal is to expand your window of tolerance so that you can “build a body” that can hold more, and stay neutral under stressful states
The more you practice how to expand your window of tolerance and the more you practice regulating your nervous system outside of stressful situations, the easier it will be for you to access your inner calm even when you’re in the midst of an emotional storm.
Here are my favorite tools that I have been using daily that have made a dramatic impact on how I walk through life. . .
Attunement is awareness. Having a daily practice of attunement (which is step one in my daily four-step meditation practice) allows you to get good at noticing when you are out of your window of tolerance before you get too far off track.
- close your eyes, take a slow breath
- On a scale of 1-10, where is my energy level at? Like checking the battery on your phone, when you see it’s low, you charge it. Same with your body, you need to know when it’s getting low and do something to charge it. But it’s good to check in and know it’s low before it dies unexpectedly because you weren’t paying attention.
- what have I been thinking about
- what can I hear right now
- what can I smell
- what can I feel
This is a grounding practice that strengthens your neural pathways of awareness and regulation.
The more you do it, the more natural it becomes to notice where your capacity is at and what you need to come back in balance
Intentional breathing patterns
Breathwork is a therapeutic technique that utilizes conscious and intentional breathing patterns to access deep states of relaxation, release emotional blockages, deepen consciousness, and promote overall well-being.
By consciously altering our breath, we can influence our nervous system, shift our energy, and create profound shifts in our mental, emotional, and physical states.
Stepping away and laying on the ground with my legs propped up on the wall and breathing is my magic reset.
If you are in hyperarousal (anxiety, overwell) it’s good to do slow diaphragmatic breathing exercises (inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for 7)
If you are in hypoarousal (depression, exhaustion) it’s good to do fast breathing exercises (take a quick, forceful inhale through your nose, followed by a quick, forceful exhale through your mouth. Continue this pattern, allowing your breath to be energizing and invigorating. After a few rounds, return to a calm, steady breath to integrate the energy you have generated.)
Just two minutes a day is all it takes to begin to train your body to return to and stay in a healing state.
When you regularly expose yourself to stressful situations (that aren’t actually life-threatening or harmful,) you train yourself to be able to handle other stressful situations that arise in life. Things like cold showers, working out, doing the thing first that you don’t want to do, this is all building your window of tolerance.
90 second rule
When you experience something (an event, conversation, etc.), there is an initial biochemical and electrical surge that lasts 30 to 90 seconds when your unconscious and conscious mind is adjusting and processing the incoming information. This is when we tend to react impulsively.
Instead of responding right away, practice the 90 second rule to help reinstate neurophysiological calm in the brain and body.
- Breathe in deeply, so your ribcage expands, and focus on a strong exhale Repeat three to five times.
- Then, if possible, create some mental space by going into another room and yelling out loud (if appropriate) or in your mind
- Do something physical like shaking, jumping, pushups, dancing etc.
If you do this instead of distracting or suppressing yourself when you are feeling that initial emotion charge, you fully process that emotion so that energy can move through the body instead of getting stuck and building up to an inevitable explosion down the road when your body can’t hold anymore any longer.
Breath Shake Retake Generate
Speaking of using your body to process emotion, this is the four-step process I use when I am in the midst of a stressful situation. . .
Moments of gratitude, beauty, wins, fun, and joy are not just nice to have, they are literal repair mechanisms that create resource and safety in your nervous system.
It’s what ultimately allows you to heal.
Imagine trying to run a marathon that you haven’t trained for. Sure you have run a few miles here and there, but you don’t consistently practice every day. If you try and go run the marathon, it won’t go well, and it could even harm you.
It’s the same for the marathon of your life. If your brain and nervous system are compassionately resourced from consistent moments of soaked in goodness, you become more resilient as you process pain.
If you haven’t practiced cultivating this safety and healing state in the body, facing stress or trying to process pain will take you out.
Every day, look for moments to intentionally cultivate glimmers of goodness and experiences of safety in your body and soak them in for just a few minutes.
Practically, today that looked like taking our trash to the bottom of the driveway, and as I’m looking and walking back up, I see the beautiful lush green forest around me and a 2-year-old smiling and running toward me for a hug. *pause. take it in. soak it up *
Wishing you a wonderful weekend!