As we move through life most of the time we are within a safe range of arousal, which means a state where we can function well as a human being. We are able to self-regulate, we feel grounded, present and the reasoning part of our brain is switched on.
As we are faced with challenges throughout the day we will naturally move into more or less arousal, which could feel like anxiety, depending on what is happening around us. This is normal, as anxiety is a messenger to let us know there could be a threat. You can think of it as your inner alarm system. When there is danger, the alarm goes off.
Sometimes, our inner alarm system becomes too sensitive and we are overwhelmed with feeling and emotions. If we move into the hyper aroused state, the sympathetic nervous system is activated (fight or flight) and we feel some of the things in the list above.
Each person’s ‘window of tolerance’ is different and will vary according to what is going on internally and externally. For example, if we are stressed about work and sleeping 3 hours a night, our window of tolerance will shrink. This means what we are able to tolerate will be less during that time.
This is good to remember with children. If you have a child who has not eaten much all day, had a restless night’s sleep and then falls over and hurts himself, the response is likely to be far greater than if he had eaten well and was well rested. The fall is likely to push him outside of his window of tolerance where he will appear to be ‘over-reacting’.
As adults, we are the same, we need to be aware of what pushes us outside of our window, and what shrinks our window, so we can be more compassionate with ourselves when we go into hyperarousal.
In my next post, I will be sharing some simple things to do to decrease your arousal and bring you back into the window of tolerance.
References: Ogden, P. (2009). Modulation, mindfulness, and movement in the treatment of trauma-related depression. Pat.
Siegel, D. (1999). The developing mind. New York: Guilford.