Expanding the Window of Stress Tolerance

Stress and difficult emotions are universal for all humans. Stress is a normal response to environmental challenges. Stressors may include adverse life experience, attempting to comply with social norms, media, school, jobs, stigma, diversity and worries of shame, judgment or criticism.

It has been found that stress cannot be turned off or minimized by attempting to think it away. It is best to use a full-body response and embodied experience. The body responds immediately to difficulty and challenge, even before your mind senses that it is anxious. This stress builds over time and can cause cumulative tension in the body.

Window of Tolerance– The nervous system reacts to stress in different ways for each individual, everyone’s way of coping is different.

Some individuals when challenged go into flight or fight and run or explode. Others become shutdown and become frozen, fawn, feign, stuck, or implode.

The baseline of emotions and window of tolerance can be expanded. If you find yourself in a constant state of overwhelm, reactivity and distress, there are strategies to increase your ability to become easeful, resourceful, grounded, settled, flexible, focused, restorative and proactive.

Grounding and calming strategies– Shifting from hyper-vigilant to safe and relaxed

• Listen to inner sensations and have awareness of emotions within the moment: heart rate, shortness of breath, tension in the body.

• Rest, stillness and silence without distractions including breath-work can reset the baseline.

• Heavy work/weights/ fishing, hiking, gardening

• Light movement/stretching/yoga

• Investigate and inquire into what you are drawn to, your potential? What makes you feel positive and meaningful? The things that can make you feel purposeful, creative and alive.

• Rhythmic reciprocal movements are soothing, running/walking/ biking

• Participate in creative outlets including writing, painting, music, singing, dancing.

• Practicing awareness of the five senses- look, listen, feel. Remain within these 5 minutes, these 5 feet and these 5 breaths.

Preservation and Restoration-Regulating the nervous system assists with calming the rapid, repetitive thinking mind, increasing tolerance of stress and challenge over time. Learning to trust that you can tolerate difficult emotions without escapism, addictions and distractions. Food, drugs, alcohol, technology, aggression, perfectionism or shutting down are all quick ways to avoid difficult emotions, but are not successful at creating preservation or restoration. These brief escapes provide short doses of brain chemicals, that are not satiating and only temporary.

Bodyfulness and Emotional Literacy– Gain experience contacting your emotions within the body. Tolerating difficult emotions and what you feel in the present in the here and now is how resilience is found. Small moments of discomfort build into strength, trust, improved stress tolerance and mastery with repetition. Over time the ability to get out of the thinking mind and have the realization of emotions taking over expands with practice. It is like emotional literacy or gradually learning to read your body signals.

Expanding Inner Resilience– Practicing calming yourself and learning to be comfortable in your own body is the best way to overcome anxiety and stress. Re-calibrating the system from anxiety, reactivity or shut down to a state of inner security and trust. Repetition of new habits, inner resourcing and the ability to calm and regulate your body will require obtaining new healthy coping strategies. Changeable, external environmental factors cannot be the only variables to rely upon. Life including family, work, the current pandemic and obtaining of resources will always remain uncertain. The constant in the face of these challenges will be your inner wealth, increasing stress tolerance and ability to respond to unpredictable demands. With practice these gains expand your sense of impact, competence, mastery, purpose, access to choice and autonomy within your life.

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