After completing a year-long mastery level coaching certification program, my takeaway is that psychology is a beautiful conduit of growth that works in great harmony with our spiritual journey. The two have so much overlap! In the program, I learned about the technical term, window of tolerance as a part of our training, and want to bring it to your awareness today.
Note that this post is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for any medical or professional advice.
What is the window of tolerance?
Every person has a “window of tolerance“, a term coined by renowned psychiatry professor, Dr. Daniel Siegel.
The term is used to help us become aware of our capacity (literally, tolerance level) within which we can deal with our emotions and life’s stressors with some level-headedness. This window is also called the state of calm arousal, meaning we experience an emotional charge by something but we remain regulated internally as we deal with it.
However, if we become overstimulated and our nervous system goes out of whack, we exit our window of tolerance and experience hyper-arousal. This could look like:
- Fight or flight mode activates;
- Feeling anxious or panicking;
- Becoming overwhelmed;
- Experiencing an overload of emotions or energy that we can’t release;
On the opposite end of the spectrum, our nervous system might shut down and put us into a freeze state. This would look like:
- Fazing out or becoming numb;
- The mind going blank (not in a good way);
- Experiencing an eerie sense of calm that makes us feel indifferent;
- Distracting ourselves or living in our imagination for long periods;
Either ends of the window of tolerance are our nervous system’s way of telling us that we’re getting heavily uncomfortable. That it’s time to back down, and step away from the situation to regather some of our leaking energy.
For instance, something as simple as going for a short walk around the block can hugely benefit us during an argument where things are getting escalated. The cool-down helps us take time to digest and work through the initial “survival energy” that may get activated when stress is beyond our normal capacity.
Why You Should Know About Your Window of Tolerance In Your Spiritual Journey
In the initial stages of a spiritual awakening, most people experience intense emotions, and fluctuate way outside their comfort zone. You can have phases where you are hyperactive and ‘super spiritual’, and then you experience burnout and want to just sleep for 12 hours straight!
And so many times, people mistake disassociation with detachment in their spiritual journey. Truth is, our disconnect from the world isn’t a spiritual achievement, but a coping mechanism that we’ve designed for self-preservation.
It’s important to understand that our nervous system takes time to regulate itself. So as much as we want to heal rapidly, we have to cut our bodies some slack. It’s important to not push yourself to the point of exhaustion, in the name of healing.
There have been times where people have pushed way beyond their capacity and re-triggered trauma they were not ready to heal yet. This is especially true in the case of past life regression, where if done without proper care can leave you hanging in limbo with the memories you recall.
Of course, none of this is to scare you. But to tell you about your own limitations so that you can be informed and have the right methods available to overcome any hiccups.
As you keep healing, your window of tolerance will naturally expand and you will be able to hold space for more of this healing. But as you get there, go easier on yourself.
Like we’re so profoundly taught in our training, treat your healing journey like a kettle through which you release some steam. Every time you open the pandora box for healing, don’t try to empty it one go! Work through it in bits and pieces.
What To Do When You Cross Your Window Of Tolerance
Our body is self-correcting, which means that even if we do nothing to actively calm it down, we will gradually come back into a calmer state. However, why self-inflict harm by pushing yourself beyond the level of tolerance, when you can be better informed and not drive yourself to that point of overwhelm or underwhelm?
This should be a mandate for every spiritual practitioner. It’s important to keep grounding your energy and slowing things down. Otherwise, it is very easy to get sucked into a whirlpool of emotions and spiral down until the point of a meltdown. Especially if you’ve had a lot of trauma in the past.
If you’re in a hyperarousal state, pick activities that help you release the built up energy. These are typically things that require movement of your physical body, like dancing or going for a run.
And if you find yourself zoned out, try to interact more with the physical world through your five senses. This will help you re-stimulate your state of ‘freeze’.
Some of the simplest grounding techniques that can help you move back into your window of tolerance include:
- Drink tons of water and hydrate your system;
- Eat something healthy and calm your root chakra by letting your body know you’re safe;
- Listen to calming music;
- Using aromatherapy to help your sense of smell calm your nerves;
- Look around your room and identify things you can see and touch;
- Wrapping your arms around yourself or getting under a weighted blanket to self-soothe;
- Go for a walk in nature and away from any noises. You can try this free guided walking meditation to help you tune back into the present;
- Another technique is to intentionally think about a different, happier memory to bring your system back “online”.
In general, if you find yourself getting worked up more often than not, suspend your attempts to heal whatever it is that you’re working on. Sometimes, we do ourselves more harm when we scratch at old wounds, versus letting them sit and heal.
The best thing you can do for your healing, is to be very self-compassionate and treat yourself like a little child that’s just learning how to walk. You can’t beat yourself up for not getting through this – you can only hold your inner child close and encourage them to do better tomorrow.
I find it deeply fascinating to look at our minds and behaviours through different studies. At the end of the day, whatever we learn about ourselves helps us grow into being more of ourselves and less of what we’re not.
Consider this article as an invitation to learn more about how well you cope with reality, and what to do when your body says “stop”. I hope this simplifies a much heavier concept for you!
Happy healing, dear one.
Vasundhra is the Founder & Writer of My Spiritual Shenanigans. After seeing 11:11 on the clock one fateful night, her life turned around. Ever since, she has been blending modern psychology and ancient spirituality, to help herself and people around the world elevate the quality of their lives.
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Janice Marsh says
Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for this article. I have taken a week off because of the very reasons you have stated . Yesterday I spent in bed and ate lightly and listening to beautiful music. I will probably do something similar today and practice some self compassion.
Again thank you so much.
Aw, good for you Janice! I’m so glad that you could relate and apply this slowing down to yourself. I’m a huge music person too – hi5 on the serendipity of unplugging 🙂