Unraveling? Your Stress Levels Are Likely Beyond Your ‘Window of Tolerance’
Tips to reset your brain and body when everything feels impossible
According to psychiatrist and neurobiologist Dr. Dan Siegel, each of us has a “window of tolerance.” Siegel coined the term to describe normal brain/body reactions, especially following adversity. The idea is that human beings have an optimal arousal zone that allows emotions to ebb and flow, which, in turn, enables a person to function most effectively and manage the everyday demands of life without difficulty. Thanks to the deleterious events of 2020, for many people that ebb and flow has been dammed.
As a professionally trained therapist, clinical ethicist, and trauma researcher, I see daily the harmful effects of this year’s adversity. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that nearly half (53%) of Americans report that the pandemic is having a serious impact on their mental health. This is up from 32% reported in March. Kaiser also reported widespread negative behavioral effects, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) and eating (32%), increases in excessive alcohol consumption or substance abuse (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%). A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress reported calls were up more than 1,000% in April compared with the same time last year. Talkspace, an online counseling provider, reported a 65% increase in clients in the last six months.
What the data makes clear is that if you’re worried, scared, anxious, depressed, irritable, confused, frustrated, grieving, exhausted, struggling to sleep, or just on edge (sigh), you’re not alone. As Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said to the Washington Post, “Given the circumstances, feeling anxious is part of a normal response to what’s going on.”
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Understanding your window of tolerance
When a person is within their window of tolerance — again, a manageable ebb and…