June means a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the ways I recognize June is that it is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) awareness month. For those interested in knowing more, I’d encourage some time with the National Institute of Mental Health. In honoring the challenges of PTSD and being aware that as a society we are undergoing a collective trauma with the pandemic, I wanted to offer a way to consider bringing awareness to your own window of tolerance and ways to work with that.
What is the Window of Tolerance? I am a visual person so please click that link in the preceding sentence. The window of tolerance is essentially a way we look at how we navigate stress in our lives, a concept developed by Dr. Dan Siegel. If you imagine a house window, with some panes and maybe a houseplant by it (because why not), that window is you. That window is your ability to navigate and see through different situations, both predictable and unpredictable that cause stress that can be managed. While there is discomfort and challenge in this window it is not unmanageable. Our ability to tolerate stress can be affected by trauma. Often a trauma trigger will move us outside of our window. When we are unable to tolerate these challenges we go one of two ways (and sometimes we switch between the ways). We go into hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal.
Hyper-arousal in the dictionary is defined as “a state of increased responsiveness to stimuli that is marked by various physiological and psychological symptoms.” Think of that fight or flight response, heightened anger or restlessness, increased anxiety or panic. Hypo-arousal is on the opposite end and often seen as the freeze or fawn response. In this response you may feel disconnected, dissociate or withdraw. You may shut down and experience feeling “off.”
When we enter hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal all is not lost. We can still re-enter our window of tolerance with different strategies. These techniques can support you when you feel you are leaving your window of tolerance and with regular practice, can also help to widen your window. Strategies such as: Mindfulness, Deep Breathing, Physical Activity, Soothing your senses, challenging your thoughts and writing things down are some of the many ways you can work to support yourself in this challenging time. What will you add this month to your routine to help your window of tolerance?
Vera Bednar, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and certified in dialectical behavioral therapy (C-DBT). A Lesley University graduate, Vera earned a bachelor's in counseling and art therapy and a master's in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma.
Prior to joining Looking Glass Counseling, Vera worked in a wide variety of clinical settings including inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient and an assisted living center with an art therapy focus. She also worked in partial hospitalization programs specializing in trauma, LGBTQIA+ individuals and young adult transitions as well as substance use.