Window of Tolerance is a term coined by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry in 1999. It refers to the amount of everyday stress that we are able to tolerate without becoming overwhelmed by emotion, or going into a shutdown. These functions are regulated by the autonomic nervous system, that further splits into the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. Throughout the day, it is normal for the nervous system to cycle between the two. For example, if a person gets up to go for a run, the sympathetic branch activates. If the same person sits down to rest later, the parasympathetic becomes dominant. These are normal functions of a well-regulated nervous system.
Dysregulation – fight / flight
Difficulties arise when the nervous system starts to become dysregulated. This means that both the sympathetic and parasympathetic activations start taking us deeper into a defensive response to stress – regardless of whether the threat is real or perceived. Sympathetic activation beyond the window of tolerance takes us into the so-called ‘fight / flight’ response, where our brains decide on the best strategy to escape from danger – can we run away, or do we need to mobilise resources to fight? In either case, physical symptoms that we may experience are cold hands and feet, a dry mouth, a faster beating of the heart, darting eyes and a general speeding up of thoughts and actions. Emotionally, we may start to feel high levels of anxiety, anger or overwhelm.
Dysregulation - freeze
If our brains decide that we are not able to run away or fight off the attacker – again, real or perceived – we may instead go into a freeze response. This can be a complete freeze, where we are not able to move, or a lesser version where we can still function, but from a dissociative state. This is driven by the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. We may feel dreamy and have the sensations of not being in the body. We may have difficulty feeling different parts of ourselves. Emotional states that are likely are feeling withdrawn, ashamed, depressed, or numb. All of these physical and emotional sensations can indicate that something is happening that is outside of our ability to stay present and grounded to it, our window of tolerance.
How can tantric healing therapy help?
Tantric healing therapy can help clients to identify defence states in the body by learning to recognise signs of mobilisation into fight flight, or immobilisation into freeze. Clients can then learn tools for down regulating the threat response in their bodies in order to help to expand their window of tolerance. When this happens, we are able to better meet the everyday stresses of life, not losing connection to ourselves or others.
I offer bodywork, TRE (tension and trauma release exercises) and coaching sessions in Teesside and London. For more information, please contact me 07778340823 / firstname.lastname@example.org (email preferred).