Anxiety is a complex response, which has a physiological, cognitive and behavioral response. It is an emotion which, like all emotions, aims to prepare the body for action.
However, if this emotion is not adaptive, it disrupts behavior and interferes with a person’s activities and functioning.
Anxiety produces physiological symptoms such as tremors, restlessness, muscle tension and pain, or fatigue. And behavioral problems such as restless nervousness, irritability, impatience, and poor sleep quality. What to do about it?
Anxiety tolerance window
Window of Tolerance, a concept developed by Dr. Dan Siegel, refers to the range or amount of anxiety one is able to tolerate in a tolerant way.In other words, maintain harmony. When we are in our window of tolerance, we are in our safe zone, they can be managed without overwhelming emotionally.
This window of tolerance is different for each person, because it has its origin in the experiences lived in the face of dangerous or traumatic situations and how it has been possible to return to a state of calm.
Deregulation occurs when you start to step outside the tolerance window, which increases stress and anxiety. This is because the mind believes that the trauma or extreme stress that has been experienced in the past is recurring.
There are two states that occur when we are outside of this safe band, called hyperactivation and hypoactivation, which occur when deregulated.
This happens when you are above the maximum tolerance level. Emotions such as fear, panic, anxiety, anger or hypervigilance are felt with intensity. Hyperactivity also makes it difficult to sleep, eat, control emotions, or concentrate.
This is because it increases the activity of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for inadvertently regulating stress-related actions.
Unlike the previous one, this happens when you are below the tolerance range. The point is to avoid feeling, so that you might feel tired, confused, distracted, or embarrassed. It can also affect sleep and eating habits, difficulty expressing, processing thoughts and emotions, and responding physically.
This is due to the fact that the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system is activated, responsible for relaxation, breathing and pulsation among others.
Manage tolerance windows
Wider windows allow greater integrity in life, on the contrary, the narrower they are, the more they are prone to stiffness and emotional discomfort.
Learning to manage your window of tolerance enables you to cope with the demands of life. There are two ways to stay in your optimal zone: self-regulation that helps deal with stress and anxiety and broaden the window of tolerance to meet the demands of life.
How to improve emotional self-regulation
The first experiences with the behavior of our caregivers play a key role in emotional regulation and in our window of tolerance.
Babies are born with high levels of adrenaline and contact with the mother or caregiver regulates this hormone. by the interaction of another hormone, oxytocin. This hormone is a neurotransmitter that stimulates the fundamental neural connections for the development and maturation of the baby’s brain.
Neuroscience has shown that infants and young children do not have the biological capacity to complete the stress cycle on their own. This is built over time thanks to a multitude of co-regulatory experiences.
A baby or toddler who has been able to develop a secure affection style is able to self-regulate their emotional state or stay well within their window of tolerance., How to help regulate another person.
In contrast, people who have developed an insecure condition have a limited capacity for emotional self-regulation, so they may have low tolerance for anxiety.
How to improve the anxiety tolerance window
According to recent research, they found that inducing a sense of security in adults can help overcome the negative effects of an insecure condition.
People who have lived under stressful conditions flood their bodies with the hormone cortisol, a chemical that temporarily blocks the hippocampus responsible for forming explicit or conscious memories.
On the other hand, the accumulation of implicit or unconscious memories increases, Due to the effect of adrenaline produced by the amygdala. These memories appear as flashbacks or overwhelming sensations of dread, body and helplessness.
Being able to recognize your window of tolerance allows you to take steps not to overflow emotionally. You can use any of the following techniques:
- Do any physical activity. Walking, running or any other sport.
- Acknowledge negative thoughts and rephrase in a positive way.
- Writing a journal helps to clarify thoughts and unload all the emotions accumulated during the day.
- Practice meditation, breathing exercises, and take short breaks during the day.
Regularly practicing these tips will teach you to instinctively recognize your window of tolerance. and self-regulate if necessary.
Widen the window of tolerance with creativity
Through the right hemisphere, faces, emotions, expressions are recognized, which facilitates social connection. He is responsible for creativity, imagination, sense of movement in space, three-dimensional perception and musical sense.
Implicit memory is part of biographical memory, part of our bodily and emotional experience, the connection of security and perceived attention.. Implicit memory is in the right hemisphere, while explicit memory, conscious memory, is on the left. The left hemisphere is in charge of language, logic and decision making.
To be creative, you have to integrate the two hemispheres, it is not limited to the functions of the right hemisphere, because it involves multiple functions and brain structures. Creativity is an extremely complex mental process.
From my private practice, I lead individual sessions of adult art therapy, a psychotherapeutic discipline that uses creative experimentation, to retrieve and reconstruct implicit memory by re-meaning past experiences, helping to find language with which to understand and communicate the derived emotions.
In this way, the tolerance window is enlarged, we learn what are the individual limits in which to feel in balance and harmony, And integrates the neural process to manage anxiety. This integration includes body regulation, emotional balance, self-knowledge and empathy, promoting well-being.
- Porges S. (2017). Pocket guide to polyvagal theory. The transformative power of feeling secure. Barcelona: publishing house Eletheria SL
- Siegel JD (2011). Mindsight. The new science of personal transformation. Barcelona: Paidós.
- Morales Aguilar, D., 2018. The challenges of psychotherapy: complex trauma, affection and dissociation. License thesis. Humanist clinical center.
- Masini Fernandez, C. and Cury Abril, M., 2018. Arts and art therapy as an approach to trauma and emotional memory. Aletheia research project. Vallecas Day Psychiatric Hospital, Infanta Leonor University Hospital.