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The Window of Tolerance and Nervous System Regulation

Window of Tolerance Resources Curious Mind Psychology
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The recent spike in COVID cases in Melbourne and the uncertainty of this lockdown inspired me to create a resource for you on how our nervous system responds to chronic stress, and what we can do to support ourselves through times of adversity.

The window of tolerance refers to an optimal level of nervous system functioning where we are capable of tolerating and processing the ebbs and flows of emotional distress while thinking clearly, remaining present and being connected with ourselves and others. Stressful events and trauma narrow our window of tolerance, meaning we have little bandwidth for emotional distress, becoming quickly overwhelmed by our survival responses shutting down our prefrontal cortex (higher order thinking brain). Very broadly, these survival responses are designed to reduce harm by mobilising our resources via fight and flight (hyperarousal), or immobilising us into a state of extreme energy conservation via freeze and flop (hypoarousal). While these survival responses can be useful for violent threats to life, they are not always so useful for contemporary stressors, leaving us stuck in states such as shut down hopelessness or rage / panic characterised by reactive behaviour, distorted thinking and impaired decision making. Learning to recognise early cues of dysregulation (moving close to the upper limit or lower limit of your window of tolerance) and regulating up or down back into it will help you widen your window and become more resilient. Refer to our window of tolerance table to learn how to recognise and respond to signs of dysregulation.

To further care for yourself during these times of adversity lean on others around you for emotional connection (if you can!). Share as many deep belly laughs and cathartic tears with others as you are able. If you are struggling and need more help, see your GP for a referral to a mental health professional. These services listed below are free and can also offer interim support:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36

Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800

Mensline: 1300 78 99 78

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

National Indigenous Critical Response Service: 1800 805 801

1800 Respect: 1800 737 732

QLife: 1800 250 015

National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015

For life threatening and dangerous situations: 000


Magdalena Mills

Principal Psychologist

Curious Mind Psychology

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