Limbic System and Window of Tolerance

When our amygdala is lit up in the limbic system of our brain, our ability to see the big picture – disappears. The ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response takes over. We literally suffer from tunnel vision. If we are outside the window of tolerance, (Minton, Ogden et al, 2006) and in hyperarousal, we become irritable, edgy, angry – ready for a fight or ready to flight – take off.

When in hyperarousal we get foggy, fuzzy, dissociate, depressed, unable to move, numb, frozen. Either way, we are ready for the worst-case scenario. Outside of the window of tolerance we catastrophize, awfulize, distort reality to fit our negative beliefs.

I bet you are reading this thinking, “wow, why do we even have an amygdala?” The bottom line, we can’t be thinking about paying our credit card when a threat actually occurs. For example, if we hear a rattlesnake within our proximity, our thinking brain needs to shut off – it needs to be offline so that our ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response can do its job!  But what about when there isn’t a threat in our environment and we go out of the window of tolerance alot? When Post Trauma Stress is the concern, we can get triggered a lot. (Think that the past is in the present when it’s not). To get back into the window of tolerance where are thinking the brain is ON, first ground yourself. Orientate yourself to the present.

The following skills will help you ground yourself :

  • Temperature: ice in hand, face in cold water.
  • Drinking cold water slowly
  • Hot shower
  • 5 – 1 grounding  Five things you see, Five things you hear, Five things you feel. Four things you see, Four things you hear …
  • Mindful doing
  • Mindfulness
  • Gregorian chants
  • Listen to a kitty purr
  • Spend time with a horse
  • Diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Heartmath

Once you are grounded then ask yourself where is the evidence that supports my negative belief? What was the trigger (Where was the past in the present)? Keep a journal so that you can get familiar with your triggers and obtain some control over these triggers.

Adapted by  Crystal Arber      CC 2017

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