Increasing Our Tolerance of Stress

We are able now to look at the workings of the brain and how it relates to the body in ways we have never been able to before. “Affect Regulation” is a term often spoken nowadays. Basically this is about how we regulate our emotions.  The problem is that keeping a lid on our emotions is not a healthy way to go forward. Although we do not need to get too hung up on the workings of the body and brain it an be useful to have some understanding. The aim is to be able to discharge emotions that arise appropriately by acting on our needs and feelings in a way that promotes our own wellbeing while, when appropriate, paying attention to the needs and feelings of those around us.


In situations of extreme stress adrenalin causes the autonomic nervous system to kick in.  Our ability to tolerate stress is reduced depending on a whole range of things past and present in our experience and in our genetic make up. 


One of the steps towards wellbeing is noticing. Reactions are normal and unusual reactions are normal in unusual situations.  Perhaps we can be curious about rather than judgemental of our responses to stress. 


Emotions are energy in motion if our defensive systems block expression or action on emotion then the body steps up the response and it is this that we can experience as anxiety.   Underneath the anxietythere are usually a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, disgust, disappointment or even unexpressed joy. Anxiety is our body seeking to bring about resolution of the situation we are in.


Responses created in our body by the nervous system can be summarised and simplified as 5 Fs: Fight, Flight, Freeze,( Hyper arousal) orFlag or Faint ( Hypo arousal) .  Of course this is an oversimplification of complex reactions. 


We can also become stuck in a stressed state living as if it were still happening. Trauma or in the long term if this is not resolved in time PTSD.


When dealing with stressful situations it is helpful to hang on to whatever stability and safety we can. if we can involve others for support this is useful.


We can help process what is happening safely and slowly.  Working within the window of tolerance. Pacing ourselves and taking baby steps.


Self care is important as we manage to integrate any stress we have experienced.  Not expecting too much of ourselves, using appropriate support andways we can create a state of relaxation can help us to increase our window of tolerance. We can do this in whatever way works best for us. For example:- mIndfulness, yoga, physical exercise, fishing, running, walking, being in green space, listening to music, looking at or creating art, positive self talk, tapping, hypnotherapy, therapy, counselling etc. 


For further information you can read Siegel, D. (2007) The Mindful Brain, New York: Norton.