TTS Part 13: The Window of Tolerance & Autonomic Ladder
Today, let's talk about the autonomic nervous system, an important part of the central nervous system. In this fast-paced world, we must become expert managers of stress! The autonomic nervous system has two branches. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is activated when we trigger the fight or flight survival response. The parasympathetic nervous system is active when the threat OR stressors have passed so that we can return back to a baseline of relaxation. It's also known as the relaxation response. So the autonomic nervous system is a major player in stress, anxiety, and many of the stress-related conditions that we face in our day-to-day lives. As I have said in other videos, stress is NOT the problem! The real problem is an inadequate relaxation response, i.e. the lack of a parasympathetic reset back to a healthy baseline of relaxation. Note the staircase effect in the video above. Also, keep in mind, Heeb’s Laws for neuroplasticity (Neurons that fire together wire together and Use it or lose it) Following years of an inadequate relaxation response the use it or lose it principle creates a steady state of chronic stress - i.e., HABITUAL bipolar homeostasis of hyper-arousal and/or hypo-arousal.
I designed therapy cards for my clients to visually represent Dan Siegel’s Window of Tolerance and Stephen Porges’ Autonomic Ladder. With these tools, I can help my clients understand the consequences of chronic stress, and the importance of stress management, and inspire them to become expert stress managers. In the Window of Tolerance card, there's a red zone, a Blue Zone, two Yellow zones, and a Green Zone. The Green Zone represents the healthy parasympathetic relaxation response. The red zone represents chronic stress, and the blue zone represents the crash that comes after an extended period of chronic stress when the nervous system just can't take it anymore and needs to shut down. The Autonomic Ladder puts the Green Pathway at the top of the ladder, another way of looking at the same thing. I want to inspire my clients to become expert stress managers of stress. That means we need to create a new steady state or neo-homeostasis - i.e., following Heeb’s principle that neurons that fire together, and wire together we can create a new habit of healthy regulation of the autonomic nervous system.
There are many ways we can recondition the nervous system back to a healthy parasympathetic relaxation response. I suspect this is why mindfulness, meditation, and other relaxation techniques are spreading so far and wide these days. It all starts with an elementary understanding of the care and feeding of our autonomic nervous system. Watch the video to gain that understanding. All that remains is for you to find what works for you to get you into the green zone and keep you there! Be sure to check out my video library of tools at the Oasis @ Serenity Cafe for more ideas.