8 ways to calm down (how to get back in your window of tolerance)

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When you find yourself outside of your Window of Tolerance, it can feel overwhelming. It’s helpful to have a list of coping strategies to turn to ahead of time, so you don’t have to think them up in the moment. Here are a few to consider:

1. Breathe through your diaphragm

Breathing through your diaphragm can help send messages to your brain to relax. If you’re not familiar with diaphragmatic breathing try this: lay on your back with your right hand over your chest and your left hand over your belly. Breathe into the area near your belly so that only your left hand rises, while your right hand stays still. Hold for a moment, then breathe all the way out. Repeat 3x.

2. Box breathing

This is another breathing strategy that helps you breathe calmly and slowly. Imagine creating the shape of a box with your finger. Breathe in (moving your finger up the box), hold (moving your finger to the right), breathe out (moving down), and hold (moving your finger to the left to complete the shape of box). Repeat 3x.

3. Ice cubes (or cold water)

Use this strategy to help shock your system and create a grounding response. Hold ice in your hand, hold it between your eyes, place it in on your chest or in your bra. Also try plashing cold water in your face or sticking your head into the freezer and breathing in the cold air.

4. Container

Choose a container that you can use to store all the troubling thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations of the moment. Imagine yourself dumping it all into your container. Take your time. Don’t forget to unpack that container at a later time when you’re better able to process it (or with a support person).

5. Body scan

Scan through your body, starting at the top of your head and working all the way to your toes. Be curious as you notice what each body part feels like. Is it tense or relaxed? Does it feel cool, warm, tingly? Is there pressure or lightness? There’s no wrong answer here. If you’re have difficulty with sensing your body, use your hands to touch different body parts. 

6. Move your body

Go for a walk, stretch, or do some quick jumping jacks. Anything to get you moving for a few moments and help your body release tension.

7. Peaceful Place

Imagine scenery that seems peaceful to you. Try to avoid using familiar spaces like your bedroom where you could potentially be triggered. It could be on a beach, in a field of flowers, or up in the clouds. What does this place look like? What can you touch, feel, smell, and taste there that may bring you comfort? Visualize this place and let it come to life in your mind for about 2-3 minutes if you can. If you need to, include protective barriers (like a force field or security system) to keep this place as safe and comforting as possible. This visualization has the best effect when you’ve already spent some time developing the peaceful place beforehand.

8. Legs up the wall pose

This is a yoga pose that can produce a sense of grounded calmness. It’s exactly that: lay on your back and swing your legs up against the wall so it’s as if you were “sitting” on the wall. Also try legs up the couch, or add pillows for increased comfort.

Finding the right coping strategies that work for you will take time and consistent practice. They are also not the end-all-be-all for healing from trauma. For more help with working through the effects of trauma, contact me here.

Photography by Portrait Memoirs.