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Episode 27: Window of Tolerance with Sally Bubbers

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Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast.  This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.

I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.



So I'm delighted for this episode to be joined by Sally Bubbers. Do you want to introduce yourself, Sally? That'll be great

S: So I'm Sally, I work as a counsellor and a pastoral supervisor. I have a husband, we've got 4 children between us and 3 grandchildren, at the moment. I'm fascinated by all this stuff we're going to be talking about because it helps me make sense of my life and helps me make sense of other people.

C: We were going to talk, weren't we, about something called the 'window of tolerance'

S: Yes

C: Tell us a bit about what the window of tolerance is

S: The window of tolerance is the idea that we all have a, well, window, that we're happy operating in. You can think clearly, you can respond to people in a friendly manner, your emotions can go up and down but you don't feel disregulated by stuff. When we get stressed, often our window of tolerance narrows, it shrinks. Then what happens is we can often shoot into being hyper-aroused, which means we get fizzed up, we might be angry, we might get really agitated about things, there's a lot of energy in our system. Think about the adrenaline charging. What happens is we can't really stay there for that long, it's not really good for our bodies, so then people drop down into a hypo-arousal, which is a bit like a hibernating animal. Where we shut down, you might feel like going to bed or zoning out watching the telly. It often looks like depression, that place of hypo-arousal. Some people get stuck using predominantly sympathetic hyper-arousal, and some people get stuck using hypo-arousal. Others ping along flipping from one to the other.

C: One of the things that I found interesting about this is that you can not-notice that you are not in your window of tolerance. There is a period of time where I was very stressed, I think I had gone into that hyper-arousal state. It wasn't until the stress began to abate that I thought "oh goodness, I have not been functioning terribly well."

One of the things I was hoping we'd get to do in the course of this conversation is to help people notice when they are and are not in that window of tolerance, because that then gives them the opportunity to do something about it. Then the other thing that I am very aware of is that we all have different levels of window of tolerance.

S: Absolutely

C: There are some people who seem to be able to cope with life, it doesn't matter what happens, they maintain this level. Somebody was telling me about Chris Hadfield, the astronaut person on the space station, he was doing a space walk and something went wrong with his space suit, he was really in mortal danger. But the people monitoring his vital signs noticed that nothing really changed, he just sorted it out. Whereas I would be… I would have left my window of tolerance before we'd left Earth!

S: What's fascinating about that is how just thinking about something which is agitating to us, can actually shift us out of our window of tolerance.

C: That's really interesting

S: the power of thought is amazing. So if you're thinking about needing going to a meeting, or a child thinking about going to school, if they're anxious, they can go out of their window of tolerance before they've even got their shoes on in the morning.

C: yes, I've certainly seen that. We had a season of school being tricky. I definitely, definitely relate to that.

What do you think influences how big or small our window of tolerance is?

S: I don't honestly think we really know, in terms of giving a single answer, but I think there are a lot of things that can contribute towards it. What we call ‘developmental trauma’ – so if children are frightened or they have people around them that are frightening, it can mean that they don’t necessarily learn to self-soothe, because the adults around them are not helping them to regulate themselves.

C: Yes, that ability to be able to bring yourself back down.

S: That’s right. So a baby can’t regulate themselves. So when a baby’s upset or a toddler’s upset, an adult has to come along and help regulate them with their own body being calm and also distract them, to learn that they don’t have to stay in that place of dysregulation. If that doesn’t happen for a child, or if for example there’s an adult that’s very scary, a child will tend to shut down, so they just stay very quiet and out of the way when the danger is out there. So there’s stuff about safety, there’s stuff about learning to regulate ourselves, which plays into attachment theory.

C: We did an episode on attachment theory – I can’t remember which one it is.

S: But they can look that up.

C: Definitely

S: And then general stresses in life. The problem is that once the window of tolerance gets narrower, the more stressful we find life.

C: It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

S: It is, but there are ways of widening your window of tolerance.

C: Do you want to talk about that a bit later when we talk about when you’re not in your window of tolerance?

S: Yes. So how you know when you’re not in your window of tolerance. Often it’s about noticing patterns within ourselves, almost observing ourselves. Do you have this urge, which comes on very quickly sometimes, to just go and hibernate or shut down. There’s a lady called Norma Howells(?) and she uses the 7 Fs. We can run through the 7 Fs and there’s another one been added to it. The first one is Fight. So if we get agitated, feel threatened by something, then we might get angry, get very cross with ourselves or other people. 

Then there’s Flight.

C: Running away!

S: Yes, but what’s really interesting about running away, is that we can run into things, like drink, to help us, and drugs, physically running away, using things that help us to feel better about ourselves in that moment. Some people do do a lot of running. Physically, they run to burn off the adrenaline in their systems. If you find that you’ve got to go to the gym or you can’t function, actually you’ve got a very narrow window of tolerance and that’s trying to burn off energy.

Then we’ve got Freeze. That often happens when you feel like you want to run away and you can’t. There is often a lot of high tension in the body and it’s like a rabbit in the headlights, that sort of thing. You’re just frozen, because you can’t run away, and you’re stuck. That often leads to things that look like fibromyalgia, because people get a lot of tension in their muscles, which is never burnt off, because they’re stuck, they can’t run away. So you get pain, a lot of pain in the limbs. And exhaustion, as well.

C: Coz you’re just kind of holding that tension.

S: You are. It takes an enormous amount of energy.

Then you get Flop. That’s a collapse. That’s when if you think about needing to go to do something, and you just suddenly feel exhausted. You’ve been triggered, there’s something distressing you, and it’s like your body collapses.

C: I think I can relate to that moment of you think about a job and then you’re like “I’m out of energy. I really couldn’t possibly(!)”

S: Absolutely. That’s a flop.

And then we get Fart.

C: Ok…

S: Fart references our butt. And there’s research that’s been coming from what’s called the poly-vagal theory, based on research by Stephen Porges(?). But when we go into that shut-down place which is hypo-arousal and window of tolerance, often the only thing left to go in our body is our gut. People can often end up with problems with their gut, if they use that state a lot. It’s interesting how some of the symptoms people experience are indicators of how they’re surviving in life.

C: Yes. The farting one is interesting because I know a mum whose child was accused of being very smelly in class. Child had been adopted, had a lot of trauma early on, and was literally, when stressed, farting. One of those kids who juuust missed the help they needed because they just slunk into the background.

S: He would, because if he was in a shut-down state, he’d be sitting there quietly not causing any trouble, and those children get overlooked when they’re in a shut-down state.

So then we also get… reproduction. You can guess the F connected to that.

C: *laughs* I can’t imagine(!) So is that hyper- or hypo-arousal?

S: Well, it can be either, because people can either want to do it a lot, in order to get connection, or they really go off it all together and they quite shut down. Obviously if there’s been abuse then people can go either way as well. It’s around connecting with people and what feels safe.

And then there’s Food. Food’s interesting, because if you believe that these things go right back, if you believed that the danger was very imminent, you probably wouldn’t eat because you need to run, and you don’t want to weigh your body down. If you believe the danger is in the distance and is coming, you may want to stoke up and get your reserves in so that you can survive the coming danger. So I think that’s an interesting way of looking at what might drive food, and it can be used in all sorts of ways, and obviously, sugar and carbohydrates can help people feel better about themselves. It’s all about what makes you feel better. And some people get the connection to a certain food, that they ate something one time, and they felt good, and after that they thought “if I eat that I’ll get that good feeling again”. Or their mother might have given them a sweet when they were good, and there was a good connection with that. Dan Siegel also talks about how if parents are very nervous feeding their children, children might pick up on their anxiety and then connect food with being anxious. There’s all sorts of stuff that can play into this, but food is another one that people can use to feel better.

C: So is that all the list?

S: Yes. There’s another one been added to it, called Fawning. So sometimes if we’re feeling threatened by the world, we’ll just want to please people.

So there is Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flop, Fart, Reproduction, Food and Fawn.

C: So the fawning is trying to get that good feeling from other people? Please other people?

S: Yes, and I think it’s a lot about feeling safe. Because if you’re pleasing people, you can feel safer, absolutely.

C: You can notice you’re in a freeze pattern when you have thoughts going around, you know that kind of thoughts loop?

S: Yes, that could be when you’re stuck with the thoughts going around in your head. Coz you can’t run away. And sometimes – I believe we have Parts to ourselves. And if you believe you have a Part that’s wanting to say to you “this is a danger and you need to get out” then you can get these repetitive thoughts going around in your head.

C: It’s interesting because having heard that, I have been a little bit more aware of when I’ve got stuck in those loops.

S: Ahhh

C: It generally has been when there has been something going on which has triggered me and I can’t quite work out what I need to do about it, or I can’t quite find the courage to talk to the person I need to talk to about it. So what that has helped me to do is to notice that this thought is going round and round in my head, and I looked at it and thought, “yes, I am stuck, I don’t know how to do anything about this, I can’t run away from it, so I’m in this anxious hyper-arousal.” That’s been really helpful, instead of just trying to tell myself “oh for heaven’s sake, stop thinking about it!!” Then I can take a step back and say, “ok, what’s going on, I probably do need to sort this out.”

S: That’s brilliant, because that’s about noticing, and that’s one of the keys, about noticing and being curious in order to break the patterns. If it’s a Part that wants to be heard, it’s almost like a 3 year old coming up going “listen to me!” “Go away, I’ll be with you in a minute” and they just start shouting louder to get your attention, and our thoughts can be like that. If we can pause and listen to them, that can really help them to settle. Which is interesting.

C: Sally did a brilliant brilliant workshop which I went to which is why I said “please can you be on my podcast?” But one of the things you got us to think about and reflect on was “what are you like when you are at your best?” Imagine the situation where that’s happening, think about what’s going on in your body, what’s going on in your mind, all of those sorts of things. Which helps you to get an idea of, “what am I like when I am in my window of tolerance functioning really well?”

S: It does

C: And then you’ve got to think about what’s going on for you when you’re in that hyper-aroused state and you’re really anxious. And what’s happening when you’re in that hypo-aroused, a bit of a flop state. Thinking about 3 different scenarios when you’re in each. I found that really helpful to help me see, “ohhh, when that’s happening, these are some of the Fs that are going on.”

S: It’s an exercise written by Deb Danner, she’s a counsellor who’s made the poly-vagal theory accessible to people. Just to talk you through it, Deb Danner looks at a sort of ladder. You’ve got the ventral-vagal at the top, which is in your window of tolerance. Then you’ve got the sympathetic, and then you’ve got the dorsal. Vagal shut down at the bottom. So the best thing to do is to start with the sympathetic, and then you move down to your dorsal state, and then you finish within your ventral-vagal state, which is within your window of tolerance. So you never leave yourself in a dysregulated state.

C: Right, thank you, that’s very wise

S: What’s fascinating about this exercise is to notice the power of thought. You’re just thinking about something and noticing a shift in your body.

C: So you imagine yourself into the situation

S: That’s right, yeah. So the first thing you do is you imagine yourself into a slightly agitated state. About 3/10, you want just a bit.

C: Don’t think of the thing that completely panics you. Slight sympathetic arousal will do. And be really curious about, what do you notice? What happens to your breath? What happens with your general state of agitation in your body? The questions that she invites you to ask yourself are, “what’s your relationship to food in that place? What about behavious? Do you feel like going running? Do you get snappy with people? Do you feel irritated? Do you drive yourself harder? So what are the behaviours? And do you tend to use any sort of drugs in that situation? What are your thoughts? How does the world feel? Does it feel safe or not? Complete the sentences ‘I am…’ and ‘The world is…’.” So that’s really interesting to do that. And then you shake that off, and you think about a time when you feel shut down or in a flop state. Do the same thing. And then you shake that off, and then you go into a state where you think you’re ok and the world feels ok, and ask yourself the same questions and notice the same things there. We can put a handout onto the website, couldn’t we? And then people can have a look at the questions.

C: There is a transcript of the episode, but I think we could also do a handout with some resources, that will be really good. So there will be some information about this on the loved called gifted website, we’ll do some links to that in the show-notes.

S: Brilliant.

When you’re out of your window of tolerance, there are brain scans showing that we lose our logical higher thinking functions. So it’s more difficult to think logically, and it’s also more difficult to take in new information.

C: I remember when I was learning about therapeutic parenting, that they talked about a red brain and a blue brain. So your red brain is the thing that has pushed you out of your window of tolerance. So you’re feeling like “I don’t need the thing that’s going to help me think logically, so that’s gone” and then your blue brain is when you are in your window of tolerance and you can think.

S: So this has massive implications if you’re trying to communicate with somebody that is out of their window of tolerance. If you think about a child at school who’s agitated, they’re not going to be able to learn. It’s going to be difficult to do sums and things like that. Because we don’t have our pre-frontal cortext and other areas of our higher thinking conscience available, or fully available. The other thing is that if you are talking to somebody who is agitated, you will often end up just looping around. Often people have phrases they will use like “you’re always like this” or “you always do that” but those are not coming from a place where they can think clearly about relating to you in a new way or taking on new information. They’re out of their window of tolerance, and they’re not going to be able to change their behaviour from that place.

C: So you need to get back into a regulated state.

S: Yes. And the first thing to do is to regulate yourself

C: Before you try and regulate somebody else.

S: Yes. Put your own gas mask on, or your oxygen mask on, before you help somebody else. So if you are trying to support a child who is in distress about something, or you want them to put their shoes on to leave the house to go to school, if they are completely out of their window of tolerance and you are as well, it’s never going to go well. *both laugh*

C: Yes, I would concur with that.

S: And there’s no point with your partner when you’re trying to have a conversation, or another adult, and they’re clearly triggered and distressed, and they keep looping round, repeating the same thing all the time to you. They're not generating new thoughts, and they’re not listening to what you're trying to say. It’s really good to go, “shall we just have a pause? Let’s come back to this.” That can be a helpful thing to start noticing.

C: It’s interesting just listening to you now, I think one of the things that I had got stuck in before, is that if somebody is out of their window of tolerance and is triggered, and if you try and respond to the content of what they’re saying, you absolutely get nowhere. I’m thinking about my son who quite often gets anxious, particularly when he was younger, not so much now, he would be obsessed by something, he’d be really worried about it. You could then tell that something’s triggered him. It could be something like “my bicycle isn’t working, I’m really worried about the noise it’s making, it’s not good and I need to sort it out.” And you’re like “your bicycle is fine.” But the conversation about your bicycle being fine doesn’t help.

S: No

C: Or “I’m really worried that the canal might flood”. Well the conversation about the fact that the canal can’t flood doesn’t help him in the moment, because that’s not the point. The point is that he’s dysregulated.

S: That’s right, and he just needs you to hear that he’s worried about that.

C: Yes

S: It’s just going to loop on, and you’re going to go down a rabbit hole repeating things to each other and getting more and more agitated.

C: So there’s no point trying to have a logical conversation about what looks like the presenting thing

S: And maybe just hearing them. Maybe just saying “I’m really understanding that you’re worried about your bicycle making a funny noise”. They want to be heard, and you are hearing them. Yes. If it’s about something else, if it’s about what holiday are you going to go on, it’s a question of pausing the conversation if it’s not going anywhere. But I do think that what’s interesting is that sometimes we just need to think about, actually, is there a relational component underneath the conversation, or is it a practical conversation about logistics. And quite often, things like my bicycle, it may well be relational, that he’s wanting you to understand that he’s worried about that, and not logistics about how that’s going to get mended. It might be logistical, but it’s worth checking that out.

C: Sometimes it’s felt like there is a level of anxiety and it needs to seep out somewhere, and he needs something to attach it to. So you could sort out the bicycle issue but then it’d be something else. 

S: But he’s out of his window of tolerance, and the thing is for you to be noticing your own levels of activation. To support yourself back in. If you’re sympathetically aroused, one of the things that can calm you most is a long out-breath. Because that can help bring on the para-sympathetic systems in your body. Physiologically, it’s calming. Obviously you maybe take yourself away from the thing that is distressing you, but the first thing to try is a long out-breath. When we get anxious we tend to go *mimics several short in-breaths* and that hypes up your system. So literally just a longer out-breath can help to calm you. The idea is to try to notice when you’re starting to get activated. Often, there are signs in our body that we are starting to get upset about something. Which we override because we want to stay in that place and deal with it. But if you can start noticing what’s going on in your body, maybe a little bit fizzy in your chest, or maybe your shoulders tightening a bit, you are getting agitated. Or sometimes you get overfixed on someone, you get over-focused on somebody, and your head gets very still. If we can notice those sorts of things, then we can start helping ourselves earlier. Once you’ve gone right out of the window and you’re particularly triggered, it takes time to settle. So it’s about really noticing, being curious, and just being kind to yourself, saying, “well, I got triggered”. The other thing is, if your body – if you’re standing, and you notice that you’ve just got stuck standing, that you’re just standing there with your legs still, sometimes even just moving your legs so your body can move from side to side, opening your stance a little bit, can help to settle your body, because your body will feel it can move, rather than being stuck there in one place. Does that make sense?

C: Yes. I’m imagining you’ve got that frozen in the headlights type thing, and so you’re saying if you can just move…

S: Just move your body a bit, sometimes that can help, just move your position. If your legs are together, maybe just move them apart and shift your weight a little bit. It can just help your body to feel that it can move, and it’s not trapped in that place.

Then if you’re hypo-aroused, again, it’s noticing it. But if you want to bring yourself up you can try tapping your thighs with your hands, tapping your arms, and doing a slightly bigger in-breath. It can help just to wake you up a bit.

C: The opposite of the long out-breath.

S: That’s right

C: A big in-breath. That can help you, yes. Those are just simple things. But a lot of it is about learning to notice. And then be kind to yourself. We’ve all got parts of ourself that can notice and start observing those states in our bodies. If they can start doing that, the idea is always to ask yourself, “what happened just before? Was there a point where I might have been able to intervene?” Maybe either in yourself or your child or your partner, start noticing when their head changes or their shoulders change, when they’re starting to get agitated. Or shut down. And at that point, you might be able to say something. Before they’ve gone right out of their window.

C: So if they have gone right out of their window…?

S: It’s about finding some way of getting a pause, if they are very highly agitated, or even very shut down. Because once they’re feeling threatened, people have got to settle and feel safer. It may even be just taking a step back from somebody so that their body feels safer. But also, I know we’ve talked about it with my boys, and you’ve got it with your boys, having a word you can use, or you can do a hand-sign, with one of my boys we negotiated with the teaching staff that the teachings would touch their watch and look at him, if they noticed he was getting too much much and he needed to just notice and do a bit of regulation or get some space. So it’s about finding ways, and talking about it when everyone’s calm. So saying “sometimes we both get upset, and it’s upsetting, so here are the ways we can notice before that.” That’s about teaching other people around you to do that as well. That’s relational, so you’re interactively regulating each other. Helping each other. But some people just can’t regulate themselves on their own and they need somebody else sitting with them. Maybe they don’t want you to touch them, but maybe you can just sit in the same room with them, and just try to regulate your breathing. We all give off electric signals and energies, we all do. Other people can pick up on that in minute levels. So if we can settle ourselves, that’ll help interactively regulate the other person. Which is what we do with babies.

C: Yes. Absolutely. So going back to what you were saying much earlier, actually if somebody hasn’t learnt that from when they were small, 

S: yeah

C: You kind of  need to learn it later. 

S: That’s right. 

C: People talk sometimes about being a ‘non anxious presence’ and that’s sort of what you’re saying really that if you can just be there

S: Yes

C: And be calm then hopefully the person who is dysregulated can bring themselves down so you’re not demanding anything of them you’re just 

S: Present

C: Present and waiting for the thing to kind of settle a bit

S: But being present is key

C; Yeah

S; That you’re not in a shut down state

C: Yes

S: Cos some people might think ‘well I was sitting there calmly’ when actually they were shut down. They weren’t actually present and available to the person. It’s really noticing what state you’re in. You might be sitting there seething still.  And the energy of that will come off. Just waiting for someone else to calm down so you can get your next bite in. You know. 

C: I can definitely relate to that ending up in a hypo aroused  stated and simply waiting for things to calm down particularly when things were really difficult. And there came a point when … people would often say to me ‘oh you’re so patient’

S: Yes, yes,

C: And I am. But. There’s been times when it’s not been patience. I’ve been completely outside of my window of tolerance but the only thing I can do is just kind of be physically present by mentally absent and that’s not terribly helpful.

S; Well, it’s… 

C: Probably better than 

S: Yeah - well it’s surviving

C: yeah

S: But you noticed and that is fantastic. It’s really good that you noticed that. And then once you are regulated you can offer repair. And that’s the key thing. 

    Dan Siegel. I heard him say once that we only need to be available to our children - you know - attuned availability - 30% of the time to achieve secure attachment. Which is amazing. And offering repair when we are calm is vital.

C: It helps your child to kind of complete the cycle that they’re in, in that you’ve become detached from one another

S:That’s right

C: And you can come back and say “Ah - I was really struggling”. I do that with my kids and my youngest in particular is so good at saying “I get like that. I completely understand.”

S: Yeah.

C: Many years of working on this stuff together, we’ve ended up with kind of a shared language

S: You have

C: And so my understanding of him sort of bleeds into his understanding of me. But it means that his dysregulation I think is kind of, when it happens, he knows it’s normal, it’s part of what happens and we get round and we get through it and we repair afterwards. 

S: That’s wonderful. It’s so beautiful. And that’s what you would hope to be able to achieve. And he’s learning then that there can be repair. And also that you’re acknowledging that you get dysregulated as well which is vital because otherwise children’s experience is denied. 

C: yes

S: And then they actually lose trust in what they’re seeing because if they say well I think you were cross with me and you go ‘no, I wasn’t,’ but you clearly are they start distrusting what they’re seeing in other people and what they believe is happening in themselves as well and that’s very disregulating. In terms of owning dysregulation or calm or whatever state we’re in, I love the language of parts. To say ‘a part of me got upset’. Or ‘a part of you got angry’ because it means it’s not the whole of the person and I love that because when people go “I disapprove of your behaviour” it’s like you’re disapproving of the whole person but when you say “I really struggle with the behaviour of that part of you” that’s a very different message that you’re giving to somebody. 

C: Yeah

S: And also owning yourself, that you got agitated, but there’s parts of you that can be calm as well

C: There’s a lot in the conversation we’ve had that has been about noticing and there’s something very compassionate about saying “I can simply notice what is happening. 

S:  Yes

C: There isn’t any “Well, you shouldn’t be”

S: No

C: It’s just, “Well OK, I’m noticing this and I’m going to bring myself back.”

S: That’s right.

C: So we’ve talked a bit about how you get back into the window of tolerance in the moment. I’m wondering whether there are ways of increasing your window of tolerance over time. Whether there are practices that help with that. 

S: Yes. There are. All the research shows that mindful practices, mindful contemplative practices, which really mean bringing ourselves into the present moment are key to widening the window of tolerance and getting us back into ventral-vagal. So, the problem with those things, I find, is that if you’ve got somebody who’s really agitated or lives their lives at 90 mph they’re not going to sit down for 20 minutes and do a mindful practice. But what you can do is do things like:

  • give yourself a commentary while you’re brushing your teeth, because you’re bringing your mind and your focus to attend to what you are doing in that moment. And that effectively is a mindful practice. 

  • If you’re out walking you can just try to consciously slow the pace that you’re walking and notice what’s on the ground or the flowers around you. 

  • You can look out of the window and look at the clouds going by or just see some birds flying past. 

  • And give yourself a commentary. You could boil the kettle and make a cup of tea and again, give yourself a commentary. 

So all those sorts of things are mindful practices. Washing your hands, again, just be aware of the temperature of the water and of the soap.

And then, if you can manage to lengthen your out breath slightly, that is really good for calming. So if you can start doing that as well. 

So then you can build up to maybe doing three or four seconds of doing an inbreath, counting in for three, out for four. And that can help settle. Noticing where your breath is going. Whether it’s high up in your chest or whether you can just deepen a bit to your belly. So your breath is down in your belly. 

    The other thing to be really curious about is some people have paradoxical breathing, so when they breathe in, their tummy goes in and when they breathe out their tummy goes out. And you want to try to change that if you can. So that when you breathe in your breathing in and you can feel your lungs and your belly expanding with your diaphragm going down and then when you breathe out they come in. 

C: The first time I learned about that was when I learned to play the trombone as a teenager

S: Yes

C: But it’s interesting because we  - the paradoxical thing - because often when people say ‘breathe in’ they mean ‘bring your tummy in’ which is entirely different. So learning that when you breathe in you want your tummy to come out  - and just putting your hand on it will help you to notice what’s going on 

S: That’s right. And you can feel your diaphragm going down and you don’t want to force any fullness of breath because that can trigger the body as well. 

So it’s a very gentle learning to do that. I believe what you want to achieve is about 6 to 7 breaths a minute is optimal. Cos also that can help to tone your vagus nerve. 

So the vagus nerve controls all sorts of things, like when you’re dysregulated, out of your window of tolerance, our hearing changes. So we’re tuned to hear things for safety. And we don’t hear all the normal ranges that we would when we’re in our ventral vagal. 

    And also it affects blood pressure. There is current research about how toning your vagus nerve, and there’s lots of stuff coming out, there’s books and YouTubes about toning your vagus nerve to help strengthen your window of tolerance so you don’t go out of it so easily. There’s exercises and that breathing rate does help to strengthen your vagus nerve. 

C; So I’m just wondering whether singing helps because that automatically 

S: It does

C: you are taking a little breath in and then a long breath out. 

S: yeah. Singing’s really good and also it can be a communal, relational activity as well. 

C: Yes. Yeah. 

S: Singing’s good. Like you said, your trombone. All sorts of things like that can be really really helpful. It’s very personal. Think there’s never one solution, one answer to things. 

C: So the bottom line is, you want to do something that brings you into the present moment, whatever that happens to be. 

S: That’s right. And even if that’s looking around the room and naming 5 things you can see in your room and moving your head around at the same time because that helps to break the freeze. So I can look around and say there’s a picture, there’s a mirror, there’s a window, there’s a fire. I can look round like that. 

C: and it sounds like you can do it at whatever pace you need to move. 

S: Yes 

C: So I’m thinking about kids who are sort of really hyper. Well you can go and jump on the trampoline and talk about how high you’re jumping. 

S: Yes. 

C: I’m going to do 10 jumps. I can do 10 little jumps. I can feel the jumps. I’m going to do 10 big ones. 

S: You could try that. I think if there’s a sense of them needing to run, it’s good for the body to know that it can run. 

C: Yes 

S: but maybe then - transition - it may have a spurt and then walk and then calm. Or just noticing that you’re not trapped and you can run if you want to. 

C: Yes. Yeah

S: So there’s a cognitive - you’re actually thinking. Actually I’m not trapped here. I can walk out that door if I want to. Then that can become a resource.

C: I really like what you’re talking about in terms of mindfulness that it’s bringing it  - it’s making it much much broader than simply ‘you need to sit and do mindfulness’ which some of us love to do and can but lots of people can’t.

S: can’t

C: and I’m just thinking of moments when I’ve been really stressed and actually the thing I can manage to do, in this moment, is just take two or three mindful breaths and look at a cloud.

S: Yeah, well that’s brilliant

C: I’ve just - that’s what I’ve got the capacity for. I haven’t got the capacity for anything else but just doing that…

S: It’s really good

When we’re smiling, genuinely smiling, that things are OK, that it calms us. Some people find like a little video on their phone, maybe of a baby laughing or something that you find funny, that can be really helpful. So there’s all sorts of things that you can use. It’s whatever helps to jolt you out of that state and find a calmer place. 

C: And I’m just remembering what you said about that exercise where you’re noticing the different states and imagining yourself in a different state. Well I’m just thinking you can potentially do that, when you’ve got a moment, thinking ‘well, when I am in a calm place, when I’m with friends, or making a cup of tea or feeding the ducks… if I can just for a moment imagine myself in that situation and imagine what it feels like, what my body feels like, that might help me,

S: That’s right. Absolutely. Yes, it’s really good. But the key is just to start noticing, be curious and notice it’s just a part of you, and if you can be kind to yourself, when you’ve been triggered. So, the most important thing is to notice yourself. And then you can start being in relation to others and noticing others as well. 

C: Yes. Excellent. Sally thank you ever so much for sharing this conversation. I think it will be really helpful to people.

S: I hope so. You’re welcome. Thank you. 

C: Thank you.






Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email You can find a transcript of this podcast at and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.

Thank you for listening.


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