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I have anxiety: what can I do?

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Anxiety is a complex response, which has a physiological, cognitive and behavioral response. It is an emotion that, like all emotions, has the purpose of preparing the body for action.

However, if this emotion is not adaptive, it disorganizes the behavior and interferes with the activities and functioning of the person.

Anxiety produces physiological symptoms such as tremors, restlessness, muscle tension and pain, or fatigue. And behavior problems such as nervousness, restlessness, irritability, impatience and poor quality of sleep. What to do about this?

  • Related article: "The 7 types of anxiety (characteristics, causes and symptoms)"

Anxiety tolerance window

The tolerance window, a concept developed by Dr. Dan Siegel, refers to the range or amount of anxiety that one is able to experience in a tolerant way., that is, maintaining harmony. When we are within our tolerance window, we are within our safety zone, they can be managed without emotional overflow.

This window of tolerance is different for each person, since it has its origin in the experiences experienced in dangerous or traumatic situations and how it has been possible to return to a state of calm.

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Dysregulation occurs when you begin to go outside the tolerance window, increasing stress and anxiety. This is because the mind believes that extreme trauma or stress experienced in the past is recurring.

There are two states that occur when we are outside of this safety fringe, known as hyperactivation and underactivation, which occur when you deregulate.

1. Hyperarousal

It happens when you are above the maximum tolerance level. Emotions such as fear, panic, anxiety, anger or hypervigilance are felt with intensity. Hyperactivity also makes it difficult to sleep, eat, control emotions, or concentrate.

This is due to the increased activity of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, which is in charge of involuntarily regulating stress-related actions.

2. Hypoactivation

Contrary to the previous one, happens when it is below the tolerance range. The goal is to feel avoidance, so you may feel tired, confused, distracted, or embarrassed. It can also affect sleeping and eating habits, difficulty expressing, processing thoughts and emotions, and responding physically.

This is due to the activation of the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system, responsible for relaxation, respiration and pulsation, among others.

Managing tolerance windows

Wider windows allow you to have greater integrity in life, while the narrower the more you tend to stiffness and emotional distress.

Learning to manage your window of tolerance allows you to face the demands of life. There are two ways to stay within your optimal zone: self-regulation that helps process stress and anxiety and widen the window of tolerance to cope with the demands of life.

  • You may be interested in: "10 essential tips to reduce stress"

How to improve emotional self-regulation

Early experiences with the behavior of our caregivers play a fundamental role in emotional regulation and in our tolerance window.

Babies, when they are born, have high levels of adrenaline, and contact with the mother or caregiver regulates this hormone by the interaction of another hormone, oxytocin. This hormone is a neurotransmitter that stimulates the neural connections essential for the development and maturation of the baby's brain.

Neuroscience has shown that infants and young children do not have the biological ability to complete the cycle of stress on their own. That is built over time through a multitude of co-regulation experiences.

A baby or child who has been able to develop a secure attachment style is able to either self-regulate her emotional state or stay largely within her tolerance window., like helping someone else regulate themselves.

In contrast, people who developed insecure attachment have limited capacity for emotional self-regulation, which is why they may have a low tolerance for anxiety.

How to improve your anxiety tolerance window

Recent research has found that the induction of feelings of security in adults can help overcome the negative effects of insecure attachment.

People who have lived under stressful conditions flood their bodies with the hormone cortisol, a chemical that temporarily blocks the hippocampus responsible for the formation of explicit memories or conscious.

By cons, the accumulation of implicit or unconscious memories is increased, due to the effect of adrenaline produced by the amygdala. These memories emerge as flashbacks or overwhelming feelings of terror, bodily, and helplessness.

Being able to recognize your window of tolerance allows you to take steps so you don't get emotionally overwhelmed. You can use one of the following techniques:

  • Do any physical activity. From walking, running or any sport.
  • Recognize negative thoughts and rephrase them in a positive way.
  • Writing a diary helps clear your thoughts and discharge all the emotions accumulated during the day.
  • Practice meditation, breathing exercises, and take short breaks during the day.

Regularly practicing these tips will teach you to instinctively recognize your tolerance window. and self-regulate when necessary.

Expand the window of tolerance thanks to creativity

Thanks to the right hemisphere faces, emotions, expressions are recognized, which facilitates social connection. It is responsible for creativity, imagination, sense of movement in space, three-dimensional perception, and musical sense.

The implicit memory is part of the biographical memory, of our corporeal and emotional experience, of the connection of security and perceived attention. Implicit memory is in the right hemisphere, while explicit memory, conscious memory, is in the left. The left hemisphere is in charge of language, logic, and decision-making.

To be creative you need the integration of both hemispheres, it is not limited to the functions of the right hemisphere, since it involves multiple functions and brain structures. Creativity is an extremely complex mental process.

From my private practice I carry out individual sessions of Art therapy for adults, a psychotherapeutic discipline that uses creative experimentation, to recover and reconstruct the implicit memory resignifying previous experiences, helping to find a language with which to understand and communicate emotions derived.

This expands the tolerance window, you learn what are the individual limits within which to feel in balance and harmony, and the neural process to manage anxiety is integrated. This integration includes body regulation, emotional balance, self-knowledge and empathy, promoting well-being.

Bibliographic references:

  • Porges S. (2017). Pocket guide to the Polyvagal Theory. The transformative power of feeling safe. Barcelona: editorial Eletheria S.L.
  • Siegel J. D. (2011). Mindsight. The new science of personal transformation. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • Morales Aguilar, D., 2018. Challenges in psychotherapy: complex trauma, attachment and dissociation. Bachelor's thesis. Humanistic clinical center.
  • Masini Fernandez, C. and Cury Abril, M., 2018. The arts and art therapy as an approach to trauma and emotional memory. ALETHEIA research project. Vallecas Psychiatric Day Hospital, Infanta Leonor University Hospital.
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