We all have a "Window of Tolerance" for stress. We can use our Anchors to return to that window when we are overwhelmed.
Stress is something that is unfortunately, inevitable in everyday life. For some people however, it extends beyond the stress related to work, school, or personal life, but also to just simply being around other people. This is especially the case for those that have experienced childhood trauma, because people who were traumatised as a child often find it difficult to regulate their levels of arousal, and their emotions.
Think of it like this. We are within the “window of tolerance” when we can tolerate our feelings. Above this level, we are in a state of hyper-arousal, experiencing our fight or flight response. Likewise, below this level, we are hypo-aroused, where we experience a freeze response.
What does this mean for trauma survivors?
Trauma survivors often have a tiny Window of Tolerance- this might be seen as being easily “set-off”, where they can feel easily overwhelmed or triggered. Trauma causes changes to the brain that leaves it prepared for danger and used to threat. The good news is that survivors can learn to change it by using some anchors to return back to their window of tolerance.
How to use anchors?
Just as an anchor of a boat stops the boat being washed away with the currents – positive images of places can “anchor” our thoughts and feelings. These can be places to which we have been, or places to which we would like to go - just focus on somewhere you feel calm and safe.
You could remember a part of your house, a favourite coffee shop, a park, a friend’s house or even a hospital or health centre. Or you could imagine a place that you have seen in a magazine, book, TV or movie. As you imagine this place, use your senses.
What it looks like, things you'd see there
Any sounds you'd hear there
Any textures, things you'd touch there
How does it feel being there?
What do you really like about it?
Notice how your body feels as you think about this place.
Write down a list of potential anchors that you could use. Keep referring to that list even when you are not triggered. You will automatically remember to use them when the panic hits.
And repeat to yourself that you can return to that window of safety and stability, using these anchors. This will be empowering.
This is a useful technique to teach young children. See here.