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Part 13: Window of Tolerance & the Autonomic Ladder

Visual Tools Teaching How to Regulate the Nervous System & Manage Stress

Today let’s talk about the autonomic nervous system which is 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., an HABITUAL bipolar homeostasis of hyper-arousal and/or hypo-arousal.

I designed the therapy cards below for my clients to provide visual representations of 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, the importance of stress management, and inspire them to become expert stress managers.

So, you see here the window of tolerance. 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 it 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 nuerons that fire together, 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.

Therapists, Coaches and Other Helping Professionals: You can purchase the cards and supporting media to use with your clients in digital and printed formats by clicking the button below.

Window of Tolerance Therapy Card

Click the button below to download a sample of the Window of Tolerance & Autonomic Ladder Therapy Card.

Download a Sample PDF Card

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The videos and lessons in this area have part numbers (Part 1, etc) so you can tell the order to watch them. These are the foundational courses and one lesson builds upon the previous lesson. They are meant to be studied, not just watched one time.
Remember the need for intensity and repetition. When you have seen these videos enough times to almost be able to present the information yourself, the Internet of Your Mind will have been transformed for the better as you get to know your True Self
Don Carter MSW, LCSW