Noted psychologist Dr. Pat Ogden* coined the term “window of tolerance” to describe the state of mind we must be in to participate in, and to benefit from, psychotherapy. In a psychotherapy session, when a client has difficulty staying in that window of tolerance because of an upsetting memory or thought, we teach skills to help them self-regulate. These skills are something we teach all our clients and that I use myself at times of stress. Here are a few techniques I have learned over the years for you to consider. If you like them, practice them often until they become memorized and normalized for you.
Remember that for all of these, we start in a “grounded” position- meaning both feet on the floor and body in a seat.
See 5 things: Look around the room and see 5 different things. See them one at a time and look at them for a few seconds, with curiosity, as if you are seeing each of them for the first time (think to yourself, what is this?). Count 5 of them.
Feel 4 things: Feel four different textures within your reach, feel what is unique about each one. Count 4 of them.
Hear 3 sounds: Close your eyes and focus on your hearing. What are 3 distinctly different sounds and what is making each sound? Count 3 of them.
Taste 2 things: Imagine two different tastes- maybe something you ate or drank earlier or something you savor. Count 2 tastes.
Smell 1 scent: Smell a scent in the air you can detect, or the smell of soap, or lotion on your skin, or the smell of your clothes. Count 1 scent.
When you have completed all five, bring your attention fully to your breath and allow your breath to deepen. Count three or more deep breaths and then bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Notice how your body, mind and emotions may have shifted.
Play catch with yourself- toss a soft object like a small pillow or stuffed animal- up in the air and watch it and catch it. It’s simple and it works to get your mind slowed down by focusing on a simple task. Do this for just a minute or so and notice afterwards the shift in you.
Stand up and slowly touch the right elbow to the left knee, then the left elbow to the right knee and at a gentle pace, repeat the crossing over for a minute or more and notice how this regulates you.