If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, you are not alone. Everyone has days, weeks or phases in life that are overwhelming and stressful. However, there are many ways that people cope with these times of overwhelm and not all of them are productive or healthy. Lack of appropriate management of stress can create many problems, impacting emotional and physical health, relationships, and work productivity.
Among the many styles of coping with stress and emotions, there are two extremes that are the most difficult when it comes to achieving a balance between emotional and rational experiencing. For some, there is an effort try to ignore emotions by suppressing them and attempting to power through the challenges only to feel like they are on the brink of exploding. This method of stress “management” can lead to depression, anxiety, angry outbursts, substance abuse or a variety of other unwanted feelings and behaviors.
At the other end of the spectrum, some allow themselves such free expression of feelings that they are not able to access any rational thinking, they spiral into destructive behaviors and oftentimes push people away or destroy relationships. When flooded with emotion, one becomes steeped in the part of the brain called the amygdala. This part of the brain is responsible for flight, fight or freeze and as a result, the frontal lobe, responsible for reasoning, logic and empathetic understanding is compromised. When in this mode, decisions are made that often lack in understanding of consequences and empathy for the way the behavior impacts others. This could lead to poor choices in regard to interactions with a spouse, friend or coworker and is often the impetus for pursuing counseling.
Somewhere in between these two extremes lies the key to healthy happy relationships, productivity and balance. During therapy sessions, this range of optimal processing is referred to as the “window of tolerance.” The window of tolerance is what neuroscientist and psychologist, Dr. Daniel Siegel, refers to as the degree to “which various intensities of emotional arousal can be processed without disrupting the functioning of the system.”