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Is it a Ten? Managing our Shrinking Windows of Tolerance

In Back2Back’s trauma training, we teach that everyone has a window of tolerance, and depending on its size, we either manage the disruptions of our day with ease, or be set off when feeling inconvenienced or offended. 

The ongoing stress of COVID, along with the political atmosphere, financial strains, schooling, and working from home, and the upcoming holidays, is impacting and shrinking our culture’s collective windows of tolerance.

I see it when reading social media, or attending a sporting event, the littlest chance we have to release steam in a socially acceptable way- we are doing so. (And often at the expense of the relationship.)

“Is it a ten?”  That’s the phrase Todd and I use with each other when one of us is overreacting to something that typically on a scale of one to ten, might only normally register as a three or a five, but with less emotional bandwidth, suddenly has us dysregulated.

With a smaller window of tolerance, it can seem some days like everything is a ten, requiring enormous amounts of emotional energy expended. This is how road rage happens, or even domestic violence. I was accosted in a store the other day because of how I was wearing my mask and, although I was naturally offended and defensive, I tried to imagine their tiny window of tolerance and respond with compassion.

What can we do? How can we become more peaceful, and less triggered?

Soul-care. It’s our greatest tool to open back up the dwindling supply of peace and at-ease-ness with which we manage our lives. Soul-care is a combination of self-care and establishing healthy spiritual rhythms. It’s different for every person, sometimes it’s taking a few minutes to collect my thoughts before I get out of the car and rush wherever I am heading into next.

I am an auditory person, so listening to music, or an audio book helps me feel calm. I might need to hydrate, or nap, or exercise. Each person/time is different, but I do know our families need us at our best. If I am intolerant with a child or my husband, I literally pour my negativity into a household that thrives when I am loving and emotionally predictable.

Managing our Shrinking Windows of Tolerance

Spiritually, self-care is being intentional to stay connected with God. Church father, Charles Spurgeon, was one of 11 children and wrote as an adult about his mother, Alice.  He said she would sometimes throw her apron over her head and say, “Give me a minute, Mama needs to go to the tent of the meeting.”

I don’t wear aprons, but I resonate with her need for time alone with Jesus, where I regularly tell Him I am running out of (Patience? Self-control? Peace? Kindness?) and ask for a supernatural supply.

2020 has been a stressful year, and it’s critical I stay self-aware enough to realize when my windows are shrinking and what I might think or say next isn’t to the benefit of anyone.  

As I look ahead to the holidays, I am hoping to live on a mission and look for ways to be generous and kind towards hurting and stressed friends, family, and strangers.

May His Spirit indwells us so completely, when we interact with the world, they see hope.

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Beth Guckenberger is the Co-Executive Director of Back2Back Ministries and founder of the Reckless Faith Movement. Beth and Todd have a large family they’ve formed through biological, foster, and adoptive children. She is an author and speaker, sharing her experience as a mother, a missionary, and a student of God’s Word.

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