To thrive during the pandemic, think inside your ‘window of tolerance’

Window of tolerance: Tree trunks frame the view  of a yard in Medicine Hat on Sept. 28. (Photo by Jalyce Thompson/The Press)

Five-year registered provisional psychologist Stacey Steele of Medicine Hat, Alta., says practicing good habits enhances our tolerance for stress, which she refers to as our ‘window of tolerance.’

She says when we exit our window of tolerance, we activate our nervous system, and our fight or flight mode is triggered. This causes us to anxiously react to testing situations.

If the nervous system is continuously activated, this emotion eventually becomes our body’s natural reaction to everything.

“When we’re always going into that state in activation, because of chronic stress or past traumas, we are more likely to stay there. So, even in periods of calm and no stress, we are more likely to feel anxiety.”

“We are then more likely to feel overwhelmed, have outbursts, or excessive behaviours. We may overeat, or become more prone to addiction,” Steele said in a recent interview.

She says the more we do an activity, the more we train our brain and nervous system to respond in a way that is adaptable to the environment.

This leads us to feel in control, rather than feel the environment is controlling us.

“We want to offer ourselves more opportunities to increase resilience and stability in our day, so that when we are faced with a crisis or an unexpected event, we are more able to bounce back.”

Crossing bridges: A branch guides walkers across the Kin Coulee bridge in Medicine Hat on Sept. 28. Mindful walking helps us notice how nature can at times lead the way if we look closely enough. (Photo by Jalyce Thompson/The Press)

Five-year life coach Tara Stricker of Medicine Hat says setting our intentions for the day will bring an essence of peace, and have us responding logically to different situations.

Stricker says the intentions should be set in the morning, and what is done right after we open our eyes should get priority.

“When we wake up and it’s a free for all, it puts us in an anxious state that increases throughout the day, and it puts us in a state that we’re running behind,” she said in an interview.

She recommends meditation, setting our intentions, or an activity that reminds us to purely exist in the moment.

“Being present while doing these without a purpose will keep us in our window of tolerance,” says Stricker.

She says being purpose driven and goal driven is part of our cultural training. It’s trying to let go of that drive, when having fun, that will ultimately place us in the moment and keep us grounded.

“It’s good to ground all throughout the day. Take five minutes to reset yourself. Let what happened in the morning go, to reset your intentions for the afternoon.”

Desire Daily: A designed calendar lies on a kitchen table in Medicine Hat on Sept. 28. The calendar is created for people to write their expected daily accomplishments, so every morning they are reminded of what they’d like to get done for the day. (Photo by Jalyce Thompson/The Press)

Heather Vokes, who’s a six-year fitness coach in Medicine Hat, agrees that mindfulness during physical activities speeds up our expected results, while encouraging us to remain calm throughout the day.

Vokes says mindful walking will immediately affect our mental health,  while it is usually approximately three weeks before physical endurance results are noticed.

“If you’re just starting, starting at 15 minutes a day would make a huge difference. If you’re not mindful when you’re walking, your results will take that much longer.”

She says concentrating on five things in our environment will instantly bring us into the moment, inducing mindfulness.

“When you focus there’s so much power; when you’re walking, feel how your feet hit the pavement. If you have sore knees, focus on how you’re moving your knees. All these things will help make a difference if you really focus.”

The fitness expert says it does depend on the body, but adding 10 minutes onto the walk time once a week is ideal.

She also encourages we walk promptly after a meal, to possibly reduce over eating.

“Humans tend to over eat because our brains don’t catch up to our stomach until 30 minutes later. Going for a walk right after eating can avoid that. Walking helps move food through, and it turns that food into energy instead of fat.”

Let leaves lead the way: A leaf points to a pathway that leads walkers in Medicine Hat, Alta., on Sept. 28. After the leaves change to red, yellow, and orange, the paths hide underneath snow. September is one of the last months to stroll in the sunshine. (Photo by Jalyce Thompson/The Press)

Steele, registered provisional psychologist, explained that when we’re outside our window of tolerance, we are prone to excessive behaviours, such as overeating.

Overeating is common in this era and Tammy Nunweiler, a Medicine Hat nutrition coach, says creating awareness of what healthy foods we enjoy gives us more control.

“The biggest thing is finding healthy foods that you like, and searching for the recipes that contain those ingredients.”

Nunweiler says while researching meals for the week, in the first stages, we should keep it simple so we don’t overwhelm ourselves.

When we plan our meals based on our own tastebuds, being on a diet isn’t on our mind. We are just simply enjoying a meal.

“Enjoying what we eat can bring us so much happiness.”

Without satisfaction, we get into a habit of eating for reasons other than hunger. Nunweiler says boredom can sometimes trigger us into thinking we’re hungry, or we may use eating as an activity to fill our time.

She says building a routine also keeps us in our window of tolerance and allows us to move not only our mouths, but other body parts.

“When we build a routine, there is less time for us to be bored, and we may eat less.”

Psychologist Steele says good habits and routines stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system, and this widens our window of tolerance.

“This can help us to think better, manage emotions, plan, and sort out what’s going on in our head.”


Fruit over frustration: A bowl of fruit suntans on a kitchen table in Medicine Hat on Sept. 28. The bowl was filled from a local fruit stand before summer foods were replaced with pumpkins and squash. (Photo by Jalyce Thompson/The Press)