Balancing and soothing
Is your life in balance?
While I believe it's up to each of us to find what brings us balance, over the years many clients have found it helpful to get to know some broad, underlying energetic states of mind during therapy. Here are four of them, with each one linked to a colour metaphor.
A wide, resourced window
The window of tolerance is a wonderful idea used to represent the ever-changing capacity of our amazing brains to effectively process what comes our way. When this window is big we can tolerate a wide range of emotional intensity and still manage to think fairly clearly even when the pressure is on. As this space can help to represent our bio-psycho-social integrating resources, I call this vital purple zone our Integrating Brainspace.
When life gets too much...
...we leave this balancing and integrating space. In the conflicted red zone, our inner world gets too hot/fast. Caught in powerful and painful emotions and thoughts, we probably need to weather the storm and slow/cool down our mind. In the collapsed dark blue zone, life can seem too cold/slow. In this numbed-out state, we may need rest and/or to gradually increase our energy to speed/warm things up.
'You are always moving towards balance
and always disturbing that balance
in living and growing.'
It’s natural for the size of these different qualities to change all the time. Problems can arise when we spend too much time outside our window of tolerance in our conflicted red and collapsed dark blue zones. Therapy aims to increase the size of your Integrating Brainspace so you can make better use of your thinking and feeling processes and you can use these enhanced inner resources to work through difficult experiences. This handout by St Michael's Hospital shows how mindfulness can help with this.
The Polyvagal approach
Polvagal theory arranges the responses of our nervous system in a different way but there are many similarities and both ideas enrich each other. If we hide and shut down in response to life threat, we are in a Dorsal Vagal state AKA our collapsed dark blue zone. As relational connection rises, we move into a mobilised Sympathetic state as we engage with danger and challenge. This is our activated red zone. Finally, at the top of the ladder, when we feel safe and balanced we are in a Ventral Vagal state within our window of tolerance. This is our connected green zone.
The Polyvagal idea was developed by Dr Stephen Porges. Here's an overview of his theory. If you love neuroscience, I recommend resources A7 and A8 by Dr Ian Ross. Deb Dana trains therapists to apply Polyvagal theory in their work. Check out her website and the video below.
Cultivating balance and integration
A lot of people that I work with find it helpful to develop a good understanding of the above aspects of the human condition. If we know where we are in our psychological mindscape, this experience-based understanding can guide us towards strategies to navigate the ups and downs of life more effectively.