Increase your window of tolerance? Try knitting and playing the ukulele!

Courageous conversations with your partner.
Courageous Conversations with your Partner
July 29, 2017
Limits and boundaries. Taking on too much can crush your relationship.
How much is enough? Set limits and boundaries.
July 5, 2018

Increase your window of tolerance? Try knitting and playing the ukulele!


This Insight is about how to self-regulate, auto-regulate or de-escalate and self-soothe: both knitting and playing the ukulele are to do with soothing yourself, increasing your window of tolerance, and calming your brain and ruffled feelings. 

What is regulation?

Regulation is keeping your responses within what is called a window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is the range within which you function more or less comfortably without escalating into a stress response –  that is fight, flight, freeze, etc. (ie anger, withdrawal, defensiveness, etc.) Read more about that in “When distraction stops a fight“.

The window of tolerance.

Your window of tolerance is your range of emotional and mental states where you are at your best, and are neither under-aroused (depression and apathy) or hyper-aroused (anger, agitation and the like). The window of tolerance is the optimal zone of arousal where you are able to manage and thrive in everyday life. Your window of tolerance might be wider or narrower than that of your partner, individually. You will love this next piece of information: As a couple you can have a much wider window of tolerance than as individuals!  This is a version of the adage, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. What excellent news for coupledom! The window of tolerance is dependent upon regulation.

For a couple, there are two kinds of regulation: self or auto-regulation and co-regulation. In all cases, the aim is to keep within the window of tolerance. In other words, knowing when your emotional temperature is rising above the point of no return.

The two kinds of regulation.

This post is primarily about self-regulation and keeping yourself within your own window of tolerance. I’ll return to that shortly.

Co-regulation is about helping each other regulate so that the relationship itself operates within the window of tolerance. You help each other out. You have already discovered techniques for doing this in posts such as “Tennis, anyone? Keeping the communication ball in play” and “When distraction stops a fight.”

Do you notice when your partner is getting upset? Do you know your partner well enough to pull back from your own agenda and listen to what they need in that moment?  

Listen in order to understand, not to come up with a smart retort.

The philosopher Levinas wrote a lot about the finer points of relationships – if you have a philosophical bent you might like to follow the link.

Levinas went so far as to say that you are responsible for the response of the other. Basically, this means that you are responsible for your partners’ response when you say something that upsets them. I personally think that is going a bit far.  However, a terse “that’s your problem” when your partner is upset is going too far as well.

There is a sweet spot where you are attuned to both your partner and yourself and in this spot (Levinas calls this the beginning of ethical relations) the concerns of both of you are equally important. There is an adage, “happy wife, happy life.” In order to have a happy partner you have to really know your partner, and be attuned to their needs, while at the same time not abandoning your own. Ultimately, we cannot make our partner happy, but we can create the conditions in which they are more likely to be happy. More on this in a future Relationship insight.

Already you can see that each kind of regulation helps the others. In this post, you discover how self-regulation helps to co-regulate and to soothe your partner as well.  Win-win in every direction. So de-escalating and self-soothing are so good for your relationship!

Photo by midnightcomm Playing a musical instrument has multiple benefits for both player and listener. In a world geared to hyper vigilance, music calms, soothes and increases learning ability and problem solving. It helps increase your window of tolerance. Relationship Insights

Playing a musical instrument has multiple benefits for both player and listener. In a world geared to hypervigilance, music calms, soothes and increases learning ability and problem-solving. It helps increase your window of tolerance.

Back to knitting and playing the ukulele.

If you are a ukulele sceptic, best tune out now! No, seriously, you are going to discover some very easy ways to soothe your jangled nerves, calm your overblown emotions, and settle your obsessive thinking. This requires a nod in the direction of brain science.

So, you decide to learn to play the ukulele, and this is in spite of your friend telling you there is a world shortage of pianists and an oversupply of ukulele players.  Not a good career move, he says. But you know that while you are figuring out the hand position for a new chord, and you start strumming away, that you are putting your brain in a state of calm equivalent to mediation.  That gentle sound is pleasant and soothing too. (Or maybe not –  maybe a guitar would do the trick?) The sound soothes your partner  –  and your crying baby.

Music and rhythmic activity calm brainwaves.

Here’s some brain science to back this up.  Stephen Porges proposed the polyvagal theory which understands that the nervous system extends throughout the whole body. Not only that, but there is a feed-back system that goes in all directions. (Dr Dan Seigel)

We know through neurofeedback that music and rhythmic activity produce calmer brainwaves, similar to meditating. Neurofeedback measures brainwaves and how they change throughout thought and activity.  Listening to music certainly is soothing, but playing music yourself increases the soothing and flow effect enormously. More on flow later.

Relationship Insights

And now to knitting.

We can extend our ideas of knitting to the whole world of crafting. Crafting is a new word to me, but it covers all those wonderful things you can do with textiles, timber, yarns and found objects. It is very hands-on. Like playing a musical instrument, it engages body and mind.

Research abounds about how crafting can help you heal from anxiety and depression. Crafting/knitting can increase well-being and happiness by releasing your neurotransmitter dopamine. In other words, knitting/crafting is a feel-good activity. It activates the reward centre in the brain. Our own natural, knitting-induced dopamine is a natural antidepressant.

Knitting soothes worry and anxiety. It is rhythmic and calming. Knitting induces a state of flow. Flow, according to psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, is when you are so completely absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter.  The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation, says occupational therapist Victoria Schindler. Science has shown meditation can, among other things, reduce stress and fight inflammation.

The repetitive motions of knitting, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that “fight or flight” response and automatically increases your window of tolerance.

Increase your window of tolerance and pull back from stress.

Because of the pace of modern life, many of us are operating a hair-trigger away from a stress response.  Maybe you have a short fuse! Or you walk on eggshells around your stressed partner! Perhaps you respond to every text and email within 5 minutes!

If so, your window of tolerance is too narrow. Too narrow for your own health, and the health of your relationship – and the health of your partner, as I intimated above. Find at least one self-soothing activity, breathe easy, and have fun.

Playing the ukulele? Knitting? You think I am kidding?

The Insight, “Biding for Time” is also about the window of tolerance.

You might like my other post that features knitting, “Pick up the dropped stitches of relationship.”

Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2018.

1 Comment

  1. says:

    Great k. Self regulation so important.

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