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Mapping your automatic nervous system with mindfulness-based coaching & counselling.

The window of tolerance describes the function of the autonomic nervous system and how it responds to stressors - it's a useful diagram in mindfulness, counselling and coaching to help you understand what's going on in there. When you are within your ‘window of tolerance’ you feel like you can cope with your life and experience. You still feel slight stress or pressure but it’s not a big deal for you and this is the place you want to be during professional coaching or mindfulness coaching sessions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and other helpful practices can help you expand your window of tolerance and help you feel more balanced. When you are 'triggered' or experiencing something traumatic you might find you become hyper aroused which feels like you’re out of control and want to fight or run away from the situation. All this happens unconsciously and it can take time before your system regulates back into your window of tolerance. You might also find during extreme stress you feel dissociated and experience what is called hypo arousal where your body shuts down, freezes and you zone out. This is not something you consciously choose or are mindful of, it’s a reaction of the nervous system. Learning about the window of tolerance can help you understand how your automatic nervous systems works (Good Therapy, 2016).

The polyvagal theory was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges and identifies the biological order of human response present in our experiences. It also helps us understand how your automatic nervous system operates and how to work with it in ways that can be optimal for navigating safety and connection or threat and risk. It also gives us information about the things we are not aware of that are playing in the background of our experience and informing our meaning making process. Dr. Stephen Porges gave a great talk at Stanford if you want to find out more about your automatic nervous system and how it relates to compassion, meditation and other ancient practices that can help you regulate. The polyvagal theory describes the automatic nervous systems two branches; the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which help us survive. The sympathetic nervous system, immobilises our energy and gets us primed for action. It’s triggered when there is danger or threat and fuels the fight/flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system is found in a nerve called the vagus and travels downward toward the organs and throughout the body. The vagus has two pathways: the ventral and dorsal pathway. The ventral pathway responds to cues for safety, calm and being socially connected. The dorsal pathway responds to extreme danger and takes us out of connection and awareness and puts us in a state of collapse. We might feel disengaged, not present or frozen in this state. The polyvagal ladder is a helpful tool that can be used as an activity to help clients understand their nervous system better by mapping their state on the ladder in conjunction with experiences and feelings. Download The Coach Hub free PDF of the Polyvagal Mapping Tool below and get to know your unique automatic nervous system. For more support please reach out to and explore some of the mindfulness practices on our website to help build your self awareness and ability to regulate your automatic nervous system.

Polyvagal Mapping
Download PDF • 100KB

Good Therapy (2016). Psychoeducation. Retrieved from

Nicabm (2019). How to help your clients understand their window of tolerance [inforgraphic]. Retrieved from

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