Why Does It Feel So Overwhelming?

October 17, 2023

Why Does It Feel So Overwhelming?

By Michelle Cole, co-founder of Calmer Kids


Why does it feel so overwhelming? Understanding the stress response and our Window of Tolerance

As you are probably aware, stress is at an all time high. 

Finding ourselves in a constant state of business and feeling like the ‘to do list’ is never ending is something all too familiar for many of us.

Have you noticed that when things are at their busiest, even the smallest things can seem overwhelming. We can find ourselves snapping about little things - traffic jam rage anyone?! The kids’ niggles to one another feel grating and the smallest thing going wrong can seem like an enormous issue.

Well the good news is that we can use neuroscience to understand our stress response - and even more importantly - to preempt things building up so much that the stress bucket is overfull and comes flooding into every area of our lives. 

Dr Dan Siegal (one of our favs at Calmer Kids HQ) describes ‘The Window of Tolerance’. Put simply, this is the ‘optimal zone of arousal’ that we operate in. As Siegal explains, finding ways to stay within ‘optimal arousal’ can make the difference between us being able to navigate daily stresses or letting ‘the bucket overflow’ with stress and, quite possibly, react in a way that is not aligned with our values.

This diagram shows a basic version of what Siegal describes:



The good news is that with awareness comes the ability to notice when things are starting to build up. A slow driving car in front of me on the way to work is unlikely to take me to my stress tipping point. However, running out of breakfast food, family arguments, the dog ripping my favourite shoes and then being stuck behind a slow driver when I am already late is a different picture.

We can’t stop these inevitable waves,

but being aware of them and meeting ourselves with kindness when they happen can make a massive difference in our stress levels and inevitable stress response. 


Some tips: 

What habits and routines can you build into your daily family life to help ‘take some stress out of the bucket’ and prevent it from overflowing? 

How can you use this awareness to help you support your family?

Do you notice that before a particular day/activity, things get tense.

As a family can you make time to preempt this and discuss strategies for reducing the feelings of stress and tension.

More Reading