By William Fraser, MC

Self-awareness is at the foundation of existence. It has been a topic of discussion for years. That's why most people probably know of the famous ancient Greek aphorism, "know thy self." It's important. Self-awareness helps us understand why we think, act, or feel a particular way. For example, as snowboarders, if we can understand ourselves better, we might understand the answer to this question: "why can't I get up to snowboard at a reasonable time, despite having driven across the country to be here!?" With self-understanding, we increase our ability to do the things we want

One theory of self-awareness is called the "Window of Tolerance" theory. The window of tolerance is a concept initially developed by Dr. Dan Siegel, MD, to describe the optimal zone of "arousal" for a person to function in everyday life. In this theory, humans have four different modes of operating: fight, flight, freeze, and optimal functioning. 


In fight, our bodies become hyperaroused. We feel irritated, angry, frustrated, or aggressive. Our heart rate and blood pressure also increase. Fight mode is how our nervous system prepares us for battle. 


In flight mode, our biology is similar to fight. However, our emotions are different. We feel things more like panic, anxiety, worry, and fear. It's also associated with procrastination. Our flight response is intended to help us run away from threats. 


In freeze, our bodies slow down. During this response, our heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone decrease, while endorphins that help numb pain increase. A freeze response can manifest emotionally as depression, shame, hopelessness, numbness, or dissociation. While in freeze mode, our bodies are dealing with threats by essentially playing dead.  

Optimal Functioning

The green light. While here, the body has regular digestion, heart rate, circulation, and immune responses. People in this window of optimal functioning can feel creative, happy, present, and patient. They also feel like they can relate or connect to others better. When here, you feel at your best. 

Why is all of this important? Well, if you're able to recognize these states, it can help you. Help you stay motivated, get tricks, and reduce injury. Think of a time when you were battling a jump and getting upset. You decide, "I'm gonna fuck this jump up!" So you rip into it, go huge, accidentally start going upside down (for a second time) and land on your face. That's classic fight mode. Your body had a lot of adrenaline, your heart rate was elevated, and you were full of aggro energy. You wanted the trick more than anything, but you were also no longer aware of anything. So you died. 

As another example, think of a jump that you were really in your head about? A jump that you were on the fence about hitting. When you dropped, did it feel as if your body had already said, "Nope. I don't wanna do this?" That could have been your feeze response. With freeze, our bodies are shutting down, not performing. The freeze response tries to keep us safe by literally not moving. This is not to say that emotional regulation was the issue every time you made a mistake or got hurt. Mistakes happen. However, if we can learn to recognize when we are in fight, flight, or freeze, we might make less of them.

Darrah Reid is someone who uses the window of tolerance theory occasionally. When talking to her about it, she shares, "I think my fight, flight, freeze response is probably pretty overactive. It can sometimes feel tough to emotionally regulate in the moment, but I usually feel a little more in control after I do." 

Understanding the window of tolerance theory and noticing when you're emotionally unregulated is only half the battle. The other, as Darrah said, is emotional regulation. That is, getting in control of your emotions so you can re enter that window of optimal functioning. Darrah has one straightforward way she likes to regulate. It's by taking long breaths. She explains, "I breathe in for a count of three or four, take a short pause, exhale for a count of six or eight, take another short pause, and repeat. The long exhales trigger something in our nervous system that turns down the fight, flight, or freeze response." 

Making time to nurture the lungs definitely helps change how you feel, but there are also many other ways. For instance, if you're at the spot and getting worked up, you could tell a joke, hug a friend, count down from 10, focus on something around you that's beautiful or interesting, or take a second to visualize the trick you're doing. Outside of snowboarding, you can also start doing more introspective activities like yoga, going for walks, or writing down your thoughts in a journal. All of these can work. The trick is to practice them enough to figure out what works best for you. The more you practice self-understanding and self-regulation, the more you can grow that window of optimal functioning. The more you develop that window, the more you can snowboard the way you want to snowboard and, more importantly, be the person you want to be.

This is a theory. It can be helpful for some people and not others, so adapt it or disregard it as you see fit. However, if you are really struggling, it's best not to do it alone. Reach out to friends, call a helpline, or visit a doctor or psychologist. You won't regret taking that first step, even though it is hard.

Information for this article was referenced from:

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