Be REAL Week 4

Navigating challenging situations

In our fourth session, we discussed our Window of Tolerance, including ways to support ourselves when we get kicked out of our window. We also discussed navigating challenging situations and interactions with radical acceptance and common humanity. 

Window of Tolerance

The Window of Tolerance is a term coined by Dr. Daniel Siegel. It refers to our body and brain’s ability to manage stress. When we are within our Window of Tolerance, we are calm and grounded. We can experience stress but can manage our emotions and responses. When we get kicked out of our window, we go into hyperarousal (e.g., panic, anxiety) or hypoarousal (e.g., disconnected, depression). Trauma, adversity, and ongoing stress can make our window smaller, which means we may get kicked into hyper or hypo-arousal more easily than other times (see the NICAMB infographic for more details as well as links to trauma).

When we get kicked out of our window, we need tools to change our physiology or help us feel grounded, such as those below. Please remember – most people are under increased stress during times of crises (e.g., a pandemic) so the windows may be smaller than usual; be gentle with yourself.



Walk, stretch, dance, garden – anything to move! Short bursts of activity can boost energy and decrease fatigue. Research shows that intense, or vigorous, exercise can help shift our physiology. For this to happen, exercise for 20 – 30 minutes at 55 – 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). This is considered moderate intensity. Here are  resources for calculating your MHR as well as exercises. 

  • Calculate your MHR using the Mayo Clinic’s Guide to exercise intensity. Their guide also offers a quick way to check your heart rate when working out so you can make sure you’re within the zone. 
  • This article lists free classes – including videos and live streaming sessions from strength training to Zumba. This article highlights online workouts, with many family ones.
  • Running, cycling, and jump roping are all excellent exercises for getting your heart rate up.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a fun way to get your heart rate up. It does not require any equipment and can be done in a bedroom or office. Tabata Training is one type of HIIT. In Tabata exercises, you workout vigorously for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. You do this 8 times, which equals 4 minutes. Read more about Tabata and find examples here.

Release Tension

Progressive Muscle Relaxation can help soothe anxiety and promote restful sleep. It also helps us develop awareness of the differences between tension and ease.

To practice, breathe in, gently tighten a group of muscle, and notice what you sensations are present. Then breathe out and release this muscle group. Again, pause to notice what sensations are present. Guide yourself through a few areas of the body, e.g.: hands, arms, back, shoulders, face. Try our 8-minute Progressive Muscle Relaxation (Relajacion de Musculos Progresiva).


Breathing out longer than you breathe in can help slow down the heart rate and turn on the relaxation response. Our audio file +2 Breathing (Respiración Extendida) can help you practice.

If comfortable, breathe in and out through the nose. This can increase your breath capacity. 

Note: If exhaling 2 counts longer than you inhale doesn’t feel comfortable, try 1 count or a brief pause. For example, if you are grasping for the next in-breath it may be a sign from your body to try something different. The breath changes day-to-day so find what you need.

We also discussed a practice that can help us pause before we get kicked out of our Window of Tolerance: the 3Ps. If we can pause, even for a brief moment, we create an opportunity to tune into how we are feeling and identify what would be an effective way to proceed.

Download the above image as a reminder to practice the 3Ps.

The 3Ps is a skill for being in the moment. To practice:

Pause: Take a minute to be present – for you. Take a breath, or feel your feet on the ground.

Be Present: Notice what is happening in the moment. Without trying to change anything, observe what emotions or thoughts are present.
Proceed: Continue in a way that is wise. Maybe you observed you are tired and need a brief break? Maybe you noticed you’ve been so busy that you’ve forgotten to eat lunch? Find what you need. 
There is actually a fourth P: Practice! Our brain needs to practice the 3Ps before it can become a habit. Put a note up someplace in your house to remind you to practice daily – e.g., in the bathroom you can practice the 3Ps when you brush your teeth.  


Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance, a concept from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is when we meet our experiences where they are at in each moment. We accept what is happening and how we feel about it. Many stressors, from minor to major ones, are beyond our control. For example, COVID19 has led to closures and the cancelation of ceremonies for millions of people – weddings, memorials, reunions, graduations, and more. It is normal to feel upset, even angry, about not being with family and friends during these important events. But the reality is what it is – closures mean people have been unable to travel. Denying this reality (e.g. saying “It shouldn’t be like this! This can’t be happening.”) creates more emotional suffering for ourselves. It can also prevent us from being able to focus and make decisions about effective ways to handle a situation or support ourselves emotionally.  
When we practice radical acceptance, we tune into how we feel about a situation and we ask ourselves:

  • What part of this situation can I change or control?
  • What part of the problem can I do something about?
  • What part of my reaction can I do something about?

In the example of a ceremony being cancelled because of COVID19 closures, we might not be able to change the situation. However, we could find an alternative way to celebrate or mark a holiday. Also, a key aspect of radical acceptance is accepting how we feel about a situation. So we would also accept that we feel angry or disappointed that an event was cancelled.

Radical acceptance creates space for our own growth and healing. When we radically accept something, we tune into how we feel about a situation with our mind, body, and heart. It’s about being at peace with ourselves. Download our reflective worksheet and review some of the ways you can practice:

Compassion & Common Humanity

No matter our differences, we all experience joys, suffering and other aspects of being human. Sometimes, reminding ourselves of common humanity can diffuse feelings of annoyance or a tendency to over-personalize situations.

“Just Like Me” is a practice that can remind us of our common humanity. It can be helpful if we are upset with someone because it allows us to consider how they may be working through some of the same experiences or feelings as us. For example, if I see a teacher respond to a student in a way I think isn’t effective, I might have an automatic reaction and think “I can’t believe she responded that way!”. Using the practice “Just Like Me”, I can pause, reflect and consider how she might be having a difficult day, may have been triggered by something in the classroom, and – like me – is still growing as a teacher. 


Peace & Kindness

The Peace and Kindness meditation is a practice that can help us feel connected to people we love, as well as expand our circle of compassion to people we don’t know. Research shows that practicing this meditation increases feelings of warm and happiness, as well as kindness towards ourselves. It works by recognizing we all want the same basic things in life – good health, happiness, and peace – and this can counteract feelings of loneliness. 

In this practice, you extend wishes of well-being to people. You can use the statements in the image above, or alter them as needed so they are meaningful to you. You can picture specific people, such as someone you love and miss right now. You can also think of people whom you don’t know but wish to extend thoughts too – such as staff in the grocery store or healthcare workers.

Get started with our guided 10-minute Peace & Kindness practice (Paz y Bondad).

A note about the roots of this practice: Peace and Kindness is a mettā practice. Mettā means “loving-kindness” or “benevolence” in Pāli, and is originated from the Sanskrit word maitrī. Sanskrit and Pāli are Indo-Aryan languages.


Home Practice

Noticing Practices

  • Window of Tolerance: Notice when you are within and/or get kicked out of your window.

Guided & Reflective Practices

  • Just Like Me 
  • The 3Ps: Pause, be Present, Proceed
  • Radical Acceptance
  • Peace & Kindness Meditation | Paz y Bondad
  • Practices when you get kicked out of your Window of Tolerance: +2 Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Exercise/Physical Activity 
About Be REAL
Be REAL (Resilient Attitudes & Living) was developed at the University of Washington Center for Child & Family Well-Being. The program’s aim is to promote the well-being of college students and staff by building skills to cope with emotions, navigate challenging situations, and strengthening internal awareness. Learn more.