Navigating COVID-19: What You’re Feeling is Normal

Posted: May 05, 2020 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 3 minutes

Window of Tolerance, Normal feelings during COVID-19During these strange times, many of us are experiencing new feelings and emotions. Southern Utah University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has highlighted some definitions that might help explain our states of mind.

"The feelings you are having are totally normal,” said Riley Reynolds, health and wellness coordinator. “When we are experiencing these emotions recognize these feelings for what they are and have a few helpful grounding techniques that work for you! Take it one day at a time, and if you have a bad day, it's okay, there is always tomorrow and we can focus on making that better than the day before! Stay connected, and always feel free to reach out for help, we are here to support you!"

How to Manage Your Window Of Tolerance

When a person is within their window of tolerance, that person is likely to be able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling either overwhelmed or withdrawn. This state of mind is where the best learning and comprehension takes place. Because of the current global situation, it’s likely that we aren’t within their window of tolerance.

There are a variety of techniques individuals can use to return to their window of tolerance. Grounding and mindfulness skills, techniques considered beneficial by many mental health experts, can often help people remain in the present moment.

Resources on Grounding Techniques and Mindfulness

"I think it’s important to acknowledge that living through this pandemic is trauma,” said Chelsea Gambles, CAPS mental health counselor. “That often means certain parts of our brain have shut down or are functioning differently in order for us to survive. For some people, that can look like feeling numb and/or out of touch with their emotions/world/body. It can look like hypervigilance and anxiousness and/or depression. None of these responses mean that you’re doing this wrong. Processing this trauma and working through the experience in a resolution-based way will come later when it feels safe. For now, just doing your best, trying to lower expectations and choosing compassion is often the best way to navigate this trauma."


The following is a list of definitions that explain what many of us are going through. Reach out to a counselor if you're concerned or have questions about what you might be experiencing.

State of Hyper-Arousal:
Sympathetic system activated: Acceleration of autonomic nervous system response (increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased blood flow to large muscles, etc.). Heightened sensations.
Fight/Flight response activated: State of hyper-vigilance, anxiety, perception of challenge or danger.
Disorganized cognitive processes: Thinking is either rigid or chaotic, poor judgment, emotional reactivity, dread. No new learning can take place.
State of Hypo-Arousal:

Parasympathetic system activated (dorsal vagal nerve): Extreme deceleration of autonomic nervous system response (decreased heart rate and blood flow to extremities, dissociation of awareness, etc.). Absence of sensations.

Collapse response activated: Slowed or disabled thinking process, dissociation of awareness, isolation/withdrawal, depression, numbing, hopelessness, disabled defensive response. No new learning can take place.

Optimal Zone of Arousal (Window of Tolerance):

Parasympathetic system stimulated (ventral vagal nerve): Body systems regulated, emotions are tolerated, and information is integrated. Normalized sensations.

Social engagement system activated: Able to utilize calming cues from others (i.e., body language, tone of voice, speech prosody, facial expressions) for self-soothing and emotion regulation.

Prefrontal cortex activated: Access to intuition and insight; system is calm, alert, relaxed, coherent.

Experience full range of emotions: Joy, grief, anger, etc., with a sense of control and awareness of options. New learning can take place.

CAPS recognizes how challenging these times are for everyone. To help students navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, CAPS created a  COVID-19 Survival Guide  to answer questions and serve as a reference guide for all coping with the crisis including accessing resources and support related to student’s physical and emotional needs.

Thank you Professor Laureen Graves and the CAPS team for this great collection of resources and definitions. For more information about SUU’s mental health services, visit Counseling and Psychological Services.

Tags: Coronavirus CAPS

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