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What does “Workable Range” mean?

This was the subject of a joint webinar between Jonathan’s Voice and IP Inclusive led by Sally Rose and Nicola Neath.

Basically, according to this model, we all have a way of reacting to difficult, distressing or threatening situations based on the fight, flight or freeze response.  When we are functioning well, we respond to these situations with feelings and reactions that are tolerable, where we can reflect on what is going on, see the situation in perspective and adapt our responses to deal with it appropriately and constructively.   Our threshold for tolerating these feelings (our ‘workable range’) is quite wide and even if we do become distressed, upset, angry and so on we are able to metabolise the emotional and physical impact effectively.

When we are feeling more vulnerable, maybe stressed, going through a difficult time or experiencing a mental health difficulty, our workable range becomes narrower and we are more likely to either over-react with the fight or flight response or under-react, where the freeze response is activated.  When we over-react or go into a hyper aroused state, which the model describes as ‘chaos’, we can become frazzled, overwhelmed or panicky.  Our attention can be fractured with racing thoughts.  We may be agitated, impulsive or enraged.  We tend to be hyper-vigilant, always on the lookout for real or imagined threats.

On the other hand, we might go the other way and freeze. This is described as a state of ‘rigidity’ where we feel immobilised, our energy drops and we become passive or numb. We may be unable to think at all or our thoughts tend to be critical or pessimistic.  In this state of hypo-arousal we tend to shut down or give in, unable to move or protest.

Sometimes we will find ourselves responding to those difficult or threatening situations by going into the hyper/chaotic state first and then, because it is exhausting being there, slumping into the hypo/rigid state.  Developing self-awareness and recognising when you are sliding into either or both states can provide a powerful antidote and help you find your way back to the ‘workable range’ more quickly.  You can also start to identify actions to take to help you out of these polarised positions, for example, activities that calm you down or dissipate excess energy when you are in the chaos zone and liven you up when you are shutting down and entering into rigidity.  These will vary from person to person.  It might be worth spending a few moments reflecting on what thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviour you see in yourself when faced with a distressing, upsetting or threatening situation.  It is really important to do this with lots of self-compassion and kindness.  Don’t judge yourself. That is not helpful and will make things worse.  Then think about what might help you find your way back to a place where the distressing feelings become tolerable and you can respond in a more balanced way.

If you want to find out more about this topic and how it could work for you, you can access the presentation https://jonathansvoice.org.uk/media

Penelope Aspinall

Mental Health Consultant Jonathan’s Voice

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