Mindfulness: A gateway to Emotional Regulation and processing of Trauma

Trauma occurs when the stress of a situation overcomes our ability to cope, and mindfulness can help us process this while better allowing us to regulate emotionally (Larsen et al., 2021). A key concept related to this is the idea of a window of tolerance (Siegel, 1999). Our window of tolerance is where we can still cope with what is happening, maintain regulation of our nervous system in a way that allows us to be grounded in the present, and behave in ways that serve our values and outcome goals. When dysregulated, we can move in two directions; towards a state of complete shutdown and disconnection with the world or towards an activated state of anxious thought and overwhelming fear that leads to a desire to fight or flee from a perceived threat. The state of shutdown can be seen in individuals who, when overwhelmed, move into feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and appear depressed or withdrawn from the world, unable to connect with others. When individuals move in the other direction, their anxiety propels them to attack others or run away from difficult situations to protect their sense of self and feeling of safety.

With mindfulness, we can identify the cues from our bodies and emotions to determine when we are about to move away from our window of tolerance. Mindfulness also provides various tools and strategies to help us move back toward the window of tolerance through awareness and non-judgment.

An example of a mindfulness-based practice I use with clients in a state of fight or flight is three-part yogic breath, in which awareness is drawn to feeling the rise of the lower, mid and upper regions of the abdomen as they expand. By placing the palms together with just the middle fingers touching while the others are separated, we can begin to notice if each of the regions of the abdomen is rising on the inhale. This awareness can foster a focus on the breath that can draw an individual back toward their window of tolerance. Over time, they can be encouraged to lengthen their exhalation relative to their inhalation, facilitating this movement from anxiety towards balance.

Conversely, when a client is moving towards emotional shutdown, mindfulness can be used to bring them back to their window of tolerance. A simple technique is to ask the client to allow their inhale to be slightly longer than their inhale. For those who find these overwhelming, gentle, rhythmic movements like gently rubbing a stone or rolling their shoulders up, back, and down continuously can help return the client’s basic level towards their window.

Mindfulness approaches can be integrated into any therapeutic modality but are integral to approaches such as mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Our therapists at the CFIR can help you learn how to build mindfulness skills to process trauma and emotionally regulate it.

Mr. Jeffery Driscoll, B.SC., B.Ed., is a counsellor at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) supervised by Dr. Ashwin Mehra, C.Psych, Psychologist. Mr. Driscoll is registered as both a teacher in Ontario and a yoga instructor and provides integrated therapy through a mindfulness lens to adults and seniors. Given his years of experience in yoga and education, he is skilled at helping individuals navigate life transitions or find greater career or relationship meaning and joy. He works with individuals who are experiencing a wide range of psychological, relationship and career difficulties relating to grief, life changes, aging, mood disorders, trauma, sexuality, sleep disturbances and interpersonal conflicts. He integrates mindfulness with Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), Existentialist, Systemic, Adlerian and Psycho-dynamic therapy.


Larsen KL, Stanley EA. Leaders’ Windows of Tolerance for Affect Arousal-and Their Effects on Political Decision-making During COVID-19. Front Psychol. 2021 Oct 26;12:749715. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.749715. PMID: 34764917; PMCID: PMC8575779.

Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. Guilford Press.