What in the World is a “Window of Tolerance”?

Window of Tolerance is a concept when we are in an ideal mental space and responding well to stress or sadness. Stressful events can happen when we are within the window however, we can deal well with it and essentially roll with whatever life brings. Ideally, we would always be within our own window of tolerance but many of us experience much of life outside of the window.



Instead of being within our window, people can be above it, in what is called hyperarousal. When we are in this state, we are anxious, angry, overwhelmed and sometimes have a feeling like we are out of control. Often people also have body symptoms of feeling tense muscles and or feeling like they have excesses energy that they need to burn off.



The opposite state is under the window, called Hypoarousal. In this state we feel numb, slow or “like a zombie.” The body can also feel heavy, frozen, or stuck.


Living Outside of the Window of Tolerance


When clients report lifelong feelings like, “I am crazy” or “I am never normal” this is the first clue to me that they might be living outside of their window of tolerance. Often people have experience that cause them to get stuck in the Hyperarousal state or get stuck in the Hypoarousal state.


Traumatic experiences can also cause the size of our window to shrink and be a much smaller area in which we feel safe and able to function in optimal ways.


What’s the Solution?

The common situation I’ve observed as a therapist, is that clients will often not understand that they live in state outside of their window for much of their life.  People add insult to injury by not understanding this and judging themselves for being impacted or not able to function. When we judge ourselves, we negatively impact our mood and make it difficult to move forward in a healthy manner.


When working with couples, I often find that those that are struggling with communication and fighting a lot are in the opposite states of hyperarousal or hypoarousal. Couples will often trigger each other and then get frustrated that no progress is being made. Before couples can connect they have to learn to recognize when they are outside of their window of tolerance and how to find a middle. This can lead to communication and connection progress.


An important step in finding a heathy mental health balance is to recognize when you are outside of your window of tolerance and then engage in activities or skills that can help you get back into the window.


In the next post we will discuss the important skills that can help you get back into the window.



Speak Your Mind


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