Your window of tolerance refers to your ability to balance and regulate emotional highs and lows. It's like the emotional comfort zone where you can handle various feelings without becoming overwhelmed. In times of stress, widening this window becomes crucial for maintaining mental and emotional well-being.
Get our Window Of Tolerance PDF & Worksheet here.
During times of relative ease and low stress, most individuals would typically experience a healthy window of tolerance. This refers to an individual's ability to manage and regulate their emotions effectively, in this state, people generally experience a sense of emotional balance and well-being. They can think clearly, make rational decisions, and handle various emotions without becoming excessively distressed.
1. Thoughts & Feelings: They can separate their thoughts from their feelings and have feelings about their thoughts and thoughts about their feelings.
2. Responsive Vs. Reactive: A healthy window of tolerance means that people are more likely to respond to a situation vs. react. They can pause, think, and contemplate and are, therefore, more likely to make healthier decisions.
3. Hold Complex Feelings:
A sign of psychological health is the ability to tolerate and hold multiple feelings and contradictory feelings - this coincides with a healthy window of tolerance. People in this frame of mind can experience various emotions simultaneously without becoming overwhelmed. This ability is especially valuable in processing complex or nuanced emotional situations.
In this state, individuals are better equipped to navigate everyday life, maintain positive relationships, and respond to challenges with resilience.
EVERYone's WINDOW OF TOLERANCE IS DIFFERENT:
Some people, early in life, learn to manage challenges effectively. These are often individuals who had caregivers they could rely on. These caregivers helped them understand their feelings and needs, creating a way to talk about emotions. They grew up in environments where they felt safe expressing themselves. With this secure foundation, they became skilled at dealing with various thoughts and emotions, resulting in a broader emotional comfort zone.
On the other hand, many others struggle when faced with unfamiliar or unpredictable emotions. Everything can seem overwhelming when no one teaches you how to embrace and care for your feelings or that emotions are normal. Some individuals grow up feeling isolated, lacking guidance to understand their emotional world.
Additionally, some people are raised with the idea that their feelings are wrong or don't make sense. Children who have experienced painful rejection, like physical or sexual abuse, emotional neglect, or a combination of these, may come to believe that expressing their emotional needs is painful or unacceptable. These early experiences can make tolerating or understanding emotions difficult, especially for those who have endured complex developmental trauma.
These are examples of how many individuals experience different windows of tolerance in their early childhood, along with genetic predispositions and socio-economic factors, often resulting in a narrower emotional comfort zone.
Trauma and Stress: When Your Window of Tolerance Shrinks FURTHER
Trauma can have a profound impact on our emotional resilience. This concept suggests a more prolonged or chronic state where an individual's ability to manage stressors and regulate emotions becomes more limited or constricted over time. It implies that the individual's baseline level of emotional resilience has decreased, making them more susceptible to emotional dysregulation, even in response to relatively minor stressors.
Window of Tolerance and The Sailing Analogy
Imagine your window of tolerance as sailing a sturdy yacht on a sunny day, navigating the vast expanse of the ocean. Within this window, you enjoy the freedom of the open waters, feeling secure and in control.
Hyperarousal is akin to veering too far out to sea, where you unexpectedly encounter a fierce storm. The once-calm waves swell into monstrous giants, threatening to capsize your vessel. In this turbulent state, you're overwhelmed by the relentless chaos, struggling to regain control as you battle the tempestuous emotions.
Conversely, hypo-arousal is like sailing close to the safety of a towering lighthouse. It may appear serene and secure from a distance, but hidden danger lies beneath the surface. The shallow waters conceal unseen obstacles, and although the surroundings seem calm, you're at risk of running aground or becoming stranded in a state of emotional numbness and detachment.
In both scenarios, finding your way back to the tranquil waters within your window of tolerance is essential, where you can smoothly navigate life's challenges while maintaining your emotional equilibrium.
So, let's break it down further:
This is when your body and mind go into overdrive. You may feel very anxious, angry, or on edge. Your heart might race, you breathe rapidly, and you may have trouble sleeping or calming down. It's like being on high alert all the time, even when there's no immediate danger.
When your emotional energy exceeds your window of tolerance, you might experience:
Heightened sensitivity to minor issues
Anger or frustration
A whirlwind of thoughts, your mind racing in circles
An inability to unwind, constant busyness, and difficulty sleeping
Restlessness, anxiety, or even panic
Self-criticism and being hard on yourself
Therapists refer to these states as:
In this state, it's almost the opposite. You might feel numb, disconnected, or as if you don't care about anything. You may lack motivation, struggle to express your feelings, and have difficulty setting boundaries. It's like feeling emotionally shut down, unable to connect with your own emotions.
When your emotional energy dips below your window of tolerance, you may experience the following:
A sense of numbness or feeling disconnected.
A lack of interest or care about your surroundings.
A noticeable lack of motivation.
Uncertainty about your emotions and how you truly feel.
The urge to escape or hide from your emotions.
Difficulty asserting yourself or setting boundaries.
Self-criticism and shame.
A diminished sense of self-compassion.
Therapists often refer to this state as hypo-arousal, which can sometimes manifest as symptoms of depression.
How to Deal with Overwhelm And Your Window of Tolerance
In these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are feeling pushed beyond our emotional limits. It's not uncommon to find ourselves easily upset, worried, or overwhelmed by small things. These feelings are indicators that our window of tolerance for emotions might be narrowing. But fear not; in this blog post, we'll explore what the window of tolerance is and how you can expand it better to manage life's ups and downs during a pandemic.
Understanding the Window of Tolerance PDF & WORKSHEET
In this free pdf and worksheet, you will get the handout that matches this blog post and a series of journaling questions designed to bring about more awareness of your emotional states around hyperarousal, hypo-arousal, and your window of tolerance.
Expanding Your Window of Tolerance
Expanding your window of tolerance is a process that involves self-awareness and self-compassion. Here are some steps to help you do just that:
Name Your Feelings: Start by identifying and labeling your emotions. This simple act can activate your executive brain and calm your emotional limbic brain.
Sit with Your Feelings: Spend short moments sitting with your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable. Realize that you can tolerate them.
Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself during challenging times. Recognize that it's okay to feel anxious or sad, even within your window of tolerance.
Reach Out for Support: Don't hesitate to connect with others and seek help when needed. Healthy relationships can help expand your window of tolerance.
Acknowledge Your Strengths: Recognize your resilience and what you've survived. Remember that you are more than your hardships.
Supporting Others in Expanding Their Windows
When someone you care about expresses anxiety or discomfort, listen without trying to fix them. Offer empathy, understanding, and a willingness to be there for them. Remember that expanding one's window of tolerance is a personal journey, but your support can make a significant difference.
You can read this article here on how to support someone who is upset by thinking about offering "Loving Hugs," "Helpful Hearing," or "Hands-on Help".
Expanding your window of tolerance is not an easy task, but it's a worthwhile one, especially in the face of a pandemic. By developing self-awareness and self-compassion and seeking support when needed, you can better navigate these challenging times and emerge stronger and more resilient.