Understanding Your Window of Tolerance

Window of Tolerance

Understanding Your Window of Tolerance to Promote Emotional Regulation

The term ‘Window of Tolerance’ is used to describe a symbolic state of being in which our emotions, thoughts and behaviors are at a balanced state and there is an overall feeling of emotional stability.  When we experience ourselves as being within this ‘Window of Tolerance’, we are able to both logically reflect on the current or past situation as well as process emotions in a calm and stable way.  We are able to make decisions that balance both our emotional reactions and logical reasoning.

How to Recognize Your Window of Tolerance

How do we begin to recognize if we are within our window of tolerance or are outside of it?  It is important to check in with ourselves, especially when we notice that our bodies (physical, mental, spiritual components) are having a strong emotional reaction to a given interaction, situation or experience in the present moment.  By being mindful of our current emotions and thoughts, we can gather information regarding the changes that occur when we start to notice a shift outside of baseline mood and emotional state.  

Learning Mindfulness of Emotions

To practice mindfulness of current emotions, one is encouraged to just observe the emotion that is coming up, without judging it, trying to suppress it or trying to hold onto it.  Emotions that can be difficult to express or identify might include feeling unsafe, a sense of panic, hopelessness, shame, numbness, rage, insecurity, loneliness, guilt, worthlessness and so on. 

These emotions can be difficult to process depending on how we have related to these emotions before.  One person may deal with shame by hiding, avoiding or isolating themselves, while another person may attack verbally or physically as a fight defense through a trauma response.

The Mind-Body Connection

Additionally, it is important to build the mind-body connection, especially in trauma healing, by calling attention to changes in one’s body sensations as one begins to feel an emotion and as it changes and eventually passes.  Notice, for example, when your breathing starts to change as faster or slower, heart rate changes, tension in your muscles adjusts and where you notice body aches and tension- such as headaches or stomach aches.  

Noticing Your Body

Here are some body sensations that one might begin to notice as they begin to feel upset or emotionally triggered:

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Nausea
  • Physical numbness or tingling
  • Dry Mouth
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Crying spells
  • Tension in various areas of the body (jaw, torso, limbs)
  • Tiredness or intense exhaustion
  • Shakiness (hands, legs, feet)
  • Inability to relax
  • Hypervigilance
  • Increased startle response
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Tightness in certain areas of the body

Everyone is Different

It is also important to highlight that everyone’s window of tolerance is different and can change over time.  Meaning that at one point in time, we might have a very small window of tolerance, which means that small inconveniences can feel like extreme crises and it can be very difficult to manage everyday stressors. 

It also means that through the supportive therapeutic relationship along with use of appropriate coping mechanisms, it is possible to expand our windows and begin to remain in a calm state even when faced with similar demands and stressors that once seemed insurmountable.

In our next blog we will explore the different states of arousal that we may enter into when we become emotionally dysregulated.  This can be helpful in how we understand ourselves as well as how we might understand the changes we might encounter with a loved one (partner, child, sibling, etc).

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