The Window of Tolerance: What You Need to Know About It
No, no. I’m not talking about the windows in your house (or the one on your laptop). The window we’re exploring today is called the “Window of Tolerance”; it’s about understanding your mental limits and how they can affect your mental health.
Now, we all have our unique ways of handling day-to-day stressors – for some people, the stressors they deal with can be too emotionally overwhelming, while others can just acknowledge theirs and go about their day. This; how you handle stressors; depends on the window of tolerance you have.
But, what is this window of tolerance I’m talking about? How can it help you manage your stress in your everyday life? Can this window of tolerance help you maintain good mental health?
Let’s take a look, shall we?
What is the Window of Tolerance?
Now, let’s put the power of imagination into work here. Imagine, inside your mind, a small window frame. This window would be your “Window of Tolerance”. It’s the space in your mind where you feel most comfortable and safe; just right. Inside this window is where you handle the ups and downs of life, without going over the edge into the overwhelming territory.
The concept of the Window of Tolerance was developed by Dan Siegel and comes from the world of psychology and neuroscience. It is the emotional comfort zone everyone has. When you’re within this window frame, you think clearly enough to make decisions and handle your stressors without feeling overwhelmed by them.
In a 2011 research study, it was concluded that the window of tolerance in your mind is the balance between hyperarousal and hypoarousal.
In the hyperarousal state, you may be agitated, anxious, and angry, and you may also feel a bit overwhelmed. In the hypoarousal state, you may experience numbness, dissociation, or even exhaustion at times. Just the kind of feelings you experience in depressive states.
Both these states can occur at the time when your stress response aka the flight-fight-freeze response is activated.
What Affects The Window of Tolerance?
Not everyone experiences the same states, emotions, and feelings. How the window of tolerance affects you or is affected can depend on person to person.
Most commonly, your past can have a great impact on how your window of tolerance is affected, If there are traumatic events in your past, then the window of tolerance can shrink, but if there had been supportive and encouraging experiences, then it can make it roomier.
A lot of how wide and narrow your window of tolerance is depends on your stress too. If you are always stressed, then your window of tolerance might get smaller. There’s a lot that also depends on your physical health. If you are not good at taking care of your physical health and needs such as sleep, diet, or exercise, then it can mess with your window too.
In some cases – If I talk about mine, specifically – then not having a healthy support system in place can also affect your window of tolerance. If you don’t have a healthy support system in place then your window of tolerance will narrow, but having friends and family who can help you during your stressful times can help widen your window of tolerance.
Window of Tolerance And Mental Health
Having a mental health condition can affect your window of tolerance. Let’s talk about hyperarousal and hypoarousal for a while, shall we? If you go into a hyperarousal state then it means you’re getting too worked up and anxious. This can eventually cause you to feel panicky and aggressive. On the other hand, if you are in a hypoarousal state, then you might feel numb and detached. Almost depressed.
The window of tolerance can be like a thermostat for your emotions – keep it at the right temperature and everything will be OK!
Now, various mental health conditions can be linked with a narrow window of tolerance – anxiety disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If you have trauma or PTSD, then these conditions can also affect the window of tolerance you have. Trauma, because such experiences trigger the flight-fight-freeze response, even if the trauma happened way back. In a recent study, it was suggested that having PTSD can affect your brain structure, which in turn, can impact how you respond to emotional stressors.
If your window of tolerance is narrow, then it can also affect how therapy will work on you. For instance; if you keep moving in and out of your window of tolerance, especially when in sessions, then you might not be able to listen constructively to your therapist. At school and work, moving in and out of your window of tolerance can impact your productivity and performance.
How Do Even Know Where My Window Is?
The answer to this question lies in self-awareness. Pay a little attention to your body cues. Are your muscles tensed? Is your heart racing? Is your breathing shallow? These can be signs and signals that you are straying from your window of tolerance. Come back.
Another sign that you are not in the window of tolerance is when you begin to feel overwhelmed, irritable, and numb. If you suddenly begin to feel these intense emotions or react strongly to something insignificant, then it could mean that you are outside your emotional comfort zone; your window of tolerance.
Now, there could come a time when you’re able to handle your emotions and manage your thoughts better than you imagined or are highly productive even under pressure. These could be signs that you’re in your window of tolerance or that your window is open wide.
The more self-aware you are about what triggers your states of hyperarousal and hypoarousal, the easier it is to manage them effectively and stay well within your window of tolerance.
So, How to Manage the Window of Tolerance?
Here are some tips for you to stay in control of your emotions and well within the window of tolerance;
1. Breathe Deeply:
Take deep and deliberate breaths. Doing deep breathing exercises and practicing deep breathing techniques can bring you back into your emotional comfort zone.
2. Doodle Your Stress Away:
Draw, color, or engage in any creative activity that can help soothe your mind and calm your agitated state.
3. Be Mindful of Your Triggers:
The moment you feel that you’re slipping into a hyperarousal or hypoarousal state, notice what triggered it. Knowing your triggers can help you focus on your needs in the moment, preventing you from slipping further into these states.
4. Do Physical Activities:
Dance, walk, jog, or just dance your stress out. What we need to manage a healthy window of tolerance is those happy hormones that come from engaging in physical activities. You can also listen to some upbeat music to manage your window of tolerance.
5. Talk to Someone:
If you can, try to share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted person. They could be a dear friend, a family member, or your support group people. Sometimes, all you need is a good chat.
6. Sleep it Out:
When you can’t find a balance between your window of tolerance and your stressors, all you can do is get some sleep. Brains love beauty sleep. When you’re well-rested, you can feel well-equipped to manage your window of tolerance.
The window of tolerance is your emotional comfort zone; the mental safe space you have; and the wider your window of tolerance is, the more grounded and emotionally stable you feel. Different factors can affect your window of tolerance and your ability to manage your stress. Knowing how to stay within your window of tolerance can make a huge difference in how you handle the day-to-day stress in your life.
So, go ahead and practice the above-listed strategies to manage a comfortable window of tolerance for your emotions.
Let me know which technique helped you with maintaining your emotional comfort zone in the comments below.