Therapist Blog


What is the Window of Tolerance and Why is it Important?


What Is the Window of Tolerance?

When a person is within their window of tolerance, it is generally the case that the brain is functioning well and can effectively process stimuli. That person is likely to be able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling either overwhelmed or withdrawn. Typically I describe this place of calm as being in "Wise Mind".

During times of extreme stress, people often experience periods of either hyper- or hypo-arousal.

  • Hyper-arousal, otherwise known as the fight/flight response, is often characterized by hypervigilance, feelings of anxiety and/or panic, and racing thoughts.
  • Hypo-arousal, or a freeze response, may cause feelings of emotional numbness, emptiness, or paralysis.

In either of these states, an individual may become unable to process stimuli effectively. The prefrontal cortex region of the brain shuts down, in a manner of speaking, affecting the ability to think rationally and often leading to the development of feelings of dysregulation, which may take the form of chaotic responses or overly rigid ones. In these periods, a person can be said to be outside the window of tolerance.

Getting back into the Window of Tolerance requires the practice of coping skills. Such as practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, positive affirmations, self-soothing skills, and yoga to name a few options.

Notice how your body responds to things differently as you begin to calm down, and then again when fully calm, and finally see how you can challenge yourself to stay within the Window of Tolerance the next time you face stress and/or uncomfortable feelings.  

Attacking Anxiety

With this title you'd think I'd be teaching you to slay a dragon named Anxiety. If you think about it though, anxiety can make you run, freeze or scream like a fire breathing dragon was attacking you. Our fear center response is in our Amygdala, here we also process decision-making, memory and other emotions. Anxiety can be a learned response or a natural response to situation, and the Amygdala is what helps control that. So next time someone flatly states to you "Stop Stressing", and offers no words of advice or shows empathy, flatly tell them that your "Amygdala needs time to process before that can happen!" 

Counseling humor may only be funny to me, so if you did't laugh thats okay, I laughed enough for myself to enjoy.

6 Ways to Ward off the Dragon named Anxiety

  1. Do some yoga poses, such as Reclining Bound Angle (helpful for relaxing your mind and the central nervous system)
  2. Rhythmic breathing
  3. Mindful walking
  4. Meditation/prayer
  5. Journaling 
  6. Creating something for yourself