What is the Window of Tolerance?

The widow of tolerance is a phrase first used by Dr. Dan Siegel to describe the arousal state in which a person can best function, where they feel they can manage life.

When you are within the window of tolerance, you are able to self-regulate emotionally, you feel grounded, present, flexible and are able to access the reasoning part of the brain.

As we live our life, we experience what I like to call mini traumas, hurts, fears, triggers, that take us out of our personal window of tolerance. Generally, we are able to bring ourselves back into the window of tolerance in a relatively short time.

This fluctuation within the window of tolerance is shown in the diagram with a wavy line. It is normal for us to move up and down within the window of tolerance. 

When we have experienced trauma and have developed insecure attachment styles, our nervous system is disrupted, and our reactions to life’s mini traumas are heightened and we can become overwhelmed. When we become overwhelmed, we move into either HYPERAROUSAL (fight or flight) or HYPOAROUSAL (freeze).

The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognitive processing and language, shuts down and we become dysregulated.

Everyone’s window of tolerance is different. People who have a narrow window of tolerance will often think of themselves as difficult people who struggle with their emotions and moods. 

A trauma might push someone outside of their window of tolerance and into hypo or hyper arousal, which can, over time, lead to depression or anxiety.

Over the next few days we will be exploring more about hypo and hyperarousal, so you can recognise these states, as well as things you can practice to expand your window of tolerance.

References: Ogden, P. (2009). Modulation, mindfulness, and movement in the treatment of trauma-related depression. Pat.

Siegel, D. (1999). The developing mind. New York: Guilford.Cole, E. (2020). Expanding the “Window of Tolerance”.