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What is the Window of Tolerance and Why the Hell Should I Care?

Updated: Dec 18, 2022


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My face when I hear someone say their previous trauma therapist never taught them about the window of tolerance.


It's Key to Regaining Control of Your Trauma Symptoms


Oftentimes, people come into therapy with little or no idea about how their nervous system impacts their state of mind and their trauma symptoms. It can provide a helpful visual for what happens when we go into fight, flight or freeze. The term was initially coined by Dr. Dan Siegel as a way to visualize our nervous system.

 A  graphic showing the window of tolerance and hypoarousal and hyperarousal.

The window of tolerance is essentially the optimal zone for our nervous system to be in. When we are in our window we are able to manage the stresses of day to day life. We may still feel stress or anger but our brain is fully online AKA we're playing with a full deck of cards at our disposal. When we perceive a threat we leave our window of tolerance and our nervous system goes into a trauma response to manage the perceived threat. We can't control whether or not we leave our window of tolerance or what our response is, this is just something our brain does. From their our nervous system can go into Hyperarousal or Hypoarousal.



An infographic showing the trauma responses Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn


Hyperarousal or Fight or Flight


This is when our nervous system goes into overdrive, it increases our heart rate, blood pressure, and sends adrenaline throughout our body. This is in an attempt to prepare us to run from or fight the perceived threat. As a result we can feel panicked, angry, frustrated, out of control and fearful. The key here though is our brain believes we can respond to the threat.


Hypoarousal or Freeze or Fawn

This is when we go into a place of overwhelm that can result in us becoming frozen with fear. In these moments we might feel detached from ourselves or our surroundings and unable to move or speak. Alternatively, we may find ourselves people-pleasing and crossing our own boundaries to keep ourselves safe. This is our nervous system's way of protecting us when it doesn't think we can run or fight the threat.


Our trauma response is NOT something we choose or decide.

However, when we experience trauma our window of tolerance often gets smaller making it harder for us to regulate our emotions and stay grounded.

This means that because of our experiences we are more likely to leave our window of tolerance than someone who hasn't experienced trauma. However, this does not mean we're doomed to stay this way.


We Can Grow Our Window of Tolerance


By working with a trained therapist, we can learn to grow our window of tolerance making it easier for us to cope with day-to-day struggles. Here are a few ways we can work with a therapist to grow our window of tolerance, click the links to learn more!

Thanks for reading!



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