Understanding Your Window of Tolerance

May 15, 2023

The “Window of Tolerance” concept has consistently gained more traction in the world of psychotherapy, self-healing and self-transformation since it was first conceived and published by Dr. Daniel Siegal’s 1999 book, “The Developing Mind”. 

What is the Window of Tolerance?

Window of tolerance refers to the optimal level of arousal in which an individual can function most effectively. It does not mean, however, that such a person is without stress or emotional undulations.  

In fact the window of tolerance takes to heart that many people experience a range of intensities in emotional experience. The window of tolerance is the space in which someone can comfortably experience such emotional intensities while not losing touch with their ability to process and integrate them into their learning and growth and continue to function productively and in a socially engaged way. 

When someone is within their window of tolerance, they can manage stressors and respond appropriately to their environment. Practicing building awareness of our window of tolerance and helping others become aware of their own is the key to self-regulation, decreasing reactivity and increasing healthier and more productive, loving and compassionate interactions.

Steps to Build Awareness of Your Window of Tolerance

Here are some simple ways to practice and build your awareness of your own window of tolerance and help teach others to do the same: 

  1. Encourage Mindfulness

    Mindfulness practices are designed to teach allowance, acceptance and awareness of bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts without judgment. Taking a few moments each day, even starting with 3 minutes a day to simply sit still, breath, pay attention to and notice what is there in your physical experience without any judgment. 

  2. Identify Triggers

    Pay attention to the things, experiences and interactions that happen throughout the day that bother you, irritate you, scare you, worry you or depress you or somehow move you out of your comfort zone and what you can reasonably tolerate. The more you notice the subtleties of what happens and when, the better prepared you can be to possibly anticipate when you might be at risk of becoming triggered and possibly dysregulated and create a plan to take care of yourself and chart a different course. 

  3. Use a Thermometer Analogy

    Often used with kids, this technique can work wonders with adults too! Using a thermometer  as an analogy and visual aid is an easily relatable way to track movement outside of your window of tolerance. Note a spot on the thermometer that indicates your window of tolerance and then note intervals above or below this point and what happens that causes movement in either direction. This can be a great tool to track more specifically your level of emotional regulation and dysregulation. 

  4. Practice Self-Regulation Techniques

    Self-regulation techniques are usually somatically or sensory-base. Practices such as deep breathing, extending exhales 4 counts longer than your inhale (ex: inhale on a count of 4, exhale on a count of 8), progressive muscle relaxation, walking in and listening to nature, holding a worry stone, movement such as yoga, putting a cold cloth on the back of your neck, tapping and bilateral stimulation are just a few examples of self-regulation techniques. And the key is to practice when you are calmer, to build awareness and familiarity with such exercises. 

  5. Role-Play Scenarios

    Using role-play to practice what you may imagine to be charged or activating social interactions can be a very useful tool to feel prepared and begin to recognize how to manage yourself if you begin to move out of your window of tolerance. 

  6. Discuss the Impact of Stress with Safe Others

    Bringing this concept to life involves not only the practice named here, but also naming those we feel and experience and struggle with those we feel most safe and comfortable with. We are all traveling this journey through life together, even when we feel most separate. We can help support others and learn how to garner support from others, it is essential! A support group is a great way to find just that type of support. Learn more about the types of virtual support groups Bhava Therapy offers here

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