Window of tolerance

What is your Window of tolerance & how does trauma affect it?

The concept of window of tolerance was developed by Dan Siegel to help explain where we best function in terms of arousal in everyday life. If you get triggered outside of your window of tolerance, you can go into hyperarousal or hypoarousal.  Being within your window of tolerance means you can cope healthily with life stressors that are occurring. 

No one’s window of tolerance is the same. For instance, those with a history of childhood trauma often have a smaller window and can more easily get triggered into hyper or hypo arousal states. Someone with a big support system or who has received therapy and learned coping skills can also have a wider window of tolerance. 

What is Hyperarousal?

Hyperarousal is when your sympathetic nervous system kicks into overdrive and has too much arousal. Your sympathetic nervous system is made up of your fight, flight, or freeze response. When you have a history of trauma or if you are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, you may recognize this as one of the main symptoms of PTSD. 

What is Hypoarousal?

Working with those who have experienced trauma, I’ve learned many are aware of the hyperarousal state, but not as aware of what hypoarousal is. Hypoarousal is also known as the shutdown response. It is when you do not have enough arousal because your parasympathetic system is overloaded. 

You can be triggered into hypoarousal by thoughts, feelings, and memories reminding you of past traumatic experiences, but also by present day triggers that may trigger past traumatic experiences. 

What are the signs?

Hyperarousal

  • Difficulty with focus
  • Irritability
  • Panic
  • Easily startled
  • Shakiness
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Intrusive memories
  • Overwhelm
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Action on emotions
  • Hypervigilence
  • Anger outbursts

Hypoarousal

  • No energy
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Feeling shutdown
  • Feeling like you can’t say no
  • Feeling stuck
  • Feeling like you can’t move
  • Feeling ashamed or guilt
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling like you can’t think
  • Feeling dead

Window of tolerance

Do you need help staying within your window of tolerance?

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