Window of tolerance – why do you find it difficult to cope when traumatised

Window of tolerance -Why you find it difficult to cope when under extreme stress


The window of tolerance is the zone of arousal in which you are able to function most effectively.  When you are within this range, you are able to readily receive, process and integrate information and manage everyday life without much difficulty. This optimal window was first named by Dan Siegel.

When you are within your window of tolerance, the brain is functioning well and can effectively process stimuli. You can reflect, think rationally and make decisions calmly without feeling overwhelmed or withdrawn.

Why you find it difficult to cope when under extreme stress

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

Hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal

Hyper-arousal, the fight/flight response, includes hypervigilance, feelings of anxiety and/or panic and racing thoughts.

Hypo-arousal, the freeze response, may cause feelings of emotional numbness, emptiness or paralysis.

In either of these states, you may become unable to process stimuli effectively. The prefrontal cortex region of the brain ‘shuts down’, 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. So you are outside the window of tolerance.

Each person’s window of tolerance is different. Those who have a narrow window of tolerance may often feel as if their emotions are intense and difficult to manage. Others with a wider window of tolerance may be able to handle intense emotions or situations without feeling like their ability to function has been significantly impacted.

The window of tolerance can be affected by your environment: when you feel safe and supported, it is easier to remain within the window..

Most people move between these varying states of arousal. Trauma and/or extreme stress make it more likely you will become either hyper- or hypo-aroused.

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