You know when you get to the point of anger/frustration/emotional overwhelm and you just throw up your hands you’re like “I can’t take this anymore”. Congratulations – you just passed your window of tolerance.
The window of tolerance, created by Dr. Dan Siegel, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, is the space where you can handle stress in a healthy way and still be able to function and thrive.
When we pass our window of tolerance we either shut down or we become overloaded.
I actually just heard about the WoT a few weeks ago and it made so much sense that I wanted to be able to illustrate it. One of the biggest aspects of my mental health journey is being able to check in with myself. This is such an easy way to understand what happens when I’m under a lot of stress.
What the window of tolerance looks like.
In the middle, you have what you can tolerate. This is the space where you’re comfortable. Yes, things may stress you out but you’re able to deal with those events in a healthy way and then move forward. You have a good handle on knowing what things stress you out and knowing how to deal with that stress. You go to therapy, you exercise, you meditate, you create art – whatever that thing is that helps you handle whatever life throws at you – you do it.
Each person has a different sized window and the size of that window is controlled by your coping skills. If the way that you always deal with stress is to completely shut down, then your window is small. If small things immediately make you angry – small window.
When you move outside that window, you may become overloaded (Hyper-arousal) so your flight or fight instincts kick in. You feel anxious or angry and you can feel the stress thrumming through your body just looking for an outlet.
On the other hand, you may completely shut down (Hypo-arousal). You just emotionally check out of the situation because it’s too hard to deal with. Instead of that stress entering your body as anxious/angry energy, it just completely exhausts you.