In the U.S, our culture of rugged individualism tells us that no matter what circumstances we end up in, we got there all on our own. In reality, people are born into greatly varying social positions. These positions mediate the ease with which we find success, whatever definition of success that you’re using. Some people find it easy to sit down and apply to a bunch of jobs. While others write a bunch of cover letters because they can function without struggling to focus. Or even an overwhelming sense of hopelessness or anxiety. For other people, it can be really difficult to carry out simple daily tasks. This is because they feel exhausted from the energy it takes to perpetually exist in survival mode. That is where the window of tolerance can be helpful.
We Still Have A Great Perspective into the Window of Tolerance
Thankfully, research into trauma and how it affects us offers a greater understanding of the different states that people exist. Additionally, being in these different states affects our productivity levels along with our general ability to function in the world. One concept, called the Window of Tolerance, exemplifies the different states that humans cycle through. The topic of the Window of Tolerance/trauma is on Trauma Chat this week by Laura Reagan, LCSW-C.
*To listen to the full episode of Trauma Chat episode ten click here, or keep reading for an overview of episode ten.
The Window of Tolerance
Dr. Dan Siegel – a psychiatrist, clinical professor, and teacher of childhood trauma and attachment, created this concept called the Window of Tolerance, which can be thought of as a zone. When a person is in this zone, they are able to tolerate their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Plus, they are able to function.
This is not to say that everything is perfect. When a person is in their window of tolerance, people could still experience stress, anxious, or angry. However, in the window of tolerance, one is still able to do what they normally do during their time. Whether that means working during the day, being a student, or taking care of children.
What Happens When You’re Outside of Your Window of Tolerance: Hyperarousal and Hyperarousal
When a person is outside their window of tolerance, they can either be above or below their window of tolerance. If you are above your window of tolerance, you are in a hyperarousal zone. If you are below your window of tolerance you are in a hypoarousal zone. The states in the window correspond to the trauma reactions that we talk about in episode four of Trauma Chat.
Hyperarousal includes feelings such as panic, feelings of being out of control, experiencing rage, feeling overwhelm, wanting to fight, or wanting to run away. When we are in this state, we are outside of our Window of Tolerance. You may experience panic attacks, racing thoughts, and may feel unable to sit still. The hyperarousal zone aligns with the trauma defenses of fight and flight. Sometimes we define this as the “nervous system activation” or “sympathetic nervous system arousal”.
On the other hand, being in the hypoarousal zone is more like being in a shutdown state. This can look like:
- feeling spacey
- zoning out
- having a hard time staying awake
- feeling “here but not here
When we are in the hypoarousal zone we’re outside of our window experiencing what we call parasympathetic nervous system arousal. The trauma defenses of Freeze and Submit happen in this state.
“If you can sense when you are within your window of tolerance or when you are out of your window of tolerance, then you will have more of an ability to become aware of your trauma and attachment symptoms. And ultimately, the more you can become aware of them, the more you have the opportunity to address them and heal whatever needs to be healed. If you don’t even know it’s happening, then you’ve got less to work with.”Laura Reagan, Trauma Chat Episode Ten
*Listen to the full episode of Trauma Chat episode ten here.
Find a Trauma Therapist in Our Directory for More Support!
If you’re ready to find the trauma therapist that is going to help you have a breakthrough then check out our online therapy directory. Know that we are regularly adding therapists to our directory. Therefore, the list will only continue to grow. To get started follow these steps:
- Head to our find a therapist page.
- Begin looking for a therapist in your area and select one that is a good fit.
- Visit their website and learn about our therapists.
- Get in touch and begin finding hope and healing!
*If you’re a trauma therapist who offers support for client’s in need of, or want to understand more about your window of tolerance, our directory is for you. If you’re looking to be a resource for individuals needing help, learn about our directory. Then, visit our page to get set up as a therapist today!
→ Window of Tolerance Graphic from NICABM
→ Dr. Daniel Siegel’s Mindsight website
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