The Window of Tolerance: What It Is and How to Improve It

Sep 23, 2022

What is the Window of Tolerance?

The window of tolerance is the space between too much and too little arousal. When we are outside of our window of tolerance, we are more likely to react impulsively or feel overwhelmed. This can lead to feeling stressed, anxious, or even triggered.

You might be wondering what exactly "too much arousal" means. Arousal is the state of being awake and responsive to stimuli. Too much arousal means that you are overstimulated and your nervous system is on high alert. This can happen when you are exposed to a traumatic event, when you are under a lot of stress, or when you are using substances like drugs or alcohol. Too little arousal means that you are understimulated and not responsive enough to your environment. This can happen when you are bored, depressed, or tired.

The sweet spot in the middle - where you are just aroused enough - is what it feels like when you are in your "window of tolerance." When you are in your window of tolerance, you have access to all your executive functioning skills (like logic and reasoning) and all your emotions (like happiness and sadness). You are able to think clearly and act accordingly. Your reactions are appropriate for the situation at hand. You might sometimes still feel strong emotions, but they will not be so overwhelming that they take over completely.

Why is Improving Your Window of Tolerance Important?

If you often find yourself outside of your window of tolerance (either over- or under-aroused), it can lead to a number of problems. When you're overaroused, you might:

  • become easily agitated or angry
  • have racing thoughts or feel like your mind is going blank
  • feel like you're in danger, even when you're not
  • dissociate from reality or feel disconnected from your body 

 Conversely, if you're under-aroused, you might:

  • struggle to focus or pay attention
  • feel unmotivated or even lethargic
  • experience depression 

 As you can see, neither extreme is particularly desirable! That's why it's important to find ways to improve your window of tolerance so that you can spend more time in that sweet spot in the middle. Here are some tips! 

Tips for Improving Your Window of Tolerance

  • Get enough sleep: Most adults need 7-8 hours per night in order to function at their best during the day. Consider going to bed and waking up at the same time each day in order to establish a regular sleep schedule. 
  • Eat healthy meals: Eating nutritious foods helps improve both our physical and mental health. Make sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. 
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. A moderate amount of exercise is the key - too little won't have any effect and too much could actually worsen anxiety or trigger trauma memories for some people. Taking a brisk walk for 30 minutes each day should suffice.
  • Find healthy coping mechanisms for stress: Identify what causes stress in your life and find healthy coping mechanisms that work for YOU. Some people find that deep breathing exercises, journaling, or spending time outdoors helps them managing stress better. Others might prefer listening to music, reading, or spending time with friends and family . There's no single "right" way to cope with stress - it's all about finding what works best for YOU.  

Conclusion

Everyone experiences stressors in their daily lives but it's important not manage them in a way that leads us outside our window of tolerance. By getting enough sleep, eating right , exercising , and finding healthy coping mechanisms for stress, we can help ourselves stay within our window  of tolerance more often. This leads to an improved ability focus, reason, remember things, express emotions appropriately, and cope with difficult situations life throws our way. Allowing us to live happier healthier lives!