The Window of Tolerance

For those that may not be familiar with the “Window of Tolerance”, it is basically a frame for knowing what state of arousal you might currently be in. The hope (and goal) is that knowing what state you are in, you can then try to manage or cope with any skills, tips, techniques or tools that might help you either reduce the symptoms or move from the zone you’re currently in to an optimal zone.

There are three states: hypo-arousal, hyper-arousal, and the optimal zone.

Hypo-arousal would typically have, but not limited to, signs or symptoms of numbness, frozen, depression, low activity, low energy, low motivation, lack of focus, dissociation, shutting down, unable to think, etc. Your own symptoms can any include any and all of these, or yours might present differently.

Hyper-arousal would typically have, but not limited to, signs or symptoms of agitation, restlessness, feeling edgy, shaky, fidgety, nervous, “on alert”, lack of focus, racing thoughts etc. Your own symptoms can include any and all of these, or yours might present differently.

And it IS possible to vacillate from one state to the other, in the same situation, over the course of the day, or even within minutes. In fact, it is extremely common to swing between the states of hyper- and hypo-arousal on a regular basis. Particularly for those struggling with depression and anxiety. It can feel like all the switches are on and off at the same time.

Where we would like to be, optimally of course, is the optimal zone. Where we are able to think and cope, and manage our situations and emotions relatively effectively. Where our body doesn’t feel like it is in a constant battle with itself to either shut down, dissociate or take off like a shot.

Checking in with yourself, emotionally and somatically (in the body) can help you to identify which zone you are in, in the current moment. Of course, pausing long enough to check in is the key to being able to manage or cope effectively in the first place.

If you are just starting with being able to manage your anxiety and depression and the Window of Tolerance then for now the goal might be to at least becoming aware of what zone you are in. Walk before you run.

After practice and being able to better manage your anxiety and depression then working towards trying to be in the optimal zone for the most part can be your goal. Or at least moving to reduce the symptoms.

Either way, please don’t rush yourself. Be patient. Becoming aware, even naming, how you are feeling and what you are physically experiencing takes A LOT of practice.

At first you may only remember afterwards, and that’s fine. With practice it does become easier. There is no time limit or expectation as to when you will get there, just know that with practice, you will.

Here are some statement/questions to ask yourself to help you identify what zone you are in, and how you know why. This will take some practice and may change depending on your situation and response. Getting to know your zones and how you know which one you are in can help make a difference when trying to cope.

Listen to your body. Really listen. It will tell you everything you need to know.

Reflection:
– What zone are you currently in?
– How do you know?

In the hypo-arousal zone:
– I am aware that…
– I notice in my body…
– My thoughts are…
– My impulses are…
– I want to instinctively do/be…
– When stressed, I…
– In the expanded zone, I can use (technique/tool)…. to change my triggers.

In the hyper-arousal zone:
– I am aware that…
– I notice in my body…
– My thoughts are…
– My impulses are…
– I want to instinctively do/be…
– When stressed, I…
– In the expanded zone, I can use (technique/tool)… to change my triggers

In the zone of optimum arousal:
– I am aware that…
– I notice in my body…
– My thoughts are…
– My impulses are…
– I want to instinctively do/be…
– When stressed, I…
– In the expanded zone, I can use (technique/tool)… to change my triggers.

I created this card for my “urgent – short-term” Coping Kit so I can refer to it when needed.
This is the reverse side of the Window of Tolerance card, and the questions to ask myself for checking in. And knowing what zone I am currently in.

At first, using the Window of Tolerance may feel somewhat impotent. “That’s great, now I know I’m in hyper-arousal, so now what?” This is where coping skills, tips, techniques and tools would come into effect.

I have a couple of posts with some suggestions for coping here and here. If it helps to learn which skills work best for you before working with the Window of Tolerance then that’s fine. Or if working on both will help. Or working on one at a time is best, do it in whatever format works best for you.

The goal of the Window of Tolerance is to help you know what’s going on with you right now. When we are mired in the depths of depression and/or the agitation of anxiety, pausing long enough to know what’s happening can be tough, if not impossible. The Window of Tolerance is to help give you a map on at least knowing where to get started.

I created the index card for myself to put in my coping kit because I sometimes lose sight of what’s going on with myself, and the card helps me pause and take notice, and then I can figure out what to do next. I also put the questions into Notes on my phone so if I’m out I can still refer to the questions and figuring out where I’m at and what I can do next.

I highly recommend doing this for yourself because having it in front of you, at least to start, can make a huge difference when you’re feeling overwhelmed, shut down and unable to think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: