What is your Window of Tolerance?
Updated: Jan 5, 2022
Have you ever felt so angry you couldn't think or so overwhelmed that you did anything possible to numb out?
If so, you know what it's like to be outside of your window of tolerance.
The window of tolerance was coined by Dan Siegal to explain how our nervous system is affected by stress and trauma.
The "Green Zone" in the middle represents when we can think and make decisions and when we can handle emotions wisely. It's where you can connect to others and where you can feel most grounded.
The "Red Zone" is our fight or flight zone where we experience high emotions like anger or anxiety and where we respond automatically without thinking and our strong emotions run the show. This is like pressing down the gas pedal in the car and going really fast.
The "blue zone" is our freeze response. The same as when an animal gets caught by a predator and has no escape and doesn't move. This is where we also can't think or connect with others and find ourselves shutting down and going into shock or depression. It's like having your car brakes stuck on, or the car not being able to start with a dead battery.
Everyone's response to stress is different depending on your life experience- if you've been though a lot of trauma in your early years you may be easily triggered into the red or blue zone. Many people with complex trauma may find it hard to stay in the green zone for long periods.
In order to live more in the green zone where we can make choices and connect with other people positively it's important to work through your trauma responses through trauma therapy and/or finding ways to increase your emotional regulation skills.
Emotional Regulation can be developed through therapy or self-help. DBT and mindfulness approaches are a good start. Trauma therapy can take many forms but a therapy that both engages the body and mind are good, such as EMDR.