The size of our ‘window’ depends upon how much we are able to tolerate mild fluctuations in mood, energy levels, and the challenges and demands of life, while remaining in this "Optimal Zone". The ‘wider’ we can expand our window of tolerance, the more resilient we can become in the face of life’s challenges.
Each individual's window of tolerance is different, we don't get to choose how wide the window of tolerance we are born with is...different people are born with different brains and capacities. Also, adverse events in early childhood and throughout our lives can shape our brains and affect the width of our window of tolerance.
Those who have a narrow window of tolerance may often feel as if their emotions are intense and difficult to manage. Others with a wider window of tolerance may be able to handle intense emotions or situations without feeling like their ability to function has been significantly impacted.
The stress of a traumatic or otherwise negative event may have the effect of “pushing” a person out of their window of tolerance. People who have experienced a traumatic event may respond to stressors, even minor ones, with extreme hyper- or hypo-arousal. They may come to believe the world is unsafe and operate with a window of tolerance that has become narrow as a result. A narrowed window of tolerance may cause someone to perceive danger more readily and react to real and imagined threats with either a fight/flight response or a freeze response.
For people who have experienced significant stress or trauma, it's common for the brain to become ‘stuck’ in high levels of activation or deactivation. People who frequently operate outside of their window of tolerance may experience mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
Next week's post will highlight some ideas for how to manage our window of tolerance and spend more time in the optimal zone.