The “window of tolerance,” is a term coined by psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel. Your window of tolerance is the amount of stress that you can handle before you become too emotionally dysregulated to be able to practically function.
When you feel emotionally triggered, and you do not know how to recalibrate yourself and calm yourself, you will step outside your window of tolerance, and become hijacked by your emotions. When you become emotionally hijacked, it will feel difficult to think clearly and make good decisions.
When emotionally dysregulated you might spiral up into hyperarousal - feeling angry, anxious, and emotionally out of control. Or, you might spiral down into hypoarousal - becoming spacey, numb, depressed or potentially dissociative.
If you have a large window of tolerance, you will feel calm, resourced, and better able to handle life's challenges. When your window of tolerance is small, you will become anxious or depressed more easily. If you have endured a lot of trauma, your window of tolerance could be very small.
The good news is, everyone has the opportunity to expand their window of tolerance. And, it is interesting to note that people who have healed their trauma can grow to have such large windows of tolerance, they can bring tremendous good to the world.
How Your Window of Tolerance Relates to Peace
Inner peace can become more consistent when you stretch your window of tolerance through regular emotional regulation practices such as meditation, nature activities, yoga, and concentrative creative practice.
If your life circumstances are continually stressful, or if you have habitual toxic thoughts about yourself and the world, you could be living outside your window of tolerance for extended periods of time. You might be chronically living in a fight/flight state, for example.
To expand your window of tolerance, it is important to notice the physical sensations that your body expresses just before you exit your window of tolerance. For example, you may notice a tightness in your chest. You might also recognize that you cannot take a deep breath.
If you ignore the body sensations that indicate you are leaving your window of tolerance, your brain and body will start to feel anxious. And, because your brain likes to assign reasons for emotional distress, you will easily find something in your life to attach your anxiety to.
As you continue to stress and worry, this creates an anxiety loop, which shrinks your window of tolerance. Understandably, it is optimal to expand your window of tolerance instead. This means that anytime your nervous system feels agitated you will need to stop, self-soothe and self-care until you are able to take a deep breath - so that you can practically function in your life in a regulated way.