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Your Window of Tolerance Affects Your Emotional Health

July 3, 2019 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

One way to improve your emotional health is to learn how to stay in your window of tolerance. Imagine your mind like a picture window where the view outside represents all the emotions and situations you can handle skillfully. If you have a large picture window in your mind, there is a wide range of stressors you can effectively manage. If your window is very small, it's pretty easy to fall into overwhelm or complete shutdown. This is why understanding and expanding your window of tolerance can significantly improve your emotional health.

What Is the Window of Tolerance?

The window of tolerance is the internal state you must be in to stay grounded and effective. One skill I use is to rate my emotional level on a scale from one to 10. I imagine numbers one through three as feeling shut down, cold, and emotionless. Psychologists call this state hypo-arousal. Numbers four through six are a neutral range where I can use my skills and stay effective. This is my window of tolerance. I describe numbers seven and up as "hot" emotions where I am at risk of blowing up, yelling, sobbing, or storming out. Psychologists call this hyperarousal. When I am in that headspace, I am emotionally flooded and not able to use my skills effectively.

Some people are more prone to shutting down emotionally, and others are more prone to emotional flooding. I usually lean towards the "hot" emotions, so if I check in with myself, and I feel like I am a seven, that's my cue to take a break and get grounded. Everyone is different, but for me, I feel emotions in my body first. A racing heart and shallow breathing are usually my initial indicators that something is wrong. Because I've learned this about myself, every time I feel my heart rate increase, I immediately pause and do an internal check-in. I ask myself, "What am I feeling? What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?" 

How Can You Expand Your Window of Tolerance for Emotional Health?

The first step is observing yourself and your emotional states well enough that you can identify them in your body and assign a number to them. Once you have this level of self-awareness, you are ready to work on increasing the size of your window of tolerance. This means you will work on putting more and more life stressors in your four to six range.

Here are some skills I use to remain in my window of tolerance:

  • Breathing techniques, such as 4-7-8 breathing. Inhale for four counts, hold for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts.
  • Do a body scan. Start at the top of your head and slowly move down your body, mindfully noticing what is happening inside you.
  • Try a grounding exercise. Notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel or touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Take a brief walk.
  • Practice squeezing and releasing your hands.
  • Splash some cold water on your face, or drink a small glass of ice water. 

Have you tried to increase your window of tolerance? What skills have helped you improve your emotional health?

APA Reference
Psy.D., H. (2019, July 3). Your Window of Tolerance Affects Your Emotional Health, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2019/7/your-window-of-tolerance-affects-your-emotional-health



Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.

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