About This Tool

The Window of Tolerance is unique for each of us. It refers to how much emotion we can comfortably feel before experiencing overwhelm and shifting into either hyper-arousal (fight/flight) or hypo-arousal (freeze).

Our 'optimal arousal zone' is where we can thrive in daily life. We can respond appropriately to situations and bounce back after an emotional upset. When we move beyond our window of tolerance, our nervous system responds by taking us into the fight-flight-freeze response. We feel emotionally overwhelmed and spike into hyper-arousal, or we shut down and go into hypo-arousal. Trauma and stress can cause your window of tolerance to shrink so that it won't take much to spike you out of your optimal zone. Learning to expand your window can help you feel safe and capable of coping with challenges.

The numbers down the right side indicate your Subjective Units of Distress (SUDS for short) - which is really just a check-in how distressed you feel. It’s a rating scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the most distressed you’ve ever felt and 1 is no distress at all. The scale is a helpful way for therapists to attune to their clients, and also for client’s to notice their own activation.

Use the Window of Tolerance concept to understand if you have a tendency to activate up or downshift into shutdown. Once you have an understanding of what happens to you when strong emotion is present, you can utilize coping tools. For example, if you have a tendency to spike up into hyper-arousal (high activation), you might want to consider the coping strategies of grounding, breathwork, mindfulness, and meditation. On the other hand, if your tendency is towards shutdown (hypo-arousal), you might want to try movement-based coping strategies or activities that engage the senses such as essential oils and cuddling with a pet.

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Why It Works

Understanding and utilizing the Window of Tolerance concept is a key ingredient to learning to regulate emotion. Healing needs to begin with developing affect regulation skills (the ability to gain control over those strong emotions that come on like tidal waves and seem to hijack our rational brain). Once an individual develops the ability to regulate emotion, healing trauma becomes more tolerable, and emotional suffering lessens. 


D. Siegel (1999). The Developing Mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are

P. Ogden (2006). Trauma & the Body: A sensori-motor approach to psychotherapy


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Why It Works

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