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PTSD & the Window of Tolerance

PTSD & The Window of Tolerance

PTSD is like your brain is on fire. It creates many uncomfortable symptoms that do not heal on their own. No amount of talking about traumatic events provides healing or lasting relief and can cause you to feel triggered, outside your comfort zone and very uncomfortable. It is hard to tolerate day to day stressors.

One of the key things I share with my clients is the Window of Tolerance. This is the range you possess for feeling good when experiencing stress and trauma. When in your window of tolerance, you feel at ease – alert but not on high alert. It is an emotional and mental state of regulation, of tolerance and of resilience. You are responsive to stressors without reacting.

Why is the Window of Tolerance important?

One of the most common trauma symptoms is dysregulation. This can be experienced as becoming disconnected, spacy or zoned out. You may notice you misplace items, lose track of time, or feel frozen.  It can also be experienced as being agitated – revved up, wired. You may notice you are talking louder than usual; your thoughts might speed up and for some, you might become angry or irritable.

When stressed, it is much more challenging to remain regulated and within your window of tolerance; with a traumatized brain it isn’t even harder. Your brain goes through a series of rapid changes as it experiences the fight-flight-freeze response. Key areas of your brain including your prefrontal cortex turn off and aren’t available to filter your experience. This causes you to reexperience the emotional memory as if it were happening again.

Window of Tolerance

Effective ways to begin using this diagram are:

  • Take a moment to pause, breathe and connect to yourself. This will help you become more aware of what is happening within you and make it easier to reconnect.
  • Identify the signs of Hyperarousal (agitation) unique to you.
  • Identify the signs of Hypoarousal (disconnection) unique to you.

Once you have increased your awareness of your early warning signs, and signs of hyperarousal and hypoarousal, you can act to interrupt the cycle causing you to leave your window of tolerance.