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How Trauma Affects a Person - The Window of Tolerance

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

The Window of Tolerance

The nervous system plays an important role in the body’s regulation, especially in cases of depression, anxiety, and trauma. Dr. Dan Siegal coined the term “Window of Tolerance” to describe the role of the nervous system in the fight, flight, or freeze response. The fight, flight, and freeze response are your body’s responses to danger or threat, this is a natural stress response our body has been producing for centuries.

The Window of Tolerance describes the nervous system in different states and focuses on the optimal arousal zone, the zone where an individual has optimal performance and good regulation. Indications of being in the optimal arousal zone are being present, awareness of boundaries, your emotions are tolerable, and feeling safe. When you are not in the optimal arousal zone, you are either in the hyperarousal zone or the hypoarousal zone. The hyperarousal zone is the fight or flight system, this zone explains when there is too much arousal and signs can include: tension, shaking, racing thoughts, anger, and feeling unsafe. The hypoarousal zone is the freeze response, where there is too little arousal and signs can include: no energy, “not there”, no feelings, feeling disconnected, shut down, and absence of sensation. When you feel that you are in either hypoarousal or hyperarousal, there are numerous exercises to get yourself back into the optimal arousal zone such as engaging in exercises, grounding exercises, walking exercises, and breathing exercises.

By starting to be aware of the states you enter, what triggers them, and how to get back to the optimal zone, you will be able to regulate your nervous system by simply being aware of your body states, sensations, and an understanding of what to do when you enter different states. There are two links below that explain various exercises which will help you return to your optimal zone when you feel that you have entered other zones.

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