TEACHING THE WINDOW OF TOLERANCE from “Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness”


“This brings us to the window of tolerance—a zone that lies between the two extremes of hyper-and hypoarousal.


When we’re hyperaroused, we tend to be oversensitive to sensations or sounds, hypervigilant to our surroundings, and experience high emotional reactivity.


Life there is chaotic.


When hypoaroused, we can experience an absence of sensation and apathy.


Things are rigid.


When we’re inside our window of tolerance, however, we’re more equipped to tolerate the full range of our experience.


Our arousal naturally ebbs and flows, and we’re more likely to feel alert, relaxed, and engaged.


The window of tolerance is tied to cognitive processing.


With hyperarousal, our cognitive processing tends to be disorganized and in disarray. There’s too much stimulation, and it often becomes difficult to pay attention.



With hypoarousal, our cognitive processing becomes disabled. It’s hard to think clearly, and people often report feeling spacey, removed, and unable to concentrate.


This is one reason trauma survivors can have difficulty functioning in their daily lives: disorganized and disabled cognitive processing makes everyday tasks difficult, especially those that involve executive skills such as planning, decision making, and organizing daily activities.


I’ve worked with clients who, in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, felt like they’d lost their ability to manage and control their minds and lives.”

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