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There is a conversation amongst friends and colleagues taking place about whether the window of tolerance widens and narrows in the course of a day and I would like to know what this community would say about that.  While there is agreement that stress and trauma can narrow our window of tolerance, and that working with a mental health practitioner and other methods can help widen one’s window of tolerance, would you agree with the below statement?
Even as we might have a baseline temperament that reflects where our window of tolerance may often be at a certain phase in our life, our window of tolerance can and does absolutely change throughout the day for various reasons.
For example, would the reduced ability to function optimally that occurs in the course of a day as a result of lack of sleep, hunger, or persistent pain be considered a narrowing of the window of tolerance?
Thanks for your thoughts.
Original Post

What a great conversation to be having!  Speaking from my own experience, I notice my window of tolerance changing throughout the day often.  For example, when I get tired/stressed/hungry my window of tolerance shrinks - but once my needs are met, I am able to widen my window and adjust to more varied experiences.  Hope that you find this valuable!

This question interests me but I'm wondering if you could say a few words about the window of tolerance concept. If it's a matter of being more or less into one of the two main stress reactions (sympathetic activation or parasympathetic shutdown), I would think it would be a matter of what causes your stress and when it happens. I once had a two day per week job that put me into a 7 day per week freeze because my coworker would trigger me. If I got to work and found that the coworker was gone for the day, I could tell by the way my my digestive system kicked into normal functioning that my stress was reduced that day. 

In my understanding of window of tolerance or rather, what Peter Levine refers to as "range of resilience,' is a less fluid/flexible concept.  "Range of resilience" refers to the calibration of the body's stress response system.  Heart rate variability is an excellent proxy for measuring one's window of tolerance or range of resilience.  Otherwise stated, if someone has low heart rate variability then they have a more restricted range of resilience.  Here's what Bessel Van Der Kolk says,

"Poor HRV (heart rate variability) - that is, lack of fluctuation in heart rate in response to breathing - not only has negative effects on thinking and feeling but also on how the body responds to stress.... Failure to keep this system in balance is one explanation why traumatized people are so vulnerable to overrespond to relatively minor stress. "  p. 269, Body Keeps the Score

When I am working with folks around self-regulation, I am trying to offer them strategies and practices - that if engaged regularly and habitually - will have a potential impact on recalibrating their body's stress response system (which is what we are referring to above).  We fail to really "settle ourselves" sufficiently in the way we conduct "business" in schools, health care settings, even mental health settings. 

Anyway, this is my understanding of window of tolerance / range of resilience.  Most of us need ongoing opportunities to widen that space...  

In our work with educators we call this the resilience window. One way to look at it is the space between your current stress level and your "lose it line"... when you flip your lid. We encounter many things throughout the day that raise our stress level and therefore shrink the "resilience window." As educators that might be a student who is not following directions, or bothering others. It might be missing lunch. As a student it might be a comment made by a friend, being frustrated academically, not having a friend at lunch, - and there are systems things that shrink resilience windows too.  Things like: lack  of clear expectations, lack of routines, systems of rewards, the practice of teaching by shaming, sarcasm etc.  To me a trauma informed school is always looking to open the resilience window - for everyone. System changes include: using encouragement instead of praise, solutions instead of consequences, regular routines, SEL skill building, growing student voice through class meetings etc.

I attached a short piece from our administrators' guide on the resilience window.


I agree with Emily. Think of how people feel after they work out, after they meditate. I believe there are two ways to look at the window of tolerance: the person's state (current functioning) and the person's trait (long-term functioning). As therapists work with their clients developing strategies to manage hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal, and learn more about the practices that can widen their window of tolerance (or resiliency), states can grow into traits. That is my thinking.

I appreciate this discussion! And I didn't know about the window or resilience, so thanks for that!

Yeah. A good read. There’s  an acronym that does the rounds here in the UK and we pass this on because it makes fair sense. HALT. Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? The premise is if you are these things - then act accordingly ... ie eat, reflect and share, supportively connect, sleep. 

My response to the posed statement is YES. In my experience things can become quickly overwhelming for those reasons related. 

When looked at from a core biological perspective, I would say the answer has to be yes, but I might suggest a change to the language from the emphatic which feels emotionalized - "can and does absolutely" is not needed to convey the point. You might say something like: "our physiological window of tolerance changes throughout the day, influenced by numerous variables, conditions, and factors..." The physiology of arousal is complex... and is subject to innumerable body-mind-environment interactions. Circadian factors, interoceptive and exteroceptive (environmental, including neuroception, physical, and social conditions) factors, fluctuating psychophysiological factors (some of which are conditioning/memory states), nutrition/dietary status, sensory integration, patterns, etc. are all going to impact arousal levels. In my teaching I use multiple constructs to convey this - not just window of tolerance but "zone of arousal" and the resilience constructs noted above. The concept of the Yerkes-Dodson stress/performance curve is also useful since arousal and activation is healthy up to a point (eustress, and the point of decline is individual based on the topics in this discussion). In integrative medicine, some people like to look at it from the "energy management of the organism" perspective - it become an art form to learn appraise (recognize) and reappraise (evaluate) one's arousal level and interact with that in both an empowered and nurturing way.  Finally, if you haven't read the paper on the neuroscience of the theoretical construct of window of tolerance, the PDF is available at Research Gate courtesy of the authors, here:

Loving reading everyone's comments! From the Community Resiliency Model perspective, we would definitely say the "window of tolerance" can be affected and change day by day. We call it "The Resilience Zone" or even "Okay Zone," "Zone of Wellbeing." Some people are born with a certain baseline zone size. Or over their life, past events, developed a baseline. But there can also be variation, for instance if under an extremely stressful period, we may feel like our zone is tiny. When we've been "bumped out" of our zone, that's when we may experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, rage, pain, numbness, disconnection, etc. The wellness skills taught in the Community Resilience Model help in 2 ways; to bring someone back into their resilient zone, and to widen their resilient zone.

(The Community Resiliency Model is based out of the Trauma Resource Institute in CA:

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