What Is Your Window of Tolerance?

Jan 26, 2022

Bhanu Joy Harrison, LCSW, SEP, Adjunct Faculty Member
Navigating Trauma​: Mindful Skills to Enhance Safety & Regulation

As we all know, there is a tremendous level of stress in the world at large right now.  Trauma is showing up in many areas of our lives and in the lives of our clients.  How do we navigate in this world right now, to attend to our balance and regulation?

The window of tolerance, a concept developed by Dan Siegel (1999), is defined as a zone that exists between the extremes of hyper and hypo-arousal. It is the zone of optimal arousal or readiness for life or focus for the activity at hand.  Dysregulated arousal, swinging uncontrollably between hyper and hypo-arousal, is exhausting and occurs when we are overwhelmed or traumatized.

The window of tolerance is a helpful mindfulness and coaching tool to increase awareness and self-regulation. Our body provides cues signaling when we are in or out of our window. Understanding these cues and choosing appropriate activities and practices helps us stay in our window.

‘Embodying resources’ is a skill to help bring us back to our window of tolerance (Levine, 1997). A resource can be any activity, interaction, quality (faith, perseverance, strength) that creates a sense of connection, calm and safety. Talking with friends, going for a walk, meditating, cooking, dancing, creating art, and noticing beauty around us are a few examples of resources that can nourish our nervous system.

Practicing any of these activities can reduce stress and decrease burnout while adding richness and depth to life experiences. When dysregulated and out of our window, it can be difficult to think of resources, so it is good practice to write a personalized list beforehand. For example, a client was overwhelmed with grief over the sudden death of her husband. She was distraught, had difficulty concentrating, and was exhausted from crying. Upon the suggestion of creating a resource list, she wrote down activities she could do when she got too dysregulated from grief. She put these in a Mason jar on her dining room table with a taped image of an orange life jacket. When needed, she would reach in and pull out a strip of paper with a resource and do that activity. ‘Drink some water’. ‘Look at the sky’. ‘Take a deep breath’. ‘Put your hand on your heart’. She felt like she put on her lifejacket of resources to ride the tsunami of grief without getting pulled under. This process gave her strength to go through the grieving process and over time, increased her ability to function.

Embodying resources not only builds resilience, it helps bring us back into our window of tolerance and greater ventral vagal activity, mitigating some of the harmful effects of trauma.

Over time, ‘taking in the good’ can rewire the brain and help override the brain’s innate response to attend more to negative or traumatic experiences, the negativity bias. The key is to pay attention to the body sensations arising from these resources , not just think about them. Paying attention to sensations is the doorway into regulation and a more balanced ventral vagal state.

Practice: Bring a resource to mind.  Imagine that you are actually in that experience.  Flesh out the sensory details: what environment are you in, who is with you, what is the quality of sound or light and so on.  Next, notice what begins to happen in your body when you imagine this resource.  Does your breath change?  Is your heart rate different?  What’s happening in your muscles or your belly?  Stretch out the goodness of these sensations for at least 12-16 seconds. This practice will enhance your neuroplasticity and help you mitigate the effects of stress and trauma in your life.  

Navigating Trauma​: Mindful Skills to Enhance Safety & Regulation


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Posts


[Right Speech] highly resonated with me and my current needs for growth. I cannot be more thankful for the support of this community, and our instructor Meg…With the guidance and support of the Mindfulness Coaching School I can see that I am closer to a life of purpose and meaning. Thank you Ann-Marie, instructors and fellow coaching students for creating this wonderful community.
Ruby OrcuttStudent CoachDerby, NY
The course [S-T-R-E-T-C-H!] allowed me to ‘stretch’ my ability to practice what I preach. Philip was very competent and helpful to all of us. It was a great experience. Thank you Ann-Marie, Philip, and Brittany!
ElKhansa KaicerStudent CoachLos Angeles, California
Business Alchemy helped me grow into and clarify my purpose in coaching. I was able to create the story of me that brought me to where I am and my passion to inspire others on their journey. Ann-Marie’s guidance through understanding service marketing was heartening, powerful and inspiring. Sarah’s encouragement and gentle way of pulling the essence of us to the surface was spectacular! Thank you both, as well as my fellow students, for an incredible experience! And I’m getting clients!
Brenda FaganStudent CoachNew Orleans, LA
Fabulous course to get you into or back into writing fearlessly and joyfully! [Writing, Creativity, and the Mindful Coach]
Lara AbreuStudent CoachPleasanton, CA
This class will give you a coaching community in just a few short months. I now feel that I have colleagues and a support system that I can reach out to in times of need. So grateful for having the chance to know these remarkable individuals.
Alicia UpchurchStudent CoachBrooklyn, New York
I’ve been a therapist for years now, but still get the jitters every time I begin to work with a new client (probably the “fixer” in me). It was a joy to watch Ann-Marie in action [during Skillful Means: The Coaching Skill Set] and realize that we don’t need to feel like we have all the answers for the client!
Jeanna SmithStudent CoachPhoenix, AZ
I highly recommend Business Alchemy if you want to learn practical and specific advice and tools to establish and grow your coaching business! This course helped me go from skeptical and uncertain to energized and equipped to create the thriving coaching business that I want for myself and my clients!
Matt WaldschmidtStudent CoachBruce Township, MI
More than just a class to help us eat more mindfully, Mindful Eating, Mindful Life is a great class for anyone interested in the topic, anyone with a desire to practice mindfulness in a new way and for anyone wanting to dust off or deepen their meditation practice. The course and materials may seem small, but they are so expansive. Thanks to Brittany for bringing this topic alive and for the school for providing such an amazing course in mindfulness.
Gretchen LarsenMCS GraduateBirmingham, AL
The Dynamic Trio: EMDR, Positive Psychology and Coaching, is a wonderful opportunity for professionals to learn varied techniques and practical applications for including an integrative approach into both their professional practices and personal lives. As a behavioral health therapist, LADAC, EMDR practitioner, yoga instructor, and health educator I found this class and Ann-Marie’s expertise and teaching methods both inspirational and mindfully practical. I look forward to further classes with Ann-Marie. Thank you!  
Misty Gay McArthurMSW, LCSW, LADAC, EMDR Trained
This course [Skillful Means] is life changing personally and professionally. Skills are not only learned, but internalized so that the coach can be an effective listener. I would highly recommend this to any coach — experienced or a beginner.
Sandy Wright, M.A.Student CoachFayetteville, AR