Why Am I So Sensitive? Expanding Your Window of Tolerance (Part 2)

Are you ready to learn ways to reduce your sensitivity and expand your window of tolerance? Dr. Monica Johnson, the Savvy Psychologist, explains how in Part Two of this episode.

Dr. Monica Johnson
4-minute read
Episode #384

Listen to Part One of this episode.

After listening to last week's episode, I'm hoping you spent some time thinking about whether you are more hyper or hypoaroused and how narrow your window of tolerance may be.

In this episode, we'll focus on ways to expand your window of tolerance so that you can be engaged in life instead of triggered by it.

Safety versus novelty

In order to reach this goal, we must first find the middle path between safety and novelty. These are two human needs that require the right balance in order for our window of tolerance to expand and be sufficient for us to engage in life in rewarding ways.

Let’s first define safety. Safety is our need for predictability, protection, relaxation, security, and connectedness to others. We also have a natural need for novelty. This is our thrill-seeking side that craves unpredictability, risk, and excitement. We want to encounter things that are different from our norm to shake it up and keep life interesting.

Like most things in life, when we have too much or too little of something it doesn’t bode well for us. When a person tries to avoid risk at all times to maximize safety, it prevents them from growing. Most growth requires a bit of friction—thus the adage "no pain, no gain."

Healthy risks are necessary for a healthy life. Negative self-talk can lead us to react poorly to healthy challenges and changes or inhibit us from taking risks. For example, thoughts like “ I don’t deserve success” or “I’m not allowed to make any mistakes” and “If I try, I know I’ll fail" are examples of negative self-talk that can prevent us from growing.

On the other hand, when someone craves too much novelty, it can lead them to engage in impulsive risks. Impulsive risks often lead to unintended negative consequences. Examples of impulsive risks may include overspending, substance abuse, and dropping personal or social responsibilities to the detriment of relationships.

Broadly speaking, to expand your window of tolerance, you must seek a middle path between safety and novelty. You can begin to do this by practicing taking appropriate risks and being open to new experiences.

A risk is considered healthy if you’ve considered the potential consequences of the activity from your wise mind. In doing so, you can expand your window of tolerance gradually over time and use coping strategies to cope with unpleasant emotions or sensations related to trying a new activity.

When approaching a new situation, be mindfully aware of any avoidance patterns that show up. Oftentimes, we will come up with excuses for why the risk is too much. This is our emotional mind kicking in and encouraging us to engage in familiar patterns. Familiarity will always feel good in the short term, but you will find that you become increasingly frustrated in the long term as you won’t see yourself improve.

It is important to act opposite to these emotional urges and to move forward with the novel situation. Remind yourself that it is normal to experience anxiety when you’re trying something for the first time and are uncertain of the outcome. The emotions you’re experiencing are linked to your hyper or hypoaroused state. If you act on the urges associated with these states, it may actually make your window of tolerance narrower, when what you want to do is widen it.

Understand your why

A recurring theme in my podcast episodes is to understand your why. This is especially important when trying to expand your window of tolerance. There will be moments where it will feel easier to give in to your hyper or hypoarousal, so you want to remember why you are putting yourself in discomfort.

I’m going to help you out by letting you know some of the benefits of taking healthy risks. When you expand your window of tolerance, it allows you to experience and effectively cope with a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative. This is fantastic because it allows you to have emotions like elation and joy while simultaneously being able to deal with low emotions like despair, boredom, and anger without acting out.

Many find that when they can approach life with less fear and avoidance they bring more color to their lives. They can strike a balance between the routines that we need to support our daily grind and the novelty needed to be inspired and have fun in life.

Additionally, if we approach previously neglected areas of our lives or work on improving skill deficits, we can expand our capabilities both professionally and personally. Have you been wanting to switch careers, but are talking yourself out of taking those coding classes? Or have you been wanting to take up a new hobby, like scuba diving, but are avoiding the lessons?

See how these types of behaviors can limit our potential?

The beauty of this process is that mistakes will happen and when you recover from those mistakes, you can grow as a person and trust in your abilities to recuperate even when things don’t go as planned. I am a fan of Barre classes and one of the things they often say is “embrace the shake.” One of the ways you build muscle endurance is through pushing yourself to the limit and holding on a bit longer than you thought you could. In that vein, embrace the mistakes! A small failure here or there could be what you need to get to the finish line.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Dr. Monica Johnson

Dr. Monica Johnson is a clinical psychologist and owner of Kind Mind Psychology, a private practice in NYC that specializes in evidenced based approaches to treating a wide range of mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders). Additionally, she has a focus on working with marginalized groups of people including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and alternative lifestyles to manage minority stress. She is also dedicated to contributing to her field professionally through speaking, training, supervision, and writing. She routinely speaks at conferences, provides training and workshops at organizations, supervises mental health trainees, and co-authored a book for professionals on addressing race-based stress in therapy.

Dr. Johnson earned her bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina, completed her Psy.D. at the Arizona School of Professional Psychology, and completed her postdoctoral training year at Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, TN. She currently lives in Manhattan where she indulges in horror movies, sarcasm, and intentional introversion. You can find her on Instagram and online at kindmindpsych.com

Got a question that you'd like Dr. Johnson to answer on Savvy Psychologist? You can send her an email at psychologist@quickanddirtytips.com or leave a voicemail for the Savvy Psychologist listener line by calling (929) 256-2191‬.