Window of Tolerance, Stress and The Phoenix Cycle

The Phoenix, a mythical bird who burns up, and from the ashes rises again. My stress cycle reminds me so much of the Phoenix; the stress and friction inside me increase until a point where I’m unable to bring myself back to rest, after such a point the energy spirals out of control in compulsive activity until I burn up. The burning up stage is frustrating, I understand I need rest, I’m not illiterate to my body’s signals but in the frenzied state I’m in my mind will not calm when I lay down to rest; I jump up at the slightest thought of something that needs doing seemingly unable to command control over myself. Once burned up I feel a sense of relief, at last I can rest, but I’m utterly exhausted, a cascade of tears usually signifies the totality of the incineration as I lay like the Phoenix as ashes on a heap in my bed. Gradually from a state of utter destruction where my brain is befuddled and my limbs like lead I can sleep, rest, and gradually come back to a state of functionality again. I make again the vow to pace myself better, rest regularly, recognise the warning signs earlier so I can avoid the next Phoenix cycle.

Let me explain a little, very simply, about the stress response. When we become stressed the body produces an increase of stress hormones, this makes us more alert and ready for the challenge ahead. As we rest the body produces ‘rest’ hormones, now the body can focus on rejuvenation, digestion and sleep. In a healthily functioning person we naturally flow from one state to the other in a day in a balanced way, we get stuff done when necessary, in-between whiles we naturally come down to rest.

So what happens when we come outside our window of tolerance? Above the window of tolerance our stress hormones have increased to a point that is not conducive to constructive activity but has come into a zone we might call ‘stressed-out’; this is anxiety. We have come to a place that our body recognises as a danger zone. Below the window of tolerance we come into a diversely opposite response, one of depression, numbness and lethargy, an inability to function at all.

In a normal healthy person this window of tolerance is wide enough to absorb and tolerate a range of situations, although most people can recognise times when they have felt stressed-out (above their window of tolerance) or a little depressed (below the window of tolerance) these states are often not a daily occurrence and pass by relatively quickly.

In a person who has experienced trauma or dysfunction in their childhood our window of tolerance can become very much reduced. We have experience of the world around us as unsafe. Early on in life we have been in fight or flight mode or playing dead as strategies to survive the life we lived.

I believe I lived in a state that was either over or under my window of tolerance for most of my life. To the world I have been highly functioning and productive, efficient to the last, top student, best employee, bossy, highly talkative but unable to wind down. At home I’ve been tired, depressed, lethargic, avoided social events, struggled to know how to make my energy stretch to the whole day let alone how I will last until the weekend. The trip up high over the threshold of my window of tolerance precedes the crash that leaves me low down below the window in a state of utter exhaustion. I burn up, then end up in ashes, and I will rise again.

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5 thoughts on “Window of Tolerance, Stress and The Phoenix Cycle

  1. Thank you so much for your article every bit of information I get helps me understand a young lady who is living with me. I used to teach emotionally disturbed children but this classifications has many more faucets to it than I am used to dealing with! I am struggling to learn all I can about this as you are struggling with your daily life. Many prayers for you.


    1. Thank you Claire. The young lady living with you is blessed to have someone who is taking the time and effort to learn about what she is struggling with. Prayers and love to you both too.


  2. Thank you for sharing this how you described yourself is exactly how I was until recently that was me like two different people out in the world and at home but I finally cracked and now I’m trying to pick up my pieces thank you for putting in words that I could not find


    1. You are welcome Marion! I left out the fact that I too have completed crashed! Although within the big ashes I’m still managing to have mini phoenix cycles. Some of my other articles describe other parts of my burn out and chronic fatigue experiences.

      Sending you love and prayers to you on your journey. When we break down properly it does give us the opportunity to really look at those pieces and put ourselves back in a more healthy way than before.


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