What's Your Anxiety Tolerance Level?

What is an anxiety tolerance level? Anxiety can seem like an insurmountable challenge, a life-halting obstacle. It's typical for people living with any anxiety disorder to feel as though they can't tolerate anxiety at all. The idea of having an anxiety tolerance level beyond zero might seem strange, pointless, or both. However, developing a system for rating your tolerance level for your anxiety can be a very helpful tool for managing and overcoming anxiety.

An anxiety tolerance level refers to the degree to which you feel you can endure or put up with aspects of your anxiety. Rating your tolerance is an active, continual process that helps you break anxiety into bits in order to reduce and even overcome anxiety.

Why Measure Your Anxiety Tolerance Level?

The idea behind rating your anxiety tolerance level is one of empowerment. This is a technique that helps you step above anxiety in order to evaluate it, rate it, and create a plan for systematically overcoming it.

Anxiety can be overwhelming. It takes over our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Its myriad symptoms (Anxiety Disorder Symptoms, Anxiety Disorder Signs) range from irritating to debilitating.

Because of this, it's easy to feel completely consumed by anxiety; accordingly, we catastrophize and feel as though everything is impacted by anxiety and that anxiety controls all of our being as well as our entire life. It feels like anxiety's intensity is almost always high in all situation. This can shut us down.

By thinking in terms of the degree of tolerance we have for anxiety, we can deal with it in bits and take charge of reducing it piece by piece.

How to Use the Anxiety Tolerance Level Tool

In overcoming anxiety, it's very healthy and helpful to clearly define what we can and cannot tolerate. Being specific helps our focus and enhances recovery. These simple steps will help you define your anxiety tolerance level and use it to transcend anxiety.

  1. Become fully aware of your anxiety. Move from vague to specific. Rather than thinking, “I feel anxious,” or “I feel like I might have a panic attack,” think in terms of how you feel and where you feel it. Do you feel physical symptoms? Emotional symptoms? Behavioral symptoms? What is anxiety making you do or preventing you from doing?
  2. Create a list or make a chart of what you notice about your anxiety. Write down everything you notice in the different symptom categories. This helps you untangle yourself from the vague, but all-encompassing, sense of anxiety.
  3. Rate your anxiety tolerance. On a scale of 0-10, with zero being no tolerance at all and 10 being very high tolerance (you notice the symptom, but it’s mild and doesn’t bother you at all), rate your tolerance for each item on your list or in your chart. Highlight the items that are below five. Now you have a starting point to work with.
  4. Pick the aspect of anxiety you tolerate the least and work on it. Take the most bothersome, debilitating aspect of your anxiety and make a plan to overcome it. Let the other aspects of anxiety, those for which you have higher tolerance, just be while you reduce one part of anxiety at a time.

Even the most debilitating anxiety disorder can be overcome. It’s difficult to do so when we’re looking at the big, overwhelming picture. But when we break it down and analyze our tolerance level for each aspect of our anxiety, we can begin to chip away at our anxiety symptoms beginning with what we can tolerate least. Working with your anxiety tolerance level is an effective way to reduce anxiety.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2016, June 2). What's Your Anxiety Tolerance Level?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

June, 5 2016 at 12:08 pm

I would like to learn more about using anxiety tolerance as a tool to relieve anxiety. When you look at the big picture and are in the middle of the strong emotions, it is very difficult to think clearly. Many times it is hard to pinpoint where the anxiety is coming from. It doesn't seem like a specific situation. Some times it's like a car crash pile up. One thing adds to the next and the next until it feels totally out of control. All I know is that it is debilitating, and keeps me from joy and pursuing interests. Yoga, exercise, eating well,therapy, meditation, and prayer haven't been enough. They touch the very tip of the iceberg. It has been a long long road, and I could use more support,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 6 2016 at 8:17 pm

Hi Michele,
I can relate to what you describe, as I have been there before myself. I can confidently say that I think many people have experienced similar anxiety. (Your metaphor of the car crash is very fitting, by the way.) Working with a counselor can be incredibly helpful for all types of anxiety. For what you describe as well as your comment about wanting to learn more about using tolerance as a tool, two counseling approaches in particular are helpful: acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therayp (CBT). When you contact counseling offices for information, you can ask whether the counselor(s) there use ACT or CBT.
In the meantime, your comment reminded me of three specific articles I've posted on the HealthyPlace Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog. I've provided the links in case you might want to check them out.
When Anxiety Strikes Without a Cause:…
Heightened Anxiety for No Reason? Four Ways to Handle It:…
Existential Anxiety, Stress, and Meaning-Making in Your Life:…

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