Mind Your Body

Signs You Are Overwhelming Your Nervous System During Your Workout

A trauma informed personal trainer answers your questions about trauma and exercise

Laura Khoudari
6 min readAug 10, 2021


Group fitness class using therabands
Photo: Geert Pieters / Unsplash

After my book Lifting Heavy Things: Healing Trauma One Rep at a Time came out at the end of May, I was delighted to discover that many people are curious about using exercise as a transformative self-care practice and as a support while working through trauma in therapy.

Over the spring and summer I participated in a number of events with Q&As and gave interviews for articles, podcasts, and radio. There are a couple of questions I got multiple times, and Medium struck me as a great place to answer them for you. I have decided to start a series in which I, a trauma-informed personal trainer, answer your questions about trauma and exercise.

Let’s start with a question that I am often asked: How can someone living with trauma or chronic stress identify that they are becoming overwhelmed in the gym?

This is a great question. A big part of my work is teaching people how to find a balance between working hard and respecting their nervous system’s capacity for stress or arousal. You can refer to this as working within your window of tolerance.

From Lifting Heavy Things: Healing Trauma One Rep at a Time (Lifetree Media, 2021)

The window of tolerance depicts the range of nervous system arousal anyone might experience, from hyper (excessive) arousal to hypo (a lack of) arousal. The middle of the arousal spectrum — the “window of tolerance” for which the model is named — is where you want to be most of the time as you move about your day. The window is the range of nervous system arousal an individual can tolerate without becoming overwhelmed and either hyper- or hypoaroused. Stressors, both good (like healing work and working out) and bad (like arguments and traffic jams) can still occur when you’re within this window, but you are better able to tolerate the discomfort and your responses remain organized.

Why Does It Matter if I Stay in My Window of Tolerance When I Work Out?



Laura Khoudari

Trauma-informed personal trainer and author of Lifting Heavy Things.