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  • Writer's pictureGina Behm, MA, LCPC

The "Cut Off" Point Pt. 1: How You Know You're There

Hi y’all! Today I am sharing with you part one of a two part post about how to know when you’ve hit your “cut off” point.  To start, let's talk about what exactly I mean when I say “cut off '' point. Imagine yourself hiking up a mountain, and there are two potential paths to take.  You are feeling adventurous, so decide to take the path that looks a bit more narrow & not as walked on. You are halfway down the path and notice that in order to keep going, you have to climb or shimmy or somehow get across a VERY narrow ledge. You are already a little afraid of heights, and to be honest, you’re not in your best athletic shape. Thinking about trying to cross this ledge has you scared beyond belief, and you’ve got a decision to make. THIS my friends, is a visual analogy of your cut off point.  I define hitting your cut off point to be when you hit your emotional limit or exceed your window of tolerance; a line that if you cross, there could be some pretty serious consequences.

What kind of consequences you ask? ALL the consequences: mental, physical, relational, financial, you name it.  When we wear ourselves too thin we become unreliable in relationships and at work. We become groggy, foggy and often neglect our own needs. So many positive aspects of our lives are dependent on us not crossing our cut off points.

Okay, okay Gina, I get it!!! Crossing my cut off point is a bad vibe. Then tell me how not to do it!

. . .

Patience my friends; that is part two of this post. For now, we are going to talk about how to recognize if you’ve reached your cut off point, because that is step one.


The following five things are excellent indicators of having reached (or having already crossed) your cut off point. It is imperative you are able to be aware of and recognize the following in yourself: 

  • Physiological body changes: Our emotions are often expressed through our bodies; professionals didn’t come up with the mind-body connection out of nowhere, y'all. What are YOUR bodily symptoms for anxiety? Increased heart rate, tensed up tummy, jaw clenching, lightheadedness? Whatever it is, you need to know it. And then once you do, recognize when they are happening and heed your body’s warning. It is telling you to slow down or change direction. 

  • Difficulty concentrating/Confusion: When our brain registers that we are in danger, it goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. Danger could be an alligator on the side of the road ready to eat us, or it could be something less obvious, like not having enough to eat that day or a big project at work that a promotion is riding on. Often times, if we continue trying and function as usual in everyday life when our brain has registered this danger, we find that we cannot really fully focus on anything else, no matter how hard we try. If you are finding yourself unable to keep track of things or your memory is worse than usual, this could be an indicator that you have crossed or are very near your cut off point. 

  • Trouble sleeping/Fatigue: If you are all of a sudden unable to fall asleep, stay asleep or are exhausted when you wake up, you’ve likely toed, if not crossed, the ledge. Sleep is the time our brain is able to rest and process the events of our day. Again, if our brain is perceiving danger, it is not going to allow you this down time, because it needs you to be on high alert. 

  • Feeling on Edge/Irritability: I know I am on edge when I start to get jumpy at things that aren’t that out of the ordinary; If someone pops their head in my office to say hi and I jump out of my skin, I take this as a sign that I need to take a break and figure out what is going on. Another way to identify if you are “on edge” is irritability. Are you snapping at people you don’t usually snap at? Are you quick to anger or blame? Gossiping more than usual? These are all signs that you are off your game and likely near your cut off point.

  • Increased isolation: Sometimes alone time is exactly what we need to rejuvenate, and sometimes, we are isolating because we cannot even bear to think about being with other humans. If you have reached the point where the idea of leaving your home or speaking to someone else feels like it will cause you to collapse or explode, check in on your cut off point. Another assessment of this is if you start feeling guilty about saying no to people and events. When engagements begin to feel like obligations, it is time to back off. 

A final note-worthy thing about cut-off points: Not everyone has the same one. Let’s return to our mountain climbing visual. While I may not be able to cross that ledge, my friend may be able to, and that is MORE than okay. Just because one person is able to do something without compromising their cut off point, doesn’t mean you should be able to too! Maybe now you are thinking, “Well, that just means my friend is stronger than I am”.  I’ll let you in on a little secret; my mountain climbing example is a real life story from yours truly. In 2017 I was climbing Camelback Mountain in Arizona with a pair of friends, one of whom was able to climb over the ledge, the other of whom was able to shimmy across it. I thought about it, began to attempt it, and decided this was not where I wanted to die; I had hit both my physical and mental cut off point. I turned around and met them back on the main path after taking the other route. Did I feel weak at that moment? You bet. But here is the funny thing. The next day we spent 8+ hours at a golf tournament. One of those friends asked multiple times if we could find somewhere to sit because she was sore & exhausted, while I was able to enjoy the tournament all day with ease. Maybe she crossed her cut off point, or MAYBE we just have different strengths. She can climb a narrow ledge, and I can stand for hours on end! The purpose of this example is not to say whose cut off point is better, but to help you see that no matter what YOUR cut off point is, we all have them. Whatever it is, it needs to be respected, or you will find yourself falling down a slippery slope (or mountain!), and doing a lot more damage than good.

Stay tuned for part two of this post to figure out what to do if you find yourself at your cut-off point or if you’ve already crossed it. We can’t all be perfect all the time, and if you’re still reading this post, I’m willing to bet it’s because you can relate to pushing your own emotional limits. Not to fear, nothing in this realm is unfixable with a little bit of effort :)

-xo, gina

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