What is Your Personal Bandwidth?

Measuring & Managing Your Mental & Emotional Capacity

What is Your Personal Bandwidth?

By Joy Ryan, President/CEO of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch/Dakota Family Services

I was listening to a speaker a few months ago, and he was talking about how it is almost a status symbol in today’s workplace to be overwhelmed by projects, input, decisions, information, and policies. Outside the workplace, there will also always be things that cause people to be overwhelmed by even more input, decisions, and information.

The speaker suggested that a more successful approach was to measure and respect our own “personal bandwidth.”

What is Personal Bandwidth?

Personal bandwidth refers to the amount of mental and emotional space that a person has available to process information and make decisions.

Put another way, it’s similar to a water pipe system. Too small a pipe, you have crummy water pressure in the shower. Too large a pipe, water settles and stagnates. Same with bandwidth.

Bandwidth is the pipeline that carries technology from us to the outer world, and from the outer world to us.

Narrow bandwidth means slow processing, or a complete overload and shutdown of the system. Wide bandwidth, beyond what you need, means you are not using all your resources.

The speaker’s point was that we all have a personal bandwidth, too. Each of us is able to take in a certain amount of information, process it, understand it, make decisions and move on. If we overload our personal capacity we get bogged down, or shut down completely. If we have great capacity, and limit input, we may be bored and feel under-utilized.

Measuring & Respecting Your Capacity

Of course, as a human being I thought of myself first and where I'm at in terms of capacity… but then I quickly moved to thinking about the kids and adults we see at Dakota Family Services. Many of them are trauma survivors. They have had to develop strong sensory skills to keep themselves safe… it is called hyper-vigilance. They are constantly on high alert, taking in the information around them to measure their security.  At the same time as they are driven to take in so much, they often have very narrow personal bandwidth. They have not been taught coping skills, they don’t trust, they may not have faith, and they haven’t learned about good decision making.

When people take in lots of information and have no way to process it, it all becomes too much for their capacity. They either blow up or shut down…just like when our technology is overloaded.

Managing Your Response to Challenges

We don't usually talk about it this way, but maybe one way of thinking about our work at Dakota Family Services is that we help kids and adults manage their personal bandwidth.  Through personal therapy, we help people expand their personal bandwidth. We teach them how to cope when there is too much external stimuli, and how to challenge themselves when there is too little. They learn to choose their responses. They find peace.

Now more than ever, we are all taking in lots of information we don't know how to process. It is important to be aware of our own limits and to practice self-care. By taking care of ourselves, we can help ensure that we have the energy and focus that we need to meet the demands of our day-to-day lives.

My wish is that we can all learn to choose our responses and find peace—both in the midst of crisis and beyond.

If you are struggling with your own personal bandwidth, consider seeing an outpatient therapist. A mental health professional can help you find peace in the midst of your life circumstances.

We've also created a list of mental health resources to support parents, children, and adults in many areas.


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For additional support, visit our Mental Health Resources page for a comprehensive guide to resources and information for parents, children, teens, and adults.

Dakota Family Services

This content was reviewed by the mental health clinicians at Dakota Family Services, a group of compassionate, practiced experts providing outpatient care for children, adolescents, and adults with behavioral health concerns.

Dakota Family Services is a highly trusted and respected outpatient clinic providing psychology, psychiatry, and therapy in North Dakota. Our community of compassionate mental health professionals help children, adolescents, and adults improve their overall mental health and well-being through a personalized approach, trusted expertise, and unconditional presence. We offer in-office counseling in Fargo and Minot and online therapy for those who prefer to meet from the comfort of their own home. To schedule an appointment, or to learn more, call 800-201-6495.