Have you ever had a really bad day?

Did you feel super angry and ready to punch a wall?

A man repeatedly punches a hole in a wall while saying OW.

Were you so tired that you completely shut down and found yourself staring absently at that same wall?

Stewie stares blankly while rocking in his crib.  

In both cases, something happened to push you outside of your window of tolerance.

What is a Window of Tolerance?

Developed by Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry, the window of tolerance describes the best state in which we're able to function and thrive in everyday life.

A woman is shown in three emotional states: angry and scared, calm, and tired.

When we exist within this window of tolerance, we're able to learn, work, and relate well to ourselves and others effectively.

However, if you're triggered by something inside or outside of you, then you might move away from that window.

When that happens, you can become hyper-aroused and lash out or run, or hypo-aroused and shut down.

What Are Your Triggers?

A trigger is something that causes something else to happen.

Newton's Cradle. Five balls on strings in a row hit each other repeatedly.

A defense trigger is something that happens to you or inside of you that causes you to emotionally react.

Internal Trigger

Triggers can happen inside of you, such as a negative thought.

Rey from Star Wars says,

External Trigger

Triggers can also happen outside of you, such as a customer yelling at you. A man yells into an old phone handset angrily.

What Are Your Reactions?

If you're within yourwindow of tolerance, you feel calm and secure, and able to deal with your emotionaltriggers and face any problems effectively.

A calm woman in front of a window. The text reads,

If you are pushed outside of your window of tolerance, you might react in one or more of the following ways:

  • Fight

  • Flee (run away)

  • Freeze


This is the fight or flight response to a defense trigger. 

When this happens, you might get very angry and shout or behave aggressively.

One man points angrily at another man, who is scared.

Or, you might run away.

Monty Python knights run away scared.


This is the freeze response to a defense trigger. 

Kenan Thompson looks scared.

When this happens, you might dissociate and stop responding completely, or forget where you are or what you were doing.

Practice: Stellan's Story

Help Stellan find his window of tolerance.

Stellan’s partner just asked him if he wanted coffee. He responded negatively by yelling and stomping out of the house.

Man points at door angrily and leaves, closing it.


What should Stellan do to recognize why he reacted and behaved this way? Select all that apply.

How to Find Your Window of Tolerance

Find your own window of tolerance in a place where you can face challenges calmly and respond effectively.

A woman writes her thoughts and feelings in a journal.

Think of a time when you felt angry, scared, sad, excited, or experienced another intense emotion.

Now, follow these steps:

A man searches through a telescope.

#1 Notice Your Reactions

Emotions and reactions can happen fast! How are you feeling?

Try to noticeyour reactions:

  • Tension in your body

  • Irritation at minor inconveniences

  • An increase in energy

Example: Dani noticed that her shoulders were hunched up close to her neck.

Happy, sad, angry, and numb faces on a person's head.

#2 Name Your Emotions

What are you feeling? Try to identify your emotions.

Emotions or feelings could include:

  • Anger

  • Sadness

  • Excitement

Example: Dani noticed that her shoulders were hunched up close to her neck because she felt nervous.

A happy face and a sad face balanced on a scale.

#3 Rate Your Emotions

How sad, angry, numb, or calm are you feeling on a scale of 1 (mildest) to 5 (strongest)?

Ratings could look like this:

  • Anger (1)

  • Sadness (5)

  • Excitement (3)

Example: Dani noticed that her shoulders were hunched up close to her neck because she felt nervous. Her nervousness felt worse than usual, at level 2 or 3.

An person looks confused and asks questions.

#4 Identify the Cause

Can you remember what made you feel this way?

Triggers could be:

  • A customer yelling at you

  • Your friend forgetting to text you back

  • Remembering an uncomfortable conversation

Example: Dani noticed that her shoulders were hunched up close to her neck because she felt nervous. Her nervousness, or fear, was at level 2 or 3 because she remembered that her term paper is due in 2 weeks.

#5Keep Track and Journal

A red journal is open and a pencil is ready to write.

Dani has reached the last step!

Example: She writes, "Today, I noticed that I felt pretty nervous when I remembered that my term paper was due in 2 weeks. I have to work on it so I can hand it in on time!"

Dani noticed her fear response, acknowledged it, figured out why she was scared, and made a plan to address the trigger — her term paper.

Writing your triggers, reactions, and emotions in a journal over timecan help you find trends and identify what keeps you inside of — and pushes you outside of — your window of tolerance.

Practice: Angel's Story

Angel works from home. They're having trouble focusing on their tasks today.

Person sits at a computer desk holding their head in their hands. Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

They feel like they're on a hamster wheel, going through the same motions over and over.

While on lunch break, Angel decides to write in their journal.

"I can't focus today. I'm so very bored with this work!"


Which of the following sentences will best complete this journal entry to help Angel find their window of tolerance?

Take Action

Finding and staying within your window of tolerance can help you face life’s challenges more effectively and live a healthier, happier life.

A woman sits calmly, cross-legged in front of a sunny window and a plant.

Practice following these 5 steps to discover your window of tolerance:

You can also learn how to expand your window of tolerance.


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