Window of Tolerance, in rainbow form! The rainbow depicts optimal functioning, where growth happens. At either end of the rainbow are where you need to be careful. At either side of the rainbow are rainclouds. One raincloud has a flat affect. Underneath this raincloud is written, "Extreme Distress: Slowed breathing, flat affect, dissociation." Above this raincloud is written, "Signs of distress: delayed response, shutting down, emotional withdrawal." On the other side of the rainbow is a raincloud with a dismayed face. Below the raincloud is written, "Extreme distress: hyperventilating, extreme emotion, panic attack." Above this raincloud is written, "Signs of distress: heightened anxiety, difficulty focusing, tears, rapid speech." The rainclouds signify moments where you need to take a break.
© Lindsay Braman – digital download and licensing information below


All of us have some resiliency to cope with challenges. When we face difficult experiences that take us past the range of our ability to tolerate, we tend to split into two categories: those of us who get agitated, and those of us who shut down.

Sometimes, being challenged to venture into the edges of our window of tolerance is okay – it’s how we learn to trust our resources and grow – but the extreme ends of our window of tolerance are where growth, learning, and authentic engagement are impossible. At those extremes, brains neurologically enter a fight/flight/freeze state and can’t grow.

Window of Tolerance - Illustrated by Lindsay Braman

How do we know when to push through difficult conversations or to take a break? By checking in with ourselves and the other. Whether it’s a romantic partner, our own child, a student, client, or co-worker, we can all care a little better for each other by learning to recognize cues that a person is exiting their window of tolerance, entering what mental health professionals call states of Hyperarousal or Hypoarousal, and by finding ways to support their return into the conversation.

Window of Tolerance, in rainbow form! Text written that reads, "Theorized & named by Dr. Dan Siegel" with an arrow pointing at the words "The Window of Tolerance." There is a rainbow with rainclouds drawn underneath these words. Text that reads, "Visually translated by: @LindsayBraman" with an arrow pointing at the rainbow. Underneath the rainbow is written, "From a lecture by Abby Wong, M.A." Find out more on W.O.T. at @AllenderCenter.


Getting flooded emotionally has the effect, within the brain, of literally shutting down the brain processes responsible for self-reflection, considering other viewpoints, complex decision making, etc. Learning in advance the boundaries of our own window of tolerance – and getting familiar with the terrain of our partner’s or children’s emotional capacity – can be a way to prevent this emotional flooding, and create better self-awareness and healthier conflict. Mindful awareness increases our capacity to be intentional about the choices we make in all situations – even highly emotionally-charged ones.


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Window of Tolerance Downloadable PDF

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Dr. Dan Siegel pioneered the concept of Window of Tolerance and writes about it at length in the book The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. According to the emerging research in psychology and neurobiology, our emotions are an important part of how our minds become organized and integrated as we mature.

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According to his theory, a person’s window of tolerance is just one aspect of our emotional reactivity (the felt sense of how we respond to the world around us). Other elements include its intensitysensitivityspecificity, and how long it takes for us to get back to our baseline after being upset. These factors can vary based on our temperament and biological/genetic makeup, but also, significantly, by our attachment history. In other words, the people who have cared for us when we are highly emotional, and whom we have witnessed get emotional, like parents or partners, influence our own ability to regulate our emotions.

Related Articles + Information:

This post is one of my many resources for understanding, teaching about, and growing our Window of Tolerance. Learn more about using the Window of Tolerance as a teaching aid for emotional regulation or download a coloring sheet version of the Window of Tolerance. I’ve also released this resource as a Window of Tolerance in Spanish and developed it into a kid’s Social-emotional learning resource called the Feelings Forecast Emotional Regulation Worsheet.

It’s important to note that Windows of Tolerance can shrink during times of high stress. Visit this article to learn more and see it illustrated through a new doodle.

photograph of an adult and a young child drawing together

Image Text for Screen Readers:

Pressuring individuals to stay engaged in conversation or conflict after they’ve moved beyond their capacity doesn’t help. Instead, take a break and re-engage after the person has had time to regulate. / At optimal arousal, people can learn, cope, and manage their emotions / Signs of distress for hypoarousal-inclined people: Delayed responses – shutting down – emotional withdraw. at the other end of the spectrum (Hyperarousal) signs of distress are Heightened anxiety – difficulty focusing – tears – rapid speech

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