Window of Tolerance

Creating a healthy and sustainable practice

Before we get into the four lessons of this course, we want to acknowledge that we can run into challenges when practicing mindfulness meditation.

Our minds are constantly producing thoughts, and the idea of slowing down and not engaging with them may seem impossible.

Mindfulness practices can expand our capacity to be with all experiences, including difficult ones (e.g., strong emotions or painful memories). You might find yourself caught up in a very negative emotion and wanting to flee, or experience a sense of numbness or freezing; if so, then you may be outside your “window of tolerance”.

The window of tolerance is a tool we can use to help recognize our stress limits, and make choices to adaptively respond to our present experience. We can use it during our mindfulness practices as well as in everyday life, such as when stuck in traffic or in a stressful meeting.

Our window of tolerance is impacted by many factors, from how much sleep we get to what we eat. It’s also impacted by any mental health issues we’re dealing with, like anxiety or depression. If you find yourself outside of your window of tolerance, try not to judge yourself.

The more we practice mindfulness meditation, the more it can expand our window of tolerance, so we can shift back from “flight, fight, or freeze” modes.

Visualizing your window of tolerance

When within our window of tolerance, we are able to take in and learn new information, but when pushed outside of it, it’s much harder to focus and learn anything. 

Fight or Flight Mode
  • Experiencing the urge to flee or leave immediately (from overwhelming images, memories, anxiety, or worries)
Window of Tolerance
  • Able to safely be with and explore your experience, even when uncomfortable or unpleasant
  • Able to learn and take in new information
Freeze Mode
  • Feeling numb or disconnected from yourself or your experience, including thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations [1]

Take a Break if Necessary

It’s important to be able to recognize if/when specific mindfulness practices push us beyond the very boundaries we are trying to expand, and take a break rather than getting discouraged or giving up on developing these skills altogether. 

If you find yourself outside your “window of tolerance”, here are some tips for regaining your composure:

  • Open your eyes, if closed, and take a few deep breaths
  • Stand up and focus on feeling your feet on the ground
  • Take a few sips of a water
  • Shift your attention to other things, like naming five things you can see, hear, and touch, and describing them in detail
  • Take a moment to splash water on your face 

When/if ready, you can then return to your original mindfulness practice or take a longer break with another activity. 

If you keep running into challenges, reach out to a friend or family member to go over some strategies to help you feel centered/grounded. If you have a therapist, you can also ask them for help. 

Lastly, remember that our “window of tolerance” isn’t static. It can change from day to day, and even moment to moment. If we are running on just a few hours of sleep or just had a fight with a friend, our window of tolerance is going to be more narrow.

Over time, with practice, we can gradually expand our window of tolerance, leading to an increased capacity to withstand challenging experiences. It’s like building a new muscle; time and commitment will make these skills stronger. 

Mindfulness practices can help us become the man who keeps his calm and remains steady in the face of adversity, managing negative thoughts or feelings, and responding skillfully to his present circumstances. 

Let’s get started on Lesson 1. Anchoring our Attention.


  1. Adapted from Dr. Dan Siegel (1999), Dr. Pat Ogden et al., (2006), and the Centre for Mindfulness Studies MBSR Curriculum (2019). “Knowing Your Window of Tolerance.”