What is the yellow zone
In the first lesson we learnt that the yellow zone is our mobilisation response, where we can often feel anxious, agitated, tense or overwhelmed. This is the sympathetic activation of the autonomic nervous system, which responds to danger and unease by increasing our heart rate, tensing the muscles, and preparing our body for action through the release of adrenaline.
Here our nervous system is hyper-aroused - our minds are alert and more attuned to signals of danger, our bodies are braced and ready to spring into action, and we feel “wired” or unable to “switch off”.
Why it does this
In terms of our evolution, this part of the nervous system is older than the social engagement system - it evolved in both mammals and reptiles as a way to survive by fighting or running away. This is what we know as our “fight or flight” response, and when our nervous system senses danger this system takes over without our conscious control. It developed in this way so that we can immediately take action to protect ourselves without having to think about it.
Once we find ourselves in this state it can take a bit of time to settle back down. And if we don't know how to discharge that active energy, or we’re constantly exposed to stress that’s too overwhelming for us, we might find that we’ve actually become stuck in this hyper-aroused or “activated” nervous system state.
Signs of the yellow zone
What it might feel like in the body:
Pain/tightness in chest
Shortness of breath
Feeling a knot in the gut
Need to go to the toilet more
Tight feeling in throat
Face feels hot/flushed
Feeling 'wired' or on edge
Strong startle reflex
Difficulty making decisions
Feeling nervous or powerless
Thoughts when you’re in the Yellow zone might sound like:
“I’m not good enough”
"I have to be perfect"
“I’m so stupid”
“I’m going to mess up”
“Everyone has to like me”
“I’m a burden. I shouldn’t speak up/ask that”
"The world is a dangerous place"
“Do my friends think I’m weird?”
“I should be better/more successful“
“I shouldn’t be feeling this way”
“What if there is something wrong with me?”
“No-one else worries about these things. Why can’t I just be normal?”
"What if I say the wrong thing?!"
“Everyone is looking at/judging me”
“I need to make others happy, even if it’s at my expense”
Noticing when we get stuck
While being in this zone can feel very overwhelming or unpleasant, it’s also important to remember that it serves a purpose. It protects us from danger, keeps us moving, and prevents us from going further down the ladder into a shut down or collapse response.
We’re not trying to say the yellow zone is a “bad” place that needs to be avoided.
What we do want to be mindful of, is if we notice ourselves going into the yellow zone at times when it doesn’t feel necessary or isn’t helpful for us, or if we start to feel like we’re getting stuck in there. Staying in a chronic state of hyper-arousal can impact our health, and prevent us from being able to be present in our daily lives.
Just like with the green zone, being aware of these signs and signals of the yellow zone is the first step toward being able to regulate the nervous system and find more flexibility and balance between these zones.
This lesson talked about the basics of what the yellow zone is and what that might look or feel like for you.
For more information, strategies, and exercises that can help you cope when you find yourself in this zone, check out the yellow zone section of the 'Cope' course.