|By Caterina Spinaris|
A jail CO told me the other day that most people live in the “green light” zone, laid back and expecting no major changes or surprises. If something negative stirs, they go to “yellow.” If things get much worse, they hit “red.” He then added, “For us corrections folk, it’s different. ‘Yellow’ is where we live most of the time, expecting something ugly to come down. We’re on edge. So it takes next to nothing to put us in ‘red.’ I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to live in the ‘green’.”
In corrections, living in the yellow zone is part of the hypervigilance that goes with the job. However, having yellow as your norm can get you in trouble. You may overreact—go red—over small things and look like a fool or worse when it’s all said and done. More often than not, the trigger is an annoyance, like having to wait, or an ego injury, like the perception of being insulted or disrespected.
Another downside to blowing up in “red” fashion is that you make things worse in your relationships, and then you either have to clean up the mess or lose people and privileges in your life. Going “red” also stresses your body. Over time this wears you down physically. Instead of going off when feeling threatened, it’s much preferable to learn to put the brakes on angry outbursts and remain in control.
One way to do that is to learn how to stay S.A.N.E.
This is how S.A.N.E. works.
When we first sense that we are about to be overtaken by anger, we need to Stop. Staying stopped for at least six seconds and taking deep, slow breaths allows for the wave of fight-or-flight chemicals in our brain begin to die down so we can start to reason our way through our situation. Stopping keeps us from reacting blindly and doing or saying things we regret later. Instead of rehashing our angry thoughts, we set them aside long enough to be able to detach from whatever triggered our anger and think more objectively.
While staying stopped, we then Assess what we are telling ourselves about the situation and what we are urged to do. For example, we become aware that we think we are being humiliated, and that we have the urge to attack the other party. Becoming aware helps us make conscious choices about our response to the situation, instead of reacting in knee-jerk fashion.
We do that by reminding ourselves that we (k)Now we have a choice. A highly successful friend of mine likes to say, “The only thing you can control is your response.” We can either react in blind rage or we can choose to respond intelligently after having thought through options and their possible consequences.
Having reminded ourselves that we have a choice, we then proceed to Establish how we want to behave. Hopefully by that point we have cooled down enough to choose to respond in line with our highest values, such as courage, integrity and professionalism.
Once we apply the brakes on reacting in anger through S.A.N.E., we can ask ourselves questions, such as the following, to help us engage in effective problemsolving about our situation.
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