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Staying S.A.N.E.
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 09/07/2009

Stoplights 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.
  • What feels threatened here? Is it my or my loved ones’ physical safety, health, reputation, career, finances, relationships, independence or purpose?
  • Is the threat real or could I be misreading the situation?
  • How serious is the threat?
  • Am I taking things too personally?
  • Is this worth confronting or not?
  • What additional information do I need to have before confronting?
  • What is my part in this, if any, that I may need to take responsibility for?

If you determine that there has been a “trespass” by another person against you, you have several options. You may choose to confront the situation. If that’s the case, do your homework. Have your facts ready and do not blame or attack. (More on that in another article.) In other situations the stressor may be out of your control, such as when your supervisor is gone often due to family problems and you are carrying both your load and theirs. When that happens, opt for healthy ways to compensate for the aggravation, such as treating yourself frequently to “refueling” activities, like going for a motorcycle ride, fishing or reading a great book.

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  4. Kellie on 09/08/2009:

    Terrific information!!! If you have worked in Corrections for any period of time you do indeed live in the "yellow" normally. Most people do not understand and for the most part will never understand this. It just does not seem to be something that you can turn off without trying. It is unhealthy to live life at "yellow", think Diatbetes, heart problems, sleep problems and the like. The S.A.N.E. method is great and I will use it. (I could have used it this weekend) I find that activities that force you to single task lowers that state to green if even for a short time. I scuba dive, knit, read and run. I find really hard workouts if even for 30 minutes drops me into that green for a long period of time because I forget my job for a while and focus either on how beautiful the sites were or what I have accomoplished. Simply forcing yourself to become a tourist can also work. Remember.....we are not our job, the outside world is not trying to harm us or our family, your neighbors are not against you. Leave it at work and you will be much happier! I also try not to socialize with people that only want to rehash work or tell war stories. Oh, I also do not tell others what I do for a living unless pressed. I usually say "wildlife management". We tend to be the center of attention because our job is novel.

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