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In The Zone?

To quote Yogi Berra, “It's getting late early”. Pressure is building. It’s late in the game. Minutes to go. The period is coming to an end. The game is on the line and the climactic moment is approaching. Heart rates are soaring, breathing is difficult and thinking becomes a strain. Suddenly all hell breaks loose. Chaos is descending on the court. The players are free falling down a rabbit hole made of quicksand. They have entered a dimension between now and then. It is a place where the mind has lost all relevancy. They have entered, the Danger Zone!

Suddenly, as if Gabriel’s trumpet has sounded, a whistle is heard, a coach’s voice is heard above all the din, a shining light of comfort is calling out to the players. Time Out!

The players are gathered in. They are escorted to a seat. Towels and water are dispensed. Breathing is encouraged. Clearer thought is slowly returning. They struggle to enter, the Safety Zone!

In my former practice, whether I was treating stress or anger management, there was a constant struggle between falling into the danger zone and finding the safety zone. In our current time of life we are being bombarded by danger zone thinking: catastrophizing and blaming. Oh my god we’re all going to get sick and die! Social strife is breaking out all around us! People are turning against each other and killing each other! Who can I believe? Who can I trust? What is true? Whose fault is it? When will it all end?

In my previous blog entries, I have repeatedly stressed that how we think or believe is the root cause of our feelings and behavior. Danger zone thinking elicits the instinctive and dramatic flight or flight response. As a response to a perceived threat, we pump more adrenaline into our body and our mind eventually collapses into tunnel vision. The longer one stays in this state, the more one exhausts the body’s ability to function. In time we become overwhelmed and depressed.

Often when someone is in the danger zone, they have a tendency to rush forward towards more danger and create even more serious inappropriate actions. Adrenaline is helpful when there is real danger but usually our perceptions are false alarms, not life threatening events. Even in times of real concern, danger zone thinking is far from helpful. Although the immediate burst of energy could save one’s life, cooler heads are needed to eventually prevail.

I often taught my patients to seek a safety zone as a first step when confronting stress or anger. A safety zone is a space or area to pull back to and collect ourselves. When you sense your body overly reacting, it is important to find a safety zone . There are four steps to gain access to the safety zone. Stop, Step back, Breathe and Think.

Stop listen to your body. Don’t rush into it. Step back from the actual area to find a place to calmly collect yourself. Give yourself some space to work it out. Breathe keep your body loose, don’t tense up. Take 3–5 minutes to work at calming and slowing your breath to allow more oxygen to get into your system. Think, is it really horrible awful and terrible (HAT)? I don’t like but I can stand it. Do I need to make trouble for myself? What can I do about it?

A safety zone does not always involve a physical space to withdraw to. It can be a mental withdrawal. We can say a prayer, chant a mantra, hum a tune or just listen to our breathing. As I have studied psychology, yoga, mediation and religions I have found that this is a common aspect. In these domains people are taught to take a mental or spiritual moment to collect one’s beliefs. Whichever domain you adhere to, they each help people to gain control over antagonistic negative thoughts (ANTS). If you lose control of your mind you will lose control over your body. To get your mind back you need to get your body back first. When your your body is at rest your mind functions best.

A competent coach or manager keeps aware of how their players are behaving. Like a good adult thinking parent, they sense when they lose focus and are out of control. They try to create a safety zone. Be it calling a timeout or a short walk to the mound, they are trying to buy some time to settle their players down. Just like a competent parent helping to calm their children down.

In a country when events become heated, we need good adult thinking leadership to help citizens to settle down. Once we are calmer, it is the job of the manger or political representative to formulate with the players /citizens a good plan of action. When a manager fails in this task they are replaced. When an elected representative, from the president down, fails in this same task they can and need to be replaced.

It is the role of management to give players hope. It should also be the role of our elected leaders to give hope to its citizens.

Dr. Mike

Clinical psychologist 45 years in practice. Worked with children and adults. Love nature, hiking, photography and drums. Retired living in DC.

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