Have you ever had trouble identifying your own emotional state? A lot of people have! The truth is that understanding and making sense of what you feel isn’t easy. However, it’s crucial for effective functioning, making the right decisions, getting along better with others, and just knowing yourself better.
You might think that determining your emotional state seems like a normal process, but people often find it difficult to answer even simple questions like “how are you feeling?”. What’s worse, there is a specific term “alexithymia” in psychology to describe people who have difficulties describing and expressing their emotions. Even though it’s not a mental health disorder, alexithymia is linked to psychological problems (Leweke et al., 2012).
This means that having trouble determining your emotional state might cause a threat to your psychological well-being, not to mention problems in everyday functioning. And if this situation sounds familiar, then it’s time to learn how to easily determine your emotional state and become aware of your feelings.
So, let’s discuss the Stoplight Strategy, find out how exactly this strategy can help you determine your emotions, and briefly review other useful techniques, such as TIPPS strategies and the ACT method too.
The Stoplight Strategy
The Stoplight strategy is indeed the most useful strategy for individuals who struggle to determine what they feel. This practical strategy is based on the Zones of the Regulation framework (Kuypers, 2011), which aims to help people develop a metacognitive pathway in order to become aware of their emotions. Research proves that this strategy is effective for improving self-regulation and behavior (Romanowycz et al., 2021). As a result, determining the exact zone you’re in at a given moment might help you get a better understanding of your inner state.
Respectively, the Stoplight Strategy is used to determine what zone you are in and whether you need to deploy any strategies. Your emotional condition varies depending on whether you’re in a green, yellow, or red state.
So here is the new and improved version of the Stoplight Strategy!
Once you learn to regulate your body, you will be able to self-correct anxiety, panic, and stress faster than any drug.
Green light means you’re calm, good to go, with no problems. People who are in green are likely to experience happiness and contentment since this zone describes a calm state. When in the green, you feel good, balanced, centered, and calm. Thus, green light is optimal for starting something new and developing innovative ideas. It means “go ahead.”
Once moving into the yellow, you can start to feel your body getting revved up. The first signs of stress or anxiety are starting to set in. A yellow light represents a time to slow down. Anxiety or stress may be creeping up and we need to proceed with caution. The reason is that the yellow light is an alert. When you’re in this zone, you might experience stress, anxiety, or frustration. So, if you’re in a yellow state, you should “wait and see.”
And then the red, which is full of panic, anxiety, or stress. A red light simply represents a crisis state. Stop. Don’t go any further. Why? Because it’s a state of extreme alertness and you’re likely to experience intense emotions such as anger, rage, devastation, and even terror. That’s why it means “stop right now.”
Tips for Each State
Being either in the green, yellow, or red zone is completely normal. That’s because we’re human beings, our emotions quickly change, and sometimes we even experience multiple emotions at the same time.
But once you learn how to differentiate between each of these three zones, you’ll understand why it’s better for your well-being to behave when you notice a green light, red light, or yellow light. So, here are some tips for each state:
- Eat nourishing nash: alkalizing foods like leafy greens & eat foods with probiotics like yogurt and sauerkraut. It turns out that eating a well-balanced and healthy diet is key to coping with stress.
- Move the body: walk every day, stretch your body, with select muscle groups, inhale as you contract the muscles, and exhale as you relax. And great exercise boosts your mood, helps you become more focused, and improves your overall mental and physical health
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Put organic frozen fruit and a bit of mint and basil leaves in fresh water and try to drink ½ of your weight in ounces. And guess what? Drinking enough water will improve your cognition, sleep quality, and mood.
- Rest, relax, play and have fun: include taking care of yourself in your daily routine. Why? Because deep rest and relaxation is linked to various positive outcomes, such as reduced muscle tension, a healthier immune system, better metabolism, and a better quality of life.
- We want to ramp up self-care and work to get ourselves back to green
If you feel like you’re riding an emotional roller-coaster and experience feelings such as happiness and sadness, excitement and desperation at the same time, then your body is telling you that you should take some time out. Try to ease your mind, ramp up self-care, and return to the green light as soon as possible.
- Where have you been saying “yes” when you might be needing to say “no”?
Think about this for a moment. How many times have you agreed on things that you vitally needed to refuse? If this sounds like you, it’s time to stop! Understand that trying to please others might be harmful to your emotional state. So, focus more on your needs and learn to say no.
- Do not push through this, instead, hit the brakes and dial it back.
Keep in mind that taking breaks allows your body and mind to get enough energy and keep functioning efficiently. While it may slow your short-term progress, breaks will definitely have a positive effect on your long-term goals. So, don’t push yourself too hard and reduce tension instead to save your energy.
- Follow the tips from your GREEN light state.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, hydrating, and having fun will help you move to a green state faster than you think! That’s why you shouldn’t forget about the tips from the green light state.
- Get out your Panic Pack: When you’re experiencing a red light, first you need to do anything to calm the nervous system. Find ways to get out of this zone, focus and stop your panic from developing into an attack.
- Use the TIPPS strategies: Applying these four strategies that we’ll discuss below will help you overcome a crisis and get rid of uncomfortably high emotional states.
- Phone a friend or a helper, if you’re in an extreme crisis, call the crisis hotline 1-800-272-8255: Never forget that asking for help when you’re going through a tough time is not only hard, but it’s extremely brave and, most importantly, it helps! So, if you’re in a crisis, force yourself to pick up the phone and reach out to someone for help.
How to Use TIPPS Strategies
Are you trying to find ways to deal with extreme crises and overcome feeling overwhelmed? If you’re experiencing intense emotions and feel like your feelings might consume you, the TIPPS strategy will help you get back on track!
TIPPS are grounding techniques to bring the body out of the fight, flight, or freeze response.
TIPPS stands for Temperature (T), Intense Exercise (I), Paced Breathing (P) and Paired Muscle Relaxation (P). This strategy is one of the most common techniques of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – a specific type of therapy designed for individuals who struggle with intense emotions.
Let’s see how to use TIPPS strategies to determine and deal with your emotional state.
- Tip the Body Temperature – use ice or cold water around the eyes. Changing your body temperature will help you decrease the intensity of your emotions. It will calm your body and help you get to a resting state.
- Intense Exercise – rund hard for 30 seconds to move the energy through. Engaging in physical exercise is a great way to escalate your emotions.
- Paced Breathing – slow exhale or slow inhale or 4 square breathing. Keep in mind that paced breathing leads to better relaxation and well-being (Jerath et al., 2015).
- Paired Muscles – contract muscles and hold for 10 secs and then relax. Equally training both paired muscles will ease the difference between the feelings of tension and relaxation.
- Senses (4S model) – Focus on the following 4 senses:
- Smell – use calming scent, essential oil. Scents usually bring back vivid memories, so choose a scent that’s associated with something positive.
- Scene – change environment, walk. Stand up immediately and walk out of the room or change even small details around you.
- Sip – grab some tea or other drink. Surprisingly, there is a direct association between feelings and tastes (Zhou & Tse, 2020).
- Stimuli – must be louder than anxiety. Focusing on more intensive stimuli is a great way to forget about your crisis and pay attention to something else.
All these TIPPS strategies will help you survive a crisis and return from the red state to the green one. And once you acquire these skills, you will be able to cope with stress and anxiety more easily than you could have imagined.
How Can the ACT Method Help in the Red Zone?
Now you might be wondering what part of the TIPPS strategy you need to implement when in the red zone.
In order to understand what’s best for your unique emotional state, you should consider getting to know the ACT method, which teaches you all of this AND MORE!
The ACT method is a strategic teaching method in the Anxiety Breakthrough Program. It consists of three separate parts that contribute to progress. The main purpose of this stepwise approach is to address essential things that we can easily control. Instead of using expensive treatment options such as medications, supplements, testing, or clinical care, we should know what we are capable of controlling in ourselves and how we can change our thoughts and behaviors.
Respectively, the ACT method is a drug-free strategy that promotes cognitive changes in our brains and helps us deal with the red zone. As a result, you can easily determine your emotional state and focus on returning to the green zone.
Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational video e-courses, books, and exclusive free Facebook group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.