Wouldn’t we all do better by just chilling out a bit during these nerve-racking, nail-biting, panic-filled and confusing coronavirus days? If the numbers aren’t going up, they aren’t being counted properly. The vaccine is within reach, but it’s not. Now, there are killer bugs flying around and just when you thought Drs Fauci and Birx were the real thing, well, you can’t really trust anyone anymore. But maybe you can? Oh, who knows anymore!

Sigh. It’s long past time to get a hold of all of this emotional turmoil and mayhem. “It’ll all work out,” “This too will pass,” “Every cloud has a silver lining,” and my favorite aphorism, “EWOP, Everything works out perfectly,” aren’t helping all that much as people toss them out during moments of feeling unhealthy negative emotions. There isn’t much working out, there’s not much silver, or no perfection in losing a job, losing any private time, not having enough toilet paper and the internet going out while the kids are screaming that they have to be online for school. 

In a recent session with a young single mother who was discussing the rather financially unprincipled behaviors of her ex-husband, she mentioned how she is catching herself earlier and earlier before reacting too harshly. I described her becoming a “green zone thinker.” Thus, the birth of this column.

What is a “green zone thinker”? It’s healthy thinking at the earliest possible moment while facing an “X” incident or situation in life. No, not positive thinking. Healthy thinking. 

I’ve long predicted that one day, we’ll all walk into work, the gym, a doctor’s office, school, or sit behind the steering wheel of our cars and we’ll face a mirror. The mirror will immediately flash one of three colors, green, yellow and red, based on reading our physiology to give us clues into our emotional upheaval. Forget one day, we need not wait any longer. We don’t have to go anywhere to find this mirror. It’s here. On our wrist. 

From sleep tracking to electrocardiogram features, from measuring blood oxygen saturation levels through built-in heart rate monitors to mirrors that are cardio, yoga, boxing rings and personal trainers, from wearable technology that can provide you as much awareness of your emotional state as your physical state, it seems that everything including speech patterns and brainwaves are in our digital watched already here to help you live healthier, calmer, with less stress. Real-time feedback on physiological changes related to emotional upheaval, stress and emotional changes is already here. These wearables continuously monitor our physiological signals and can provide us with alerts to our emotional reactivity.

In fact in Littleton, Colorado, students are learning to regulate social-emotional behaviors using all-day wearable IHT ZONE heart rate monitors and software. Teachers were aware when their students were having trouble regulating their emotions and behaviors and this tool helped provide an early warning alert to impending behavioral issues, while providing students with real-time feedback throughout the day. As children began paying attention to the color indicators of internal emotional reactivity, they began seeing what was going on inside of themselves physiologically, and this gave them an opportunity to pause and use behavior techniques for controlling their emotions in healthier ways, reinforcing social emotional lessons they were learning.

We know that events don’t disturb us, but rather the way we think about those events are the culprits in getting our physiology in an uproar that leads to our emotions going into pandemonium. Albert Ellis taught, when an (A) activating event occurs, our (B) beliefs about these events will lead to (C) emotional consequences or feelings. Green zone thinkers keep their emotions generally healthy, even when negative. Let’s distinguish between healthy negative and unhealthy negative emotions.

When our emotions are negative yet healthy, we are having a rational emotional response to what we deem to be an unpleasant, unfavorable, adverse event. It promotes our changing or accepting the situation and permits our moving forward, more happily regardless of the circumstance.

An unhealthy negative emotion is based on an irrational emotional response to difficult, complex and arduous conditions. It precludes seeing the opportunity to change what can be changed or to accept what can’t be changed. Further, it serves to sabotage and undermine our ability to happily advance towards our goals. 

Green zone thinkers experience one or more of the following eight emotions: 

Healthy negative emotions: concern, sadness, healthy anger or annoyance, remorse, regret, disappointment, healthy jealousy and healthy envy. These lead to self-helping and other helping behaviors.

Red zone thinkers experience one or more of the following eight emotions:

Unhealthy negative emotions: anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame, hurt, unhealthy jealousy and unhealthy envy. These lead to inaction or destructive behaviors.

Next time you face an “X” situation, from a colleague not liking you, to the latest screaming headline, to that darn internet going down again, to a stranger coughing as s/he walks by you while s/he is not wearing a mask, check out your physiological warnings. 

Not wearing the latest watch? No special mirror to glance into? Then check your thinking. “X” is happening, but what’s that go to do with you upsetting yourself? The internet “must” not go out, or you’d prefer it if it didn’t and life would be easier if it didn’t? The first thought leads to unhealthy anger and anxiety while the second leads to concern and annoyance. 

If you could see what physiological impact your thoughts were having, potentially harmful physiological impact, you might find it easier to get a hold of your thinking and realize it’s not worth getting your knickers or your gastrointestinal system in a twist, over an “X” in your life. 

Notice the point isn’t to feel positive or even neutral about an adverse situation in life. The goal is to stay in the green zone, experience negative emotions but not unhealthy problematic ones about life’s adversities. These all grow from the types of beliefs you have, rational or irrational. Is what you are thinking necessarily true, helpful, inspiring you, necessary, kind to yourself? Is it rational or irrational? Is there another way to talk with yourself about the situation in more flexible, less extreme ways? 

There’s that “X” in front of you. Green zone thinking, yellow zone thinking, and red zone thinking are yours to choose. The link is what you think.