In a continuation of the series Awareness Colour Code, The Nervous System & Mental Health, I will be discussing the 2nd stage of the awareness colour code Yellow from both a practical self-defence perspective but also a nervous system and mental health perspective. (See Part 1, Part 2)
Yellow is “relaxed alert,” meaning your nervous system isn’t doing anything in particular but you are consciously aware of your surroundings acknowledging people or things. This is often what they mean when they say someone is “present in the moment.” Your mind is not stressed out about the past or future, you are relaxed in the here and now but you are still in a comfortable level of situational awareness.
When it comes to self-defence when you are out and about, this is the stage you want to be in. At a restaurant? You want to be in Yellow, enjoying your food and your company, but always paying attention to your surroundings. You can also complement this with smart strategies such as always positioning yourself where you can see the doors and windows; it’s not paranoia, it is simply mental code Yellow. Taking a walk? Focus on your breathing, the beautiful sun, the sound of the rain drops, but acknowledge anyone who is walking towards you or even gets too close, and make decisions according to what they are doing. You can complement this, strategy-wise, by never having both earbuds in, as sound is one of your important senses and you want to be able to hear footsteps if someone was to sneak up behind you.
In keeping with the cat or person sleeping analogy, the cat whose ears track you while “sleeping” is totally calm and relaxed, but aware of your presence. Get too close or make an odd sound, they may open an eye to asses and then go back to a resting state. Or for the person who is asleep but in Yellow, let’s say a nap in the park (something I don’t do unless I am with someone), you may be completely relaxed, basking in the sun’s rays, but an odd sound or movement close to you causes you to take a peek at your surroundings. Again, it’s not paranoia, just relaxed alert, as at no point should your sympathetic nervous system kick in and cause your heart rate to change significantly.
In this state you feel relatively safe, say 90%, but you remain consciously aware that anything could happen and you need to keep your wits about you to appropriately assess and react to anything significant that may occur. This means you are never zoned-out, in White or worse Black, as you can still see and hear that which is around you.
A good example is when walking and you need to cross the street. This is otherwise a normal occurrence for most, and although in some places crossing the street can be hectic, by looking both ways and paying attention to the cars, even at a marked crosswalk, you are well prepared to move or jump if you need to because of an out-of-control driver or cyclist. Now, of course, this experience can be relative; for example, if you are from Vancouver where most people use the crosswalks and drivers stop for them, then the idea of “jaywalking” in a busy street might jack your nervous system and mental state to Orange or Red. In Israel, like many countries, jaywalking is common and to the locals, it’s a normal behaviour where they maintain Yellow throughout the entire process, but I, myself, found it quite nerve-racking. It actually took me a long time to get used to the frequent sight and necessity of this as my nervous system needed to be aware that this behavior was normal and expected, and thus less likely to cause issues (though still dangerous). A new baseline was set and I become more comfortable with it, thus keeping me in relaxed alert whenever I did it myself. Of course, when I came back to Canada I had to re-train myself the other way, which was, fortunately, much easier.
From a mental health perspective Yellow is also a great place to be. Let’s call this being in the “active act of mindfulness.” You are relatively calm on the inside but still aware of what is happening on the outside and paying attention to the details around you, at least to the level that you need to in order to feel and stay safe. If you are one of those individuals who struggles to attain White mentally, then Yellow is the baseline you should be aiming for. That is because you can essentially stay in Yellow indefinitely with no real consequences to your nervous system. You are paying enough attention to see danger coming but not so pre-occupied as to keep your nervous system locked in a sympathetic state which would lead to burnout (something I will expand on in the next colour, Orange).
This is particularly useful if you have a job in security, law enforcement, or the Military where your nervous system may periodically be exposed to high stress, Orange and Red, but very rarely can you safely be in White, as this could be disastrous for you, your partners, or civilians. Yellow allows you to stay calm and make smarter decisions leading up to any encounters, as well as help bring your nervous system to a calmer state in between high action situations. As your senses will still be in a mode capable of wider, bigger picture, observation and thoughts, which in turn leads to better decision making.
The ability to calm your mind and nervous system down to Yellow is a must for any high stress occupation.
For the average person’s mental health, learning to be in Yellow helps you critically think in day-to-day decisions while being aware of not just external stressors, but internal ones as well, which helps you avoid any situation that may arise to jack you up into Orange or Red. The more you can work with Yellow, the more self-aware you will be and the easier it will be to sense that anxiety creeping up on you. This means you can simply take a break to breathe or to stretch in order to keep things calm and alert and prevent them from spiraling into a threat mode, letting the sympathetic nervous system hijack your day.
Yellow is the best place to be most of the time whether out and about, at work, or with the family. Calm and collected on the inside but with enough self and situational awareness to manage and decide what to do should any threat, real or perceived, head your way.
So keep calm and stay Yellow.
Written by Jonathan Fader