Leaving the red zone

We have a sympathetic and a parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system readies us for fight or flight and is designed to be a temporary state. When the emergency has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and allows us to heal, digest and learn.

When we operate in the red zone, or we are teetering on the edge of it, our sympathetic nervous system is on. In this state, we will find it hard to relax, we will have difficulty in sleeping and we may have issues with digestion. Needless to say, our ability to learn is also diminished.


The easiest way to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system is through focusing on our breathing. Exhaling causes our heart rate to decrease so deeper breathing helps. Focusing on the breathing reduces re-triggering of the red zone - this is simple meditation.

Practicing mindfulness is the next step to help prevent the red zone from triggering. Being centred in our bodies and in the moment, gives us the ability to modulate red zone triggering i.e. to quieten it down again before it takes over.

It is connecting with people in a truly human way that is the key to causing the red zone to fade away. Conversations about meaningful work (in the classroom, in the workplace) is the key to this so that structuring our workplaces to encourage deep connection in this way is the next step.

“Only connect!” ― E.M. Forster, Howards End

John Corrigan