RED – Urgent. Right now. Emergency. YELLOW – Important. Essential. Priority. GREEN – Normal life. Ready mode. BLACK – Nothing more can be done. Stop expending time and energy. (Pamela Piquette)

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Flight or fright often describes how many of us with chronic illness, pain, anxiety, or trauma live day by day – but I wonder if both can happen simultaneously.

The meaning of flight might be interpreted as running away – but it might also mean flying into action to fix whatever issue is in front of me – right now, immediately, with no hesitation or without acknowledging fear (fright) even though fear is driving the action. The adrenaline flows, and my internal anxiety notifies me to run beyond what I can reasonably manage, but I do it anyway.

I developed this trauma response when I was a child, and because I have carried this jumping-into-action response for so long, I now believe, live by, and operate under its truth. It has helped me navigate my daily life…until recently.



I recently came across Darria Long’s Ted Talk (Darria is an ER doctor who writes and speaks on how to triage your busy life.) in which she uses colors to access appropriate responses to events and circumstances:

RED – Urgent. Right now. Emergency.

YELLOW – Important. Essential. Priority.

GREEN – Normal life. Ready mode.

BLACK – Nothing more can be done. Stop expending time and energy.

Dr. Darria’s color chart gave me a new language to triage my daily life. I discovered that no matter the situation or circumstance, I immediately jumped from green to red in the blink of an eye without considering whether there was an urgent need. When my acute anxiety flared over things that someone without my past trauma could see were not urgent, I could not understand their lack of action.

Over the years, my husband has witnessed this countless times and has asked, “Will someone die if …?” Since I was already in the red zone, those words only confused me and often made me angry. Another question I’ve been asked to use as a litmus test for my red response is, “Is the house burning down?” Both are seemingly good questions. Yet, they are far too complicated to consider because I’m already in the red zone. I am so focused on the task and response that wrestling with death or fire is impossible.



Since watching Dr. Darria’s Ted Talk, I have begun to sense when I am in the red zone, giving me a moment to pause and ask myself, “Is this red, or do I just feel red?” Once I pause, I can determine if the situation is perhaps yellow (essential) or green (life at a normal pace).

Also, my husband now has language that doesn’t trigger anger when he gently wants to help me reassess. Last week I intended to have taco meat simmering on the stove before he got home from work (though I cannot remember why I thought it was necessary). I was triggered when he arrived home and mentioned that my son-in-law would be coming over so my husband could look at his car. I began rushing around, trying to compensate for lost time, and jumped into red mode.

As he observed this, my husband simply asked if I was feeling red, and, of course, I was. His question gave me the power to consider reality, not just how I felt. Taco meat was not red. Was it yellow? Was it green? We didn’t need to be done with dinner before my son-in-law’s arrival. I decided that I could move forward in the green zone. I sensed my body and mind relax.

Because I’ve always jumped to the red zone, I assumed this was normal, and everyone felt the same sense of urgency. I’ve learned that others don’t respond the same way, which is confusing and often frustrating. I have felt hurt but have buried or masked my hurt – or assessed blame on the other person.



I never want to hurt anyone, though even when I try to do everything to fix what’s broken, sometimes things do not improve. Some relationships do not survive, making me feel abandoned and unable to understand why. I am learning that these relationships fall into the black zone

There are messy issues and broken relationships that I cannot fix on my own, no matter how much I try or how much energy I expend. I can continue to reach out, ruminate about what went wrong, think of possible fixes, and pray for healing. I can give grace. However, the relationship can only be fixed if the other person is willing to receive my grace and extend some to me. I can now apply my color response language, asking myself what color describes this relationship. When the answer is black, I can stop using precious energy to solve the unsolvable.

While my feelings often jump quickly to red, the truth is that life is rarely red. Sometimes yellow is more accurate (like being on time for a medical appointment). I’ve discovered that life is meant to be lived in the green zone. Each time I self-correct (or receive a little help from my husband), shifting to the appropriate zone gets a little easier. This includes accepting black-zone relationships; as I surrender these broken relationships to God, I sense His peace because …as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

Perhaps living in peace is the definition of life in the green zone.

Yellow Bubbles
Pamela Piquette

Pamela Piquette

Executive Director and Co-Founder of Chronic Joy®

Pamela, a leader and a visionary following God's call to inspire those affected by chronic illness, mental illness, and chronic pain, believes that every precious life impacted by illness is both vital and purposed.

Pamela is a wife of more than 35 years, the mom of three married children, and a grandma of six. She is diagnosed with chronic migraines and other chronic conditions. She enjoys baking sourdough bread and chocolate chip cookies, drinking hot tea, being outdoors, and reading (almost always more than one book at a time).

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