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The Color of Today

What color do you feel like today?

As I consider this question, snow is falling outside. My weekly cleaning is done. I have accomplished many of my goals for the week ahead of schedule. But, the pantry and refrigerator require restocking, and I should gather donations from the ramshackle basement. I would say I’m some shade of blue-green: a bit melancholy about doing what I’d rather not, but anticipating the relief of having it done so I can read or work on a project this afternoon.

Identifying feelings with a color has been a vital aspect of our family’s psychological well-being in recent years. We learned about this strategy when our son with special needs was in his transition program. On days when he simply could not articulate how he felt, I could ask, “What’s your color today?” Even if he said, “Green,” because of what green represents, I could talk with him about why he probably felt more blue or yellow. I have joked with him about feeling purple or orange, which he says is not part of the emotional color wheel. But, aren’t they? Here is what I mean.

The four colors described in the zones of regulation are blue, green, yellow, and red. Forget for a moment about the emotions these colors represent. Consider color and how it works. See it? One of them doesn’t belong.

Blue, yellow, and red are true colors. They are what they are. No mixing required. Green is formed by mixing two colors together. Think back to elementary art class to remember which two in that primary list of three form green.

Now consider how those colors describe feelings.

Let’s start with green. It is the ideal color emotion. It is the one everyone wants to hear and believe they are. We want to be happy. Everyone appreciates calm. Our society values focus, contentment, and readiness.

So, how do we get there?

I discovered something while watching the movie Inside Out. Although the color-feeling combinations don’t match up with the zones of regulation exactly, Joy (yellow) and Sadness (blue) find themselves navigating the emotional upheaval within Riley, a young girl who has experienced a recent move from Minnesota to San Francisco. For many reasons, this movie resonated with me. But, the cooperation and emotional combination of Joy and Sadness within Riley’s experiences caught my attention.

We need both yellow–“stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, the wiggles, or nervousness”–and blue–“sad, tired, sick, or bored”–to make green–“happy, focused, content, or ready to learn.” If there is not some measure of excitement to balance out our boredom, we aren’t ready to learn. We need good stress to energize our moments of fatigue. A little silliness can cheer up our sadness. Our bodies may feel sick if we allow anxiety and nervousness to overtake us, and that lack of well-being warns us something is wrong. We may feel frustration if sadness has too much control over what we say and do. In balanced amounts, our yellow and blue feelings allow us to come to a state of enough get-up-and-go green-happiness.

What do we do about red? Stop. Take a deep breath while waiting for the light to change back to green.

But, here’s something to consider. Remember when I asked my son if I could be purple or orange?

I think in some ways we can.

Consider that purple is a mixture of red and blue. If I am feeling purple, I’m probably feeling conflicted. Why? Well, red and blue feelings are opposites. If I am feeling “anger, rage, devastation, or terror” and “sad, tired, sick, or bored,” I’m heading from escalating emotions to deflating ones. I’m conflicted and seeking a way out. If I can’t see a form of exit, depression enters. We can warm up our purple feelings to a bright magenta or a mellow maroon, but we are headed toward a sticky jam if we aren’t careful.

Let’s look at orange. Even though these colors have little to do with personal favorites, I have to say orange is my least favorite color. The more I look at the zones of regulation I see why. Red and yellow make orange. “Anger, rage, devastation, or terror” with “stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, the wiggles, or nervousness” make chaos. Think of the colors we associate with fire. Warm + Warm = Hot. I can almost break into a sweat thinking about it.

All of this to say, it’s important to be honest with ourselves. If I’m having a Tangerine day (remember why I don’t like my husband’s music choice of Tangerine Dream?) it might be a good time to steer clear of me. If I’m Plum worn-out, I might need to breathe in some Lavender and drink a little Wine. Give me my favorite shade of Le Pen–Oriental Blue–any day. Because that’s the color I think of when I say I’m having a blue-green day. Nothing red about those moments unless it’s something I’m reading. Just a hint of yellow to keep life exciting. But, lots of content melancholy to keep me steady. That’s the color of my best days.

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