Regain Control When Confronted by Stressors: Escape the "Red Zone" With Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo

Tired of your fight or flight being triggered? Clinical Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo teaches you how to respond with clarity, agency, and rationality.

By APG Mar 24, 2023 1:00 PMTags
Ascend Agency, Elizabeth Lombardo


Stress, frustration, anger — anyone else feeling the heat these days?

We're all human. Sometimes, we get a little inebriated on these volatile emotions, falling into a stupor where we lash out at strangers and loved ones alike.

At the core, most people are good. So why then are we losing control like this? We feel the squeeze at work, confront challenges in our relationships, and deal with the hangover of a three-year pandemic. The stress gets to us, we see red, and we lose the ability to hear anything but our own frustrations.

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, referred to by her celebrity clients as Dr. E, is a clinical psychologist, author, and keynote speaker who speaks right into this issue. Her aim is to give high-performers the language, concepts, and tools to pursue mental fitness — starting with controlling the way we react to stressors.

Her latest book, Get Out of the Red Zone, is centered around one big question: why do good people sometimes do bad things? The answer – backed by Dr. Lombardo's research, experience, and acumen – lies in what she calls the "Red Zone."

We've all said things we aren't proud of. Dr. Lombardo sought a framework to understand what's happening when we act out in these ways. Without pathologizing the phenomenon, nor condoning it, the psychologist wanted a down-the-middle assessment of how high-stress impacts our agency and control over our reactions.

"We're irritable and tend to disagree with people while we are in the Red Zone," Dr. Lombardo explains. "We fall into this fight or flight response — which is also a win-lose mindset. We're right, the other person's wrong; someone in the Red Zone cannot hear other people's opinions."

When in the Red Zone — which Dr. Lombardo describes as "7/10 or above" when it comes to stress levels — it's our limbic system that is controlling our reactions. This is the flight or fight mechanism in our brain, developed to protect us from deadly predators, not our spouse asking us to take the trash out after a stress-filled day at work.

To keep us outside of the Red Zone and in a place where we can be using our frontal lobe to think rationally and see different perspectives, Dr. Lombardo has many tools.

The first is Neuroregenerative Training, a psychological process that the doctor has patented. It all centers around the concept of neuroplasticity and developing our ability to rewire our brains.

"There's a saying in psychology: Neurons that fire together, wire together," Dr. Lombardo says. "If you have a thought, you're more likely to have it again and again. The goal is to rewire our brains so that we're thinking in ways that are helpful."

If the same triggers continue to put you into the Red Zone, isn't it due time for you to try a new angle for approaching them? It's not about faking positivity, nor repeating affirmations that we deep down don't actually believe. It's about asking yourself if your thoughts are actually being accurate and helpful.

When we can look at our stressors in an accurate and helpful way, we can then get to work on solving them rationally. For Dr. Lombardo, there are two types of methods to take. The one that's right for you depends on your situation.

The first is problem-focused. The second is emotion-focused.

It's like the serenity prayer. A problem-focused approach provides the courage to change what we can. On the contrary, a focus on emotion grants us the serenity to accept what we can't. Dr. Lombardo's aim is to coach her clients and readers on how to sort their stressors into these two buckets — then pursue action, acceptance or a bit of both to take themselves out of the red.

Is there a problem that you've been putting off solving, that has you feeling like you're about to boil over? Is there an impossible hurdle that you have to accept isn't going anywhere? It's best to be proactive, approaching these challenges when you have a cool head before they give you a one-way ticket to the Red Zone.

Look at our world and the divisive nature of our most critical discussions. It often seems like everyone is walking around with their heads in the Red Zone!

"When people are in the Red Zone," Dr. Lombardo concludes, "everything centers around 'me versus you.' My hope is that helping individuals get out of this mental state will not only help them think and feel happier, but also change the world one person at a time."

To get the world into a healthier mental state, you first have to Get Out of the Red Zone yourself! Get Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo's book here, check out her website, and follow her on Instagram for all things mental fitness!