The Physiology of the Trauma Traffic Light (Poster)


The Trauma Traffic Light is a simple way of representing our responses to trauma – safety in the green zone, fight and flight in the amber zone and fight in the red zone.

This poster shows what happens physiologically (in our body) in each of these zones.

This is a free downloadable PDF.

Page 1 is a full-colour poster.

Page 2 is a low-ink, print-friendly version.

The ‘Trauma Traffic Light’ is my way of representing what is technically called ‘Polyvagal Theory’ by Stephen Porges in simpler, metaphorical terms (green, amber and red). For a full explanation check out my article ‘The Trauma Traffic Light’ which is a good complement to this poster.

This poster details what happens physiologically when we are in each of the three different zones – green, amber and red. It’s an explanation taken from our ‘Working with Shame’ course which emphasises that the red zone of shame affects our body so fundamentally – in terms of our heart rate, blood pressure, how we use energy, the tension in our muscles, the expression on our faces, our voice, and even our digestion. Shame isn’t just a belief about our ourselves as being unworthy – it’s a whole body experience!

If we can begin to identify at any given moment which zone we’re in – green, amber, or red – then we can work to ground ourselves back in our window of tolerance. It can also help us to notice shame in our body even when we may not be aware of it in our mind. This is just as important for therapists as it is for clients!

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