The Stress Continuum

Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control
The Stress Continuum

The Stress Continuum is a model that identifies how Sailors and Marines react under stressful situations. It is the foundation of Navy and Marine Corps efforts to promote psychological health.

The continuum is a color-coded map to identify behaviors that might arise from serving in combat, in dangerous peacekeeping missions and in the highly charged day-to-day work that is required of today’s military. While its primary use is for individual service members, the continuum also is a valuable tool to track behaviors of military families and commands.

The Colorful Glossary

Green Zone: Not stress-free, but mastering stress with good coping skills. Ready to go!

Yellow Zone: Reacting to life’s normal stressors. Mild and reversible!

Orange Zone: Stress injuries damaging the mind, body or spirit. Temporarily non-mission ready!

Red Zone: Stress injuries that become stress illnesses. Only diagnosed by health professionals!

Common Behaviors of the Four Zones

Service Members in the GREEN:

  • Remain calm, steady, confident
  • Exhibit ethic and moral behavior
  • Eat healthfully, exercise regularly and get proper sleep
  • Keep a sense of humor and remain active socially, spiritually
  • Use alcohol in moderation, if at all
  • Get the job done and show respect for fellow warriors

Service Members in the YELLOW:

  • Feel anxious, fearful, sad, angry, grouchy, irritable or mean
  • Cut corners on the job
  • Are negative or pessimistic
  • Lose interest, energy or enthusiasm
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Become excessive in spending, Internet use, playing computer games, etc.

Service Members in the ORANGE:

  • Lose control of emotions or thinking
  • Have nightmares, sleep problems, obsessive thinking
  • Feel guilt, shame, panic or rage
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Change significantly in appearance or behavior
  • Lose moral values

RED Zone = Ill Zone

These are Orange Zone behaviors that persist, get worse, or get better and then come back worse. The service member cannot function properly.

All medical disorders in individuals exposed to combat or other operational or traumatic stress are found in the Red Zone. These include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, certain anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders. The distinction between Orange Zone stress injury and Red Zone stress illness can only be made by a medical or mental health professional.

Red Zone illnesses are very treatable. The majority of Sailors and Marines who are treated finish their tours of duty and many continue to serve. Early treatment is the key.

In a few words:

  • RED is ILL

Posted on BrainLine March 29, 2013.

Used with permission from the Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control.