Try this “Relax, Risk, and Reckless” comfort zones lesson from our Brave Space Groundwork workshop for youth-serving professionals on August 23. Learn how to build trust and connection with the youth you serve.
Every day at Girls Leadership we ask students, parents and caregivers, and teachers or program staff how they feel. And one answer keeps rising to the top of the list over the last several years: anxious. There is no one solution to minimize our anxiety, but instead a collection of skills that we teach in a healing-centered learning environment that fosters a sense of belonging. One of the most powerful skills that we’ve taught at Girls Leadership for decades is developing an awareness and respect for our Risk Zones, which tell us the levels of physiological and emotional stress that our bodies are experiencing.
Becoming aware of our Risk Zones, and learning where we are on the spectrum from “relaxed” to ”reckless,” is at the foundation of managing our anxiety. If we don’t know what we are experiencing, we can’t know or name what we need to feel better. By learning to identify and name our level of internal risk, we are setting the groundwork for naming our boundaries, setting limits, and tending to the internal and external self-care that we need to be grounded and healthy.
Before any of us can support young people to develop awareness and respect for their own stress and anxiety, we have to do the same process for ourselves. We invite you to reflect on some questions from the lesson below:
- What are some things you do that are in your Relax Zone, where you feel comfortable? What is the benefit to you of spending some time in this zone?
- What about the Risk Zone, where you might feel uncomfortable, awkward, or even annoyed, angry, anxious, surprised, confused, and/or nervous? Are there times when being uncomfortable is okay or beneficial? How might you know when being uncomfortable is beneficial vs. harmful to you?
- What activities are in your Reckless Zone? This is where we begin to resist new information and withdraw. This zone can make us feel emotionally unsafe and even physically unsafe. What does this zone do for you? What is our body doing for you when you go into fight-or-flight mode?
We are often taught that our Reckless Zone is a bad place to be, as it can hurt ourselves when we are voiceless, or others if we get aggressive. Usually, these habits are coping mechanisms that we developed to stay safe in our environment. Shaming ourselves for the habits we developed to protect ourselves doesn’t help us manage our stress or anxiety. Instead, we invite you to thank your mind and body for your own personal Relax, Risk, and Reckless Zones (everybody’s zones are different) for looking out for you, and to respect them for the wisdom that they possess. This wisdom gives you the essential information you need to eventually set the limits you need to keep these zones in balance.
When it comes to putting this into practice in the classroom, a teacher who came to our professional development training last summer used this Relax, Risk, and Reckless lesson with her high school advisory class. She told us:
“I have an Advisory group that includes mixed (high school) grades. At the beginning of the year they were hesitant to get to know one another but we have done so much community building and service projects which has helped a lot.”
“From the Girls Leadership professional development, I have implemented a ‘Relax, Risk, and Reckless Zone’ exercise that has helped kids get to know each other without writing or speaking. I found that taking the emphasis off of language was helpful and having a movement activity was really fun for the students. In this exercise students move around to different zones in the classroom that indicated whether something felt in or out of their comfort zone. Some kids were yelling out things like “snakes!” or “pickles!” but this also allowed kids to show their choice without having to voice it, and that helps kids who are quiet.”
Whether snakes, pickles, or a pandemic send your body into overdrive, we hope these reflection questions and the Relax/Risk/Reckless framework help you get to know yourself, and therefore take incredible care of yourself. We feel 1000% certain that you and the youth in your life deserve it.
Relaxed, Risk, and Reckless Zones
Domain: Identity + Self-Awareness
Focus: Self-awareness and boundaries
Objective: Participants will:
- Recognize and respect their own Relax, Risk, and Reckless Zone
- See the different zones of their peers
- Reflect on what the benefit of each zone might be
Time Required: 40 minutes
Materials: If using physical movement, you will need a chair or cone to mark the center point of a large area. If you do not have space for movement, you can draw circles on the board or use a worksheet.
Disclaimers/Notes: This lesson is meant to precede the lesson Setting Boundaries. Some students may not be comfortable closing their eyes so do not force this. Also, in some cases connecting with one’s physical or emotional sensations can be triggering.
Intro/Frame (Ignite) — 10 minutes
If visualization is a new process for your participants, model what your visualization would sound and look like by thinking out loud and demonstrating with your breath and body.
Visualization: Invite students to relax and take several deep breaths. Provide the option of closing their eyes if they like. Calm the room.
Take three deep breaths and try and relax your body. If you feel tension or stress somewhere, try and relax and release that tension.
Picture a place where you know you usually feel really comfortable. Imagine yourself there. What does it look like? How does this place make you feel physically? Are you wearing specific clothes, or holding an object?
Try and think about all of your senses. What can you see, touch, smell?
Take a few more deep breaths and imagine yourself in your place of comfort. Now, think about the emotions you feel when you are in this comfortable place. What are some words that describe your emotions? Take a few moments of silence to enjoy this comfortable place.
After a few moments, recall the group back.
With your partner, describe your comfortable place. Share at least one physical feeling and one emotion you identified feeling when in this place.
Instruction — 10-15 minutes
Debrief the visualization. Ask: How do you know when you are comfortable vs. uncomfortable?
Chart or make note of the descriptions participants provide. Prompt students to provide both physical and emotional descriptions.
Ask: Are there times when being uncomfortable is OK or beneficial? How might we know when being uncomfortable is beneficial vs. hurtful/harmful to us?
Introduce the concept of the “three zones”: Relax, Risk, and Reckless.
Relax Zone: This is sometimes called the comfort zone and is a great zone — most of what we already know is in this zone. We usually feel pretty confident about the things in this zone. The perks are that we can relax and feel comfortable and sometimes we use this zone to de-stress. The downside is that in this zone, we are rarely being challenged and are rarely learning. The Relax Zone is great, but we can’t stay here forever.
Ask: What are some examples of things that you do that would be in the Relax Zone?
Risk Zone: A lot of times we think that taking a risk is a negative thing. A positive risk is something that challenges us, but doesn’t put us in danger or make us feel panicked. Being in this zone, we can be uncomfortable or even feel annoyed, angry, anxious, surprised, confused, nervous, or in some other way uncomfortable. These reactions are natural and are a part of the learning process. The challenge is sitting with the discomfort we are experiencing, to see what we can learn but also knowing our limits so that we do not experience harm.
Ask: What might be some things in your Risk Zone?
Reckless Zone: This zone is too far outside our comfort zone and we begin to resist new information and withdraw. This zone can make us feel emotionally unsafe and even physically unsafe. We can shut down or have other strong reactions that make it hard or impossible to comprehend new information. Explain that we all react to this zone differently.
Facilitator Note: Share a few examples of things in this zone generally or for you personally; note that participants are not prompted to share personal examples for this zone.
If time: Introduce the different biological responses humans and animals have to feeling in danger.
Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn:
Fight: feeling like you might explode (feeling like you want to yell or attack)
Flight: wanting to run away
Freeze: feeling stuck or cornered
Fawn: trying to be the peacekeeper or just going along
If time: share this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEHwB1PG_-Q
Activity/Guided Practice (Chunk/Chew) 15 minutes
Create three zones representing Relax, Risk, and Reckless.
Option 1: Place a chair in the middle of the room to represent each prompt or specify three different parts of the room that represent Relax, Risk, and Reckless Zones. When you read each prompt, students move in the room to indicate which zone they would be in. The closer to the chair, the more comfortable. The farther from it, the more dangerous/reckless.
Option 2: Have students stay in their seats, but either give them three different colors or paper/post-its, or have them hold up a number on their fingers or do a gesture that indicates the three zones.
Explain that this activity will help us practice identifying things that are in the different zones. This is the first step to identifying our personal boundaries.
Ask: What is a boundary?
Come to a group definition and/or share: A boundary is a line that marks the limit of an area, defines our limits, makes clear what is okay or not okay.
Read the series of prompts. Add any prompts that feel relevant to your group. Be sure to avoid prompts that name specific traumas.
Explain that everyone is going to have different things they are comfortable with and that there is no right or wrong. Be sure to set the expectation that we won’t comment or call out others on their zones for each prompt.
Example: If I have been jumping off of the high diving board at the community pool every summer since I was five, then “jumping off the high dive” might feel really comfortable to me. If someone is doing this for the first time, this might feel really uncomfortable. In this case I would not say: ”What? Jumping off the high dive is easy!” We have all had different experiences and we all have things that make us more or less uncomfortable.
Facilitator Note: You can choose to make this activity silent with discussion held to the end.
Jumping off a high diving board.
Eating a bug.
Coming to school in my pajamas.
Tier 1 Prompts:
Giving a speech in front of the class.
Trying out for school play.
Trying out for a sports team.
Starting a new school.
Talking to someone new.
Spending time alone without technology.
Singing in public.
Taking public transportation by myself.
Swimming in water over my head.
Raising my hand in class when I’m not sure if I have the right answer.
Quitting a sport, activity, or group you have been a part of.
Tier 2 Prompts:
Telling a friend to stop making a joke I don’t think is funny.
Standing up for a friend when someone is picking on them.
Asking for help when I need it.
Admitting I’ve made a mistake.
Ending a friendship/unfollowing someone on social media that isn’t good for me.
Correcting someone when they mispronounce my name or give me a nickname I don’t like.
Sharing an opinion that may be unpopular or criticized.
Taking a social media break.
Telling a coach, teacher, or another adult when you feel they have treated you unfairly.
Asking a friend to stop a behavior that you aren’t OK with.
Debrief/Closure (Review) — 5 minutes
Ask: What are some observations you had of yourself or the group as you did this activity?
Facilitator Note: if applicable, you may ask why differences might be connected to identity, such as gender, culture, race, age, etc.
Journal and/or discuss:
- How can you tell the difference between being in your Relax, Risk, or Reckless Zone?
- What is the benefit of being able to tell which zone we are in?
- What experiences shape our zones and create different levels of risk for different people?
Content: Select prompts that feel relevant and appropriate for your group. You can also invite students to come up with their own prompts and submit them to you to read.
If you serve youth, sign up for our professional development workshops or training, which include lessons you can use right away. Also, check out our full collection of 26 Free Social-Emotional Check-ins.