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Stuttering stress and arousal: developing a warrior colour code

Franky Banky demonstrating various stress levels

What if we dealt with our stuttering like those who are in high risk situations like the military? My friend, Alexander Sanguigni, who also stutters and is a military enthusiast, recently told me about how a colour code system developed by a Marine to keep cool in tense situations, could be applied to keeping cool in stuttering situations. I thought it was such an effective mindset that I invited Alexander to write an article about it for this blog.
–Daniele Rossi

Stuttering stress and arousal: developing a warrior colour code
by Alexander Sanguini

H-i-i-i m-m-my name is …

Can I g-g-g-get an order of…

Think back to all the times you experienced a high dose of psychological and physical stress because of stuttering. Chances are, if you’re like most stutterers, you’ve experienced cognitive and physical breakdowns due to the fears and stress of speaking to others. The fears and thoughts vary from person to person and fluency levels, however the reflex reactions are the same– bright red face, sweating, excessive bodily movements etc. Stuttering aside, when we encounter any stressful situation, our body pumps hormones into our bloodstream that elevate our heart rate and ready us to fight or flee. Our bodies experience a sense of arousal that heightens our senses and reflexes– a good thing. On the contrary, if we become too amped up on the situation, basic cognitive and physical skills needed for survival fall apart– a bad and possibly fatal thing.

A mental preparedness code system for stuttering situations

In life and death situations, be it caught in a gun fight or escaping a natural disaster, it’s often the ones who can keep their cool and think critically who survive. I’ve applied a mental preparedness code system developed by legendary shooting expert and marine, Jeff Cooper, to handling stressful speaking situations. Cooper’s code system was used by the military, first responders, race car drivers, stunt pilots, and other warriors use to help them prepare for any high risk/hostile situations they might encounter. Taking the legendary code system and gearing it toward stuttering can enable one to develop a tactical mindset that would help change an apprehensive stuttering situation into a walk in the park.

In Cooper’s book, Principles of Personal Defense, a colour code system is introduced to help one gauge their mental preparedness and mindset in a combat scenario. Over the years, other military experts including Lt. Col Dave Grossman – famously known for his book On Killing – and Bruce Siddle revised the code and added colours to better suit the unstable environment today.

Code White

Unaware and un-alert to your social surroundings. Unprepared for easy, calm, relaxed speech, if any speaking scenario were to arise, such as a stranger on the subway asking you for directions, you would be caught off guard and most likely hesitant to speak or even disclose your stutter with them. Failure to prepare for the day, such as reading the newspaper out loud in the morning or preparing for a job interview, may affect your stuttering levels.

Mindset: What are the chances I have to speak at all today? I’m minding my own business, I don’t really care.

Code Yellow

The optimal mindset and is best described as “relaxed alert”. You are not nervously waiting and scanning for people that want to engage in conversation but you are ready and prepared for easy, calm relaxed speech. You are open and confident with stuttering imperfectly and less likely to be caught off guard. You are ready to adapt and overcome to sudden blocks in speech and prepared to use learning tools that help you speak more easily.

Special forces, first responders, and other tactical experts in dangerous fields recommend staying in code yellow– a state of relaxed alert.
Many Air Force pilots stick a yellow dot on their watch or instrument panel as a trigger to remind them to stay in code yellow.

Mindset: I am ready and prepared to speak today. I may stutter but I’m confident and determined not to let it interfere with my day.

Code red

Code red is the beginning of a downhill battle. In code red, we experience increased heart rate, contracted and tightened lungs making it harder to speak, and negative energy and thoughts. All this is accompanied by a bright red face and sweating which is an all too familiar state we experience when we become engaged in a conversation that caught us off guard or we are unprepared for easy, calm, relaxed speech.

Jumping from code white to code red is relatively easy – but returning from code red to yellow requires practice. Being a competent stutterer requires “knowing thyself” and recognizing a potential nervous breakdown or block in speech before it arises. Moreover, through tactical breathing, four seconds inhale, four seconds hold, four seconds exhale, we can begin to relax our body and, more importantly our lungs, to resume conversation in a more comfortable manner.

Mindset: I’m getting really nervous talking; can the other person see my cherry red face and my pursed lips? I don’t know if I can carry on…

Code Black

When you reach code black your heart is beating faster and your arousal levels are amped up to a catastrophic level. Mental performance and easy calm, relaxed speech is non existent. You are struggling repeatedly to even put together one word. You experience excessive sweating, pursed lips, and contracted lungs. You have a negative mindset and are extremely shy or frightened and almost scared to death to speak. Code black is the situation where a stutterer is caught so off guard they are unable to even think let alone speak.

One of the ways someone who stutters can recover from this state is by performing a “pull-out”. Cease speaking immediately, drop all thoughts, focus and retain tactical breathing to become ready. This may take a few seconds to a few minutes but you’re guaranteed a new-relaxed state for speaking. People observing a code black may be confused, scared or downright angry but maintaining a resilient shell to the “dark side of stuttering” is necessary.

Mindset: Oh no I’m stuttering… I need to run away!

Alexander Sanguigni is a student from Toronto who hopes to one day serve his community as a police officer. Stuttering since the age of six, Alex wished on countless birthdays for his stutter to go away. But now he views stuttering as an virtue of resilience– everyone has battles to fight and often with any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.

Published in Featured stuttering


  1. I think anyone who has a stutter can completely relate to this! You tell yourself that you are going to be fine, but your reflex reactions say otherwise. I guess every new situation you find yourself in is an opportunity to improve, and gradually there will be more instances where you ‘fight’ instead of ‘flight’.

  2. Susan Susan

    Thanks. More people need to read this.

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