The positive and negative zones: Stumbling towards distress

The positive and negative zones: Stumbling towards distress

Are you familiar with the positive and negative zones? You might not know them by name but you’ve likely spent time in one or the other or both. Learn more about the zones and watch my short film at the bottom of the page to learn how to leave the negative zone.


We all have in common psychological process that provides us with strength and focus. We value these and even try to enhance them; one such process is our ability to be in a state of ‘flow’ this is a state of absorption with intense focus and concentration on a particular task or activity.

We like and value the experience of flow. A milder form of flow is often described as being ‘in the zone’. It seems to be a place where we feel comfortable and in control of our actions and outcomes.

The negative zone creates bad feelings

If there is a positive ‘zone’ then there is certainly a negative zone and while the positive zone brings feeling of control and satisfaction the negative zone brings feelings of loss of control, dissatisfaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety and an overall feeling that things are not going well at all. Occupying the negative zone is an unhappy place.

Differences between the zones

The basic psychological process of absorption that I am calling ‘The Zone’ seems prone to ‘kick in’ whenever we spend time focusing on a particular activity.


It could be rock climbing or it could be self-criticism. It probably does not matter to the process. It is quite easy to call it a day and come off the rock face and go home after a satisfying day out. The positive zone will disappear and becomes a memory of concentration and mastery because it is recognised as a discrete event different and separate from the world of work and responsibility.

However, if you occupy the negative zone well it doesn’t quit. It runs into the evening and then the night and onto the next day. The negative zone is hard to escape because you never realise you are in it!

Depression, anxiety and the negative zone

This is the case for both depressing and anxiety provoking experiences. Indeed, the feeling of threat that comes from a faulty appraisal of the world creates its own negative zone that is engulfing, frightening and potentially never ending until you call a halt to it through recognition that it is only a negative feeling zone.

When you acknowledge you are in a ‘negative feeling zone’ you will probably be motivated to seek out a depression treatment or an anxiety therapy, but no matter what else you do you must get out of the negative feeling zone to be able to feel you are moving forward.

No control without context…ditch bad feelings

In this film I explain why you experience the negative feelings associated with depression and anxiety and I offer a very useful tool you can use to pull yourself out of the negative zone.

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