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  • Hannah Guy, LCSW

Are You in Survival Mode?

What is the first thing that comes to your head when you think of being in survival mode?


For me, I initially think of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. He's just literally trying to survive with Wilson. If you haven't seen Cast Away...it might be a good rainy day movie.


I digress. Most people are not stuck on an island trying to survive.


Survival Mode is more than just what we know of as fight or flight. It looks different for everyone and it can definitely sneak up on you.


Here are some signs you may be in survival mode:


  1. Hypervigilance

  2. Engaging in risky behaviors

  3. Breaking down over things you normally would consider not a big deal

  4. Difficulties making future plans

  5. Increased irritability and "snapping" at little things.

  6. Engaging in unhealthy behaviors (binge eating, smoking, etc.)

  7. Struggling to do small tasks that are typically easy

  8. hypersensitivity to criticism

  9. withdrawing socially

  10. avoiding confrontation

  11. being cold/distant from family/friends

  12. appearing more guarded or defensive

  13. feeling on edge all the time

What is the point of knowing these signs if you don't know what to do with them? Well, the point is to increase awareness and insight. You can't get out of survival mode if you don't know you're even in survival mode.


When you can become aware that you are starting to become more irritable or on edge all the time, that might be a good warning sign that you need to take a step away from whatever you're doing and practice coping skills.


When we go into survival mode we are just trying to make it through the day. Life doesn't feel as meaningful. Our relationships take a back burner. We are stressed out to the max. Because of that our "thinking" brain starts shutting down and our "emotional" brain starts going into overdrive. This leads us to live in a space where we are just reacting to our environment instead of actually living.


Something to note, being in survival mode is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a defense mechanism actually. It's your mind and body's way of protecting you when it perceives you are in danger. That is a great thing when you actually in danger! However, most of the time, we are not in danger so we don't need to be in survival mode. It's physically and emotionally draining to be in survival mode when we don't need to be.


So the big question here is how do we stop living in survival mode and actually start living. I will say that everyone's journey is different and there is no one "right" way to do this. I would however highly recommend you work with a therapist who can help you find what getting out of trauma mode looks like for you.


You don't have to live each day in survival mode. It's going to take work, but it is possible for you to find meaning, peace, and healing.


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