If you were hiking in the woods and stumbled upon a bear that quickly turned and began to pursue you, would you stop and take a moment to plan your next move? Or maybe calculate out, with pen and paper, the options to get out of the situation? NO! Your brain switches over, in less than 9/10ths of a second, into survival mode and you react without even thinking about it.
This way of reacting to dangerous situations is critical for a lot of reasons. True danger, like a car coming around a corner as your 4 year old is riding their bike, is averted when you’re in survival mode. We were made to fight, flight, or freeze when in survival mode and the cool thing is, we don’t even have to tell our brains to go there. It happens automatically. But what happens when your life is constantly telling your brain to activate survival mode.
There is a lot happening during this time of the year. I recently talked to a good girlfriend that felt like she was “fighting” to keep her time intentional with her family this season. Fighting!
Can you relate?
When it comes to stress, overcommitment, and hurry we have a God given “fight or flight” instinct that takes over. This is something that happens without you really giving consent.
I’m so thrilled to have my friend Jaclyn Weider come talk to us this week on the podcast about getting out of survival mode.
This season can be silent, calm, holy, and meaningful. Be on guard for the thief of joy and come listen in to ensure you’re actually able to enjoy your Christmas instead of fighting!
Signs You’re in Survival Mode
When you paint a picture of your life what does it look like?
Survival mode is really about getting out of a situation and then getting back to connection mode or “normal life”. Ideally you want to be moving from surviving to thriving, Jaclyn says.
First it helps if you can identify when you’re in survival mode. Maybe you’re having a rough day and this is a low point. Bouncing back is easy and natural for you. That’s great, you have a lot of self awareness and you’ll find a lot of things in this post that will continue to make sure you’re not getting stuck in survival mode but living life as fully as you can.
However, if you find somethings on this list (or maybe the whole list) that you’re nodding your head to then you could be in survival mode.
Here Are 9 Signs You’re in Survival Mode
- You feel like you’re drowning or barely keeping your head above water and feel the term “chicken with your head cut off” far too often
- Everything is urgent, your to-do list is filled with “do today” or “top of the list” items
- You’re only thinking about how to get through the next 24 hours – long term planning is no where on your radar
- Your eating and sleeping (basic needs) are suffering, you’re too overwhelmed with other things
- You’re more reactive than proactive, you just can’t get ahead
- Moments to laugh and smile are few and far between – you’re just trying to avoid a really awful day
- You don’t have time to deal with conflict so you push it away to deal with later
- You’re the only one that can deal with it, nobody else will do it right
- You’re just skating by, everything is mediocre because there’s no time to make it really great so you settle for “good enough”
Learning to first name your feelings or situation is step 1. Now you need to develop the plan to move back into a mode of connection and rest. But remember, if you’re in true danger (bear chasing you) planning is hard to do.
Identify if your survival mode is appropriate. Has there been a recent life change, trauma, death, or move? There are some things that happen in life that put you into an extended period of survival mode that you need to assess realistically. If your body is in true stress recognize that and then come along to prepare a plan to gently ease out of this state allowing your body to regroup and get back on track.
What Happens When Your Body is in Survival Mode?
Survival mode is a stressful place to be. Tunnel vision is in full effect, your brain is firing in different ways and you aren’t allowed to do very many practical things when you’re in survival mode. This all makes getting out of survival mode truly difficult.
Have you been stuck in survival mode?
Survival mode will prevent you from working through conflict, finding time to rest and restore, it will focus on the negative and bad in most all situations.
It’s no secret that these days of having little kids at home are extremely tough. There’re moms everywhere, all over this great big world that have shoes similar to yours. They’re in survival mode. They experience sunset fatigue and they’re just trying to get dinner on the table while keeping everyone alive!
If you’ve been in survival mode too long you may be stuck and getting out is tough! Your body and brain are overwhelmed and fatigued which means when conflict arises it’s often mishandled. Jaclyn talks about this in the Unhurried Life Podcast episode this week more!
How Relationships are Affected
When you’re in survival mode and conflict with a friend or spouse (or even child) comes up, you can’t give the problem the time or attention it needs to be resolved. Or maybe it’s getting the time but in a harmful way. You may be talking too much about the problem, and sharing it over and over cultivates the offense, damaging the relationship from the inside out. Sometimes re-sharing damages more and more vs. solving the problem with the person involved.
Depression can even start to creep in. Survival mode is a twin to the regular things that bring depression: lack of sleep, hopelessness and stress. Jaclyn says that she was experiencing these things and a lot of it was brought on by her blaming others for her situation.
“ I was waiting for my spouse to change or circumstance to change but its ok to say this is hard and then to realize I don’t have to stay here”
Relationships are going to suffer when you forget to give others grace , miscommunication is 9/10 the cause of conflict at any time, not just when in fight or flight mode!
When it comes to how relationships are affected look for the friend that truly wants to help fix the problem. Questions you can ask to assess where you’re at are: Can you help me see? Am I overreacting? I want to know. Remember too that others have full and complex lives not JUST YOU. Think about being the friend that helps someone else get out of survival mode.
Getting Out of Survival Mode
Sometimes it’s way too easy to cast blame.
I have to admit (not easily or with pride) that I’ve caught myself uttering these words under my breath about my husband, “if he would just…”
Do the dishes
tell me he loves me more
help out with the kids
fold a little bit of laundry….
I’ve also found myself saying this about friends too. If she would just text me every once in a while or offer to bring over Starbucks sometime or invite me.
Ever felt like you’re just sitting around waiting for others to change what THEY are doing so you can get back on track with your life?
This is a place that every human has struggled, you’re not alone. But what do you do to get unstuck from this place of reactive frustration and the blame game? How do you assess your life and your inner self to make sure that survival mode and the 9 signs of it are not holding you up?
6 Steps to Get Out of Survival Mode
This is where we start to be problem solvers. Once you’ve identified that, yes, you’re indeed stuck in survival mode. You’ve already done step 1 which is learning to name your feelings and situation. Yay!
This is going to be easier than you thought! Here are the 6 steps to get out of survival mode:
- Identify what mode you’re in
- Assess yourself, bring nobody else into the equation
- Look for the growth opportunity or what you can learn from being here
- Start by building momentum in the right direction with little wins
- Build a new mindset
- REST, true rest
How to Process Emotions
What is emotional intelligence? When you have the ability to recognize and label the feeling you’re having you’re demonstrating emotional intelligence. Some ways to easily do this when you’re in the moment are to ask: Why am I feeling this emotions?
Identifying what’s really going on at a deeper level gives you the ability to assess your reaction. How reasonable is it? Are you, by chance, overreacting? Overreacting or acting out of level with the true need for protection sends your body into an unneeded survival mode.
Assess and Grow
As a family we recently went through a pretty lengthy stint of trauma. During the pandemic my son’s best friend and next door neighbor (who we had been quarantined with) passed away among many other tough events. When this happened we spent a lot of days and nights talking about his friend but also looking for ways to learn and grow from this event.
Another situation my husband and I found ourselves in had me asking over and over again: What’s the opportunity here? It’s way too easy to get stuck on the negative, the frustration of the circumstance and dwell in an unhealthy place. By looking for the opportunity to grow and thrive instead of just “getting through it” we were ensuring we didn’t let our minds get stuck in survival mode.
When you assess or gauge where you’re at with coping, dealing, conflict and other factors that are going on in your life checking in with yourself is key. For those that aren’t super self aware it’s ok to have an outside accountability partner to reflect with. Make sure you’re not just going to complain about others but to assess yourself.
It can be easy to use your spouse as an identifier of struggles and emotions but this is a fine line. You may be setting him up for a trap with this type of role. Think of his role as more of a gauge not the identifier of the places in your life you need to reassess. Jaclyn talks about this beautifully in the Unhurried Life Podcast episode this week!
This type of identification and self awareness takes practice and is learned over time. Remember to fine tune once you’ve got some support set up.
Gaining Momentum and Altering Your Mindset
Imagine a bucket full of water with 50 little holes all over. If you’re trying to keep the water in the bucket, each time you plug a hole you keep a little more inside. You’re making a difference when it comes to your goal. Even though each plug seems small it’s part of the bigger picture.
When you’re building momentum toward the area you want to go toward, look for and set yourself up for little wins. This will trigger inner motivation that keeps you going and shows your brain that it can be done.
When you see small successes you’re more likely to continue on. What is one way you can set yourself up for a small victory today that signals your brain out of survival mode?
Your mindset, when it comes to victories and situations, is such a valuable tool. Recognizing your role in various things allows you to take responsibility where it’s needed and release stress when it’s out of your control.
Having the ability to step back long enough and ask, what is it that I’m supposed to do in this moment? Not what I think I should but what I can!
As you alter your mindset out of survival mode and into connection you can’t compare your feelings of overwhelm and stress with what someone else feels. This is your process so apart from an accountability partner or professional discuss your situation carefully.
Learning How to Rest
My absolute favorite for you and what is going to make a huge difference is learning how to rest well to switch out of survival mode. For Jaclyn that was learning how to make wise choices with (kid free) time.
What you’re doing with your free time, choosing to get coffee, groceries, shopping is that depleting you or filling you up – to be smarter about your use of time ask this question:
What does my soul need right now?
Notice there is no should or could in that question. Only the need part. Survival mode is an automatic trigger in your brain that switches on for protection. You have to be the one that flips the switch back down to off. A few ideas for resting are spending time in prayer, napping, walking phone free and so many other great ways.
You need to care for yourself or survival mode will kick in, choose rest. Operating from a place of rest. When you’re trying to get stuff done from a place of depletion you’re sending your body into overdrive and starvation.
Sometimes rest doesn’t appear productive in our culture so we often try to avoid it. Look at some ways to practice active rest – creative things, paint, color, draw, express creativity, or slowly creating a meal (better yet, make it a dessert after the kids are down).
You may love and value productivity. It feels good to get things done and out of the way but realize rest is productive too.
No More Survival Mode
Remember this is about the holidays and keeping perspective. Focus on little wins instead of trying to gauge something by the whole big picture or your “idea” of how it should go.
This week on the podcast Jaclyn and I sit down to discuss just that. How to identify and process your emotions. What the first step is and question you should start asking yourself to become that better version you know you can be.
We uncover how to gain a little momentum in the right direction when it comes to slowly creating a whole new you – Thrive Mode!
With Christmas JUST around the corner this is so important, remember the little moments and the faces of the people around you. Take a second to just sit on these days try to remember that gifts, decor, and food will all fade but the memory of your feelings will be what lasts!
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