We all experience moments in life that make us question what we want and who we are. When this happens, exhaustion, frustration, and disconnection become our new norm. Even lying in bed sometimes feels like another task on our never-ending to-do lists. But if this is happening to you, and it occurs for more than a day, week, or month, there’s a good chance you might be living in survival mode. Your body and mind enter autopilot, and you do what you need to get by. While you may think this is a productive way to live, the missed deadlines, recurring mistakes, and lack of focus say otherwise. It’s not always easy to know when you’re in it – especially after prolonged exposure to stress like the pandemic. But it will positively impact your life to learn how to get out of it.
What Is ‘Survival Mode’ & Why Is It Dangerous?
Imagine this scenario. You’re on a hike and you see a wolf. How do you feel? What do you do? Well, besides being scared out of your mind, your body starts releasing high amounts of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that allow you to fight, flight, or freeze to save you from danger.
But in your day-to-day world, these wolves might be coworkers, traffic, deadlines, financial difficulties, the pandemic, and personal challenges. Over time, frequent exposure to stress and stress hormones causes us to enter survival mode to keep going. This long-term activation of stress harms our emotional and physical health, putting us at increased risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive problems, and memory impairment. While a stress response can protect us, too much stress is never a good thing.
10 Signs You’re Living in Survival Mode
If you’re going through the motions and facing one stressor after another, how do you know you’re actually in survival mode and not experiencing stress like everyone else? Here are 10 signs that you might be on autopilot.
- Lack of focus
- Everything is a reaction
- You make impulse decisions
- Basic needs are overlooked
- Memory problems
- Consistent overwhelm and anxiety
- You have zero time for yourself
- Lack of motivation and passion
- Compromised immune system
How to Get Out of Survival Mode: 8 Tips
1. Remove the shame
First and foremost, begin removing the layers of shame and guilt. You didn’t ask to be in the spot you are today. In fact, you are doing your best to persevere and work towards accomplishing your goals. Our bodies are experts at adapting to our environments, whether they’re healthy or not. It takes time to break the cycle, adopt new habits, and release yourself from survival mode. Monitor your self-talk and replace old thinking, criticism, and comparison with love, acceptance, and compassion. Today is the perfect time to throw out ways of thinking that don’t serve or benefit you.
2. Acknowledge the stress
As humans, we have an unhealthy knack for pushing things to the side instead of acknowledging our pain. When we constantly deny what’s happening or conceal it with more tasks, we create a recipe for more stress and further psychological difficulties. To release yourself from survival mode, you need to acknowledge you’re deep within its trap. Once you recognize its harm and pay attention to how it’s affecting your life, you will have increased awareness to begin digging yourself out.
3. Connect to yourself
When we’re living on autopilot, we often overlook our needs, wants, and desires. Slow down and pause to reconnect with what your body and mind need. For example, do you need to eat? What about taking a nap? How are you feeling; Angry, sad, upset, or perhaps, you’re not feeling well? Give yourself a brief moment to respond to your needs instead of filling your mind and time with what you think you need to do.
4. Ask for help
When we’re in survival mode, we tend to retreat and shut ourselves off from the world. This hermit nature is mostly due to fear, shame, and embarrassment. But everyone fails, experiences stress and overwhelm, and has moments where they want to give up. Knowing that you’re not alone will help you regain connection to who you are and what you need to start thriving instead of surviving. Reach out to your nearest and dearest and vent all of your frustration. By doing so, you will gain different perspectives and lightbulb moments that help you ground and reconnect to yourself.
5, What do you want?
If you’re living in survival mode, you’re likely used to putting your needs, passions, and interests on the backburner to fulfill a never-ending to-do list and make those around you happy. But it’s time to put yourself high on your priority list and ask what you want. Somewhere within the stress and overwhelm lies an answer. You might have overlooked it, ignored it, and pushed it to the side, but the answer to what you want is within. Take the time to reflect on this question and ignore the limiting beliefs, doubts, and fears clouding the answer.
6. Forgive yourself
Similar to tip number one, you need to forgive yourself. Yes, you made mistakes, you feel terrible, and you might even be upset with yourself. But you’re human. It’s normal to experience ups and downs, feel overwhelmed, and let life take the best of you. But, believe it or not, the situation you’re in is your wake-up call, and your intuition is telling you, “It’s time to make a change”. It means you’re looking for a solution, and you’re ready to grow.
7. Make a new plan
Perhaps you’re in survival mode because there’s something in your life you don’t want and need a change. Ask yourself, is my career bringing me joy? Are my relationships grounding me, supporting me, and making me happy? What do I really want to do with my life? Give yourself time to discover these answers. It may be frightening at first, especially if you feel you’re not worthy of a change, but this introspection might give you the clarity to pave a new pathway for a healthier, happier life. One that you deserve.
8. Assess and find the lessons
Survival mode leads to poor concentration, lack of focus, and, unfortunately, mistakes. You may have a list of past deadlines, lost progress, and regrets. But dwelling on these won’t help you heal, nor will it give you the resources to grow. Instead, assess the damage and find the lessons. Step back and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this”? Chances are, you’ll receive reasons for the events that led you to where you are today, what you can do differently moving forward, and how to prevent yourself from entering survival mode in the first place.
Take the time to determine the source of stress in your life and try removing it one step at a time. And above all, remember your resilience is your gift, and it will help you find a way out.
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