In recent months, has survival mode become a mercilessly familiar companion? If so, you’re not alone. As the world continues to grapple with the uncertainties of our current reality, many of us feel overwhelmed and fatigued from constantly adjusting and accommodating new communicative habits, health safety practices, financial pressures, and social distancing protocols. It can be hard not to give in to feelings of discouragement at times. But while we all face unique challenges during this critical time in history, one fact remains: we’re in this together – facing similar anxieties alongside an unshakeable determination for hope and courage that will carry us through each day’s struggles!

What is survival mode?

Survival mode can be long-lasting, especially if someone has a history of trauma. When confronted with a threat, humans have two options: fight or flight. This choice is based on the brain’s interpretation of whether the threat can be overcome or something too dangerous to confront. In “fight mode,” the brain secretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that help the body become stronger, faster, and more alert. Muscles are primed for action, and breathing and heart rate increase to provide more oxygen to the muscles. “Flight mode” causes the opposite effects: muscles relax, breathing and heart rate slow down, and energy is conserved. The fight or flight response is a survival mechanism that has been essential in helping animals escape danger throughout history. This response can still be lifesaving in emergencies like car accidents or fires.

What can induce this response?

When humans have to deal with trauma, grief, and stress,  we also go into fight or flight. Living in survival mode can be exhausting. It can feel like you’re constantly on edge, always waiting for the next challenge to appear. If you’re experiencing grief, trauma, or extreme stress, the signs of living in survival mode may be all too familiar. Perhaps you find it difficult to concentrate on even the simplest tasks or always feel anxious. You might even notice physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches that seem out of nowhere.

How can I overcome living in survival mode?

Living in survival mode can be an incredibly challenging experience. Whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, coping with financial difficulties, or simply trying to navigate the daily stresses of life, the experience can leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and uncertain. One of the most important things to remember during this time is that you are not alone. Many others have gone through similar experiences and can offer support and guidance as you navigate your journey. Additionally, taking time to care for yourself is essential, whether that means seeking therapy, practicing relaxation techniques, or engaging in activities that bring you joy. If you recognize that you are living in survival mode due to trauma responses, I would suggest seeking professional help. Treatment methods such as EMDR help individuals reengage the part of their brain that can help re-process trauma that can get stuck in the part of the brain that is ultimately about survival. 

Whatever your experience, know that resources and communities are available to help you overcome the grief, trauma, and stress of living in survival mode. At Unload It Therapy, our therapists provide support through our services for grief, stress, and trauma. Contact us today!

About The Author

Roma Williams is a licensed marriage and family therapist and supervisor (LMFT-S) and the founder of Unload It Therapy in Houston, Texas. She has over a decade of experience in the mental health field, with a history of providing counseling services to individuals, couples, families, and groups. Roma brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her practice. Her warm and empathetic approach to therapy has transformed the lives of countless clients who have sought her guidance. Roma is now also committed to helping to usher in the next generation of compassionate, responsible therapists through the weekly supervision she provides to the therapists of Unload It Therapy.

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