Surviving Survival Mode

March 17, 2022

Jen Shomin

I don’t know about you, but for me the past few years have been...interesting, to say the least. There have been ups and downs, fear, worry, unknowns, which then sometimes lead to what we call "survival mode." There always seems to be new stressors or situations coming at us with no end in sight. We constantly feel like we need to be “on”, “prepared”, or “ready to react” to whatever the world throws at us, especially lately. But this “survival” instinct has been around for much longer than just the past few years. 

The survival mode I’m speaking of is when our “fight or flight” response is activated for extended periods of time and causes a state of dysregulation in our nervous system. This was great for our ancestors if they were being chased by a lion, but in this day and age, we’re not being chased by lions (hopefully). The same state of dysregulation our ancestors experienced still happens within us but manifests in other ways. For instance, survival mode can kick in when you are preparing for a meeting or a big sale, studying for a big test for school, or even worrying about a scenario/outing/trip that is happening soon. This state is triggered by stress and your brain doesn't know if you are in fact being chased by a lion or if you just realized you forgot about a very important meeting with a client (and now you must scramble and try to wing it). It’s a great mechanism our bodies use when we need to get down to business (or get out of harms way), but if you are constantly in this state for extended periods of time, that’s when disease happens. And after coaching many clients and deep reflection on my own habits and life, a lot of us are in this state more than we know of.  

What happens when we’re in a fight or flight response? Our brains lose access to logic, problem solving, and creative thinking. Our behavior becomes impulsive and reactive. Our emotions can can be either highly reactive or even become numb and shut down. Digestion also shuts down and you may go hours without feeling hungry only to be starving on the way home from work ready to eat whatever you can get your hands on as soon as possible. Think about how much this can affect us if we are in the survival mode state more often than a relaxed state. If your body has been in this habit of living for years, think about what it could be doing to your health and wellbeing. 

Just remember, you can survive survival mode. 

As we become conscious of our thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, and responses, we can interrupt the survival mode pattern with consistent practice. Some of the most powerful practices include: breathwork, body movement, dancing, grounding, meditation, cold exposure (like cryotherapy!) and basic small amounts of daily self care (which will look different for everyone). By doing these practices, you’re telling yourself you can safely return to the body and experience the present moment. 

If you consider incorporating some of the habits to help you to minimize the stress in your life, you may notice your body feeling the urge to always being “doing” and become restless, or you might have restless/intense thought patterns. That’s when you need to give yourself some grace and compassion and know that you may be releasing years (or decades!) of conditioned responses or habits that at one time helped you, but now have become your every day wiring. You might even feel “bored” or unconsciously seek conflict, chaos, and unhealthy relationship dynamics that give your body the hit of adrenaline it was used to when entering a fight or flight situation. But remember, all of this is a natural and normal part of the healing process, and any way you can mitigate or process through stress will help your overall wellbeing and quality of life. 

What’s something you can do today to experience a relaxed state? 

If you find yourself needing a little help or guidance coping with "survival mode" talk to a Western Wellness Coach today! Visit to learn more.

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