At some point I decided I didn’t want to continue living my life in survival mode. Survival mode can mean many things to many people depending on their situation, but ultimately it’s when the mechanisms we have in place for basic survival kick in to gear. We aren’t conscious of it because our body takes care of it for us.
Survival mode can mean we’re experiencing an actual or perceived famine (read:dieting and/or mental restriction) in which case our bodies will slow down our metabolisms to keep us from burning too much energy and, you know, dying. It conserves our reserves at all cost. This is a stressful state for the body to be in and it has long term health consequences, but at the time, it keeps us alive. It helps us survive.
Another form of survival mode is when we experience trauma, whether physical or emotional. When we are ill equipped to deal with whatever happened/is happening, our brains step in and block it out. We may also unconsciously switch our attention to something else, something manageable. This might be an eating/exercise disorder, alcoholism, shopping, social media, excessive t.v. watching, drugs, you name it. These things are done with the intention of numbing out. It takes us out of our bodies, out of our pain and in to survival mode. Depending on the chosen coping mechanism, it can have some dangerous long term effects, but short term, it means we survive.
We are wired to put survival above all else. I imagine we wouldn’t be here today if we weren’t.
The problem with staying in survival mode, aside from it’s long term effects, is that it keeps us stuck. It keeps us living unconsciously, moving through the motions, not fully understanding or aware of our actions. It keeps us from letting go and freeing ourselves of our trauma.
I’m grateful to coping mechanisms for helping me get through really rough periods in my life that I was ill equipped to deal with at the time, but they aren’t a sustainable way to continue living. When I was ready to deal with the things I was numbing away, I stopped engaging with those behaviors.
Part of why it’s so helpful to become aware of yourself and learn how to be in your body, is because it helps you become aware of your actions and why you’re engaging with certain behaviors. There is nothing wrong with binge watching t.v., with using social media, with having a drink, etc. but the intention behind it that causes the issue. In the same way that you can mindlessly eat 5 brownies because you were numbing your feeling, you can choose to eat 5 brownies and feel your feelings at the same time. The behavior itself isn’t wrong (although I will never advocate for drug usage or excessive alcohol consumption), but the intention behind it.
If you notice that you are mindlessly scrolling through social media, researching or starting a new diet, blaming your body for all of your unhappiness, or have a strong pull to do drugs/drink, or binge watch netflix mindlessly, or whatever your unconsciously chosen behavior is, it can be a really good indicator that something else is going on that you need to address. Therapy is really helpful for figuring out the bigger, more complicated or harder things, or if it’s something more minor and manageable, having a support system in place to be your sounding board as you address the real issue is really important.
It isn’t an easy or small thing to face your struggles, but it does help you get out of survival mode and in to actually living.
Are you living in survival mode?
Disclaimer: I am not a therapist or medical professional. This is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any illnesses and should not be seen as a substitute for professional help or delay you in seeking treatment. I share my experiences here in hopes of helping others, but I absolutely encourage you to seek professional help for your struggles.