Greetings and Salutations, Blog Readers!
Today, we are talking about survival mode, and how much it takes out of you. I don’t know if these words will be helpful to you, but I think it may prove to be useful to know, if you are in survival mode, or maybe trying to get out of it.
So, first and foremost, lets discuss what survival mode is. No, I don’t mean exclusively a shit hit the fan, end of the world situation to mean “survival mode”. Survival mode can be any situation in which your survival, your longevity, is in jeopardy.
Harvard Health Publishing (2018) says that Survival mode is: “an adaptive response of the human body to help us survive danger and stress. When we experience stress, a sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses occur in our body that allow us to respond by preparing them to fight, flight, or freeze.
Living in this state, can take its toll on our mental and physical health, even more so if we don’t realize we are living in it.
For many people, you may not even realize you are in survival mode. But let’s say you live check to check, or, you maybe are unemployed, suffering from the global pandemic, lost your home…
Any number of factors can put you and your survival at risk, and when those things happen, you find yourself in survival mode.
For example, if you find you are constantly exhausted, no matter how much you sleep. You are always trying to survive the next 24 hours, the stress of which keeps your heard beating erratically, your sleep disrupted, and your anxiety at high levels, no matter how much you try. Every day is pretty bad, never good, and your goal is to survive the day, and maybe, if at all possible, avoid a truly terrible day.
Everything is a reaction; nothing is a proactive plan. You are never a step ahead; everything is response and reaction. Everything is risky, everything is desperate.
You have no control of anything. You feel alone. Eating properly is a laughable idea, but, sadly, you don’t truly laugh at much or enjoy the day.
Your survival mode may not be as severe as others, and yours could be more severe too. Regardless of this, survival mode takes its toll on your physical and mental well-being, leaving you not quite yourself.
I knew I had been in survival mode for a while, even before the pandemic, and then when I experienced a truly terrible breakup, (the result of discovering a series of devastating betrayals) and of course, like so many others, I lost my job when the pandemic started. I then found myself living alone, for the first time in my life, and with no control over my income. I worked hard to make content for the few clients who could pay, but without a massive following or resume of content creation, I was rarely picked by the few clients who could afford to pay for content. When I was, it was a nice change, but it was rarely more than enough to help try and make a dent in the ever-growing mound of debt.
I was living in a shitty apartment in a not great part of town, drowning in debt, unable to afford much of anything, constantly searching for a job. The world told me “Just apply for work, people on unemployment just don’t want to work anymore I see signs for people hiring all the time!” But, as we NOW know, most of those “Help wanted” signs were just for show, largely meant to gaslight people like me.
It all led to more and more despair. Living more and more in survival mode.
And then finally…A job offer. A truly good job offer for a work from home job with a good company.
Then began my training.
I thought for sure, the hard times were over, and I could slowly exit survival mode, dig myself out of the hole of debt I was in, save up, maybe even consider moving to another part of town, or out of state.
The hard times were over.
I had been in therapy for about a year, the one good thing to come out of all that time unemployment, was me taking therapy, using a sliding scale payment structure. The therapy helped me know I had been in survival mode, and also to see how I could make improvements in my life. I slipped, I faltered, I made mistakes, but, in the three months after I got my new job, I slowly began making improvements.
But I couldn’t help noticing how HARD it was. I couldn’t sleep enough; I couldn’t retain information. The poor guy training me at my new job had to have been driven CRAZY with how slow I was learning things.
My brain was still in survival mode, the food I was eating was still not nutritious, and the sleep I was getting wasn’t great. But I slowly was able to buy healthier food again, I paid off debts, I started working out, journaling, doing all the hard work I had been trying to do for over a year, guided by my therapist.
Slowly, I excited survival mode. I got better at my job, good enough to be considered for a promotion, which I eventually got. I was able to pay rent early, rather than on late or barely on time. I was able to finally start sleeping more than four hours a night.
I didn’t understand, at first, why I was struggling so much with learning my job, until it started clicking. Until “how am I going to eat?” stopped being a question I had to ask myself. Before long, my brain let me take in information and retain it. My brain stopped being so anxious, and the hard work I had been doing on my mental health finally paid off.
I exited survival mode and began to live again. I could plan for more than the next day, in fact, I could make plans weeks, months in advance, and, before long, I was able to start imagining and planning for years ahead of me, versus trying to just struggle on to the next day.
Mental health improved, making me realize how much survival mode was making me have even worse mental health.
I stopped smoking as much weed, and as many cigarettes, and now, it’s been five weeks since I had the later, and I’ve smoked cannabis once in the last month.
Which, as it turns out, means I actually can get high! If you know me at all, you know I don’t get high, I can smoke and smoke and smoke, and never be high.
But now, I get high. And I don’t need the help with my mental state, nor do I desire being high, so, I haven’t been smoking.
I can enjoy life again. I can prepare for the next time life throws curveballs. I can insulate myself to avoid more disaster. One of the best things my survival mode brain gave me was to look for at homework, so if the pandemic got bad again, or if another one cropped up, or any old issue happened, I could still work and survive. Now I work from home, so I am better situated for disasters. I can also prepare and plan for problems, I can buy extra food, I can put away money, I can buy things for my Bug Out Bag and Bug In Kit, just in case any number of disasters strike me or my area.
Finally, I am out of survival mode, and into a living mode, preparing and safeguarding for my future.
Now I also know that I WAS in survival mode, for such a long time. I now know that there are levels of survival mode, and I don’t want to go back to any of it, but now I will better recognize it if I do.
And while reflecting on this, I realized this was one of those times when maybe I could write about my life, and help someone who is reading this, so I wanted to type up a little blog about survival mode, and the exhausting existence it is, for anyone who needs to know.
Because sometimes things start to improve, and you wonder why you are struggling. I didn’t understand why I struggled SO HARD learning how to do things that were overwhelmingly simple to do, things I knew I shouldn’t be struggling with.
I didn’t understand why my mental health wasn’t improving for the longest time, or why I was making stupid choices in my dating life, until I finally sat down and reflecting on the state of mind I have been living in for years, longer than the pandemic, I had been in survival mode for so long, the pandemic had only made it worse.
Finally, I was on the other side, so why was I struggling? Because it takes time, my friends, the solution wasn’t as simple as merely finding a job. I had to get several checks under my belt, pay off debt, start eating better again, start being able to do all the little things to get to a healthy mindset.
Now I am here, and I hope anyone else out there who is in survival mode can get out, and if you find you are still in it, despite things being on the up and up – remember, it isn’t just about things getting better. Your brain needs time to process, it needs time to heal, to send signals to your body to relax.
So, I don’t really have tips on how to exit survival mode, since I am speaking in a more general way, and don’t know what has put you in it, but I can say, when those factors start to improve, you may find yourself still there, because it takes time to recover. Don’t hate yourself for needing more time to learn the new job, to catch up the bills, to be able to sleep properly…
It takes time.
You got this.
Thanks for reading,