Anxiety and stress may occur from time to time for everyone, but for some, this is constant. And that’s not normal.
This non-stop cycle of fight or flight can put people into survival mode, and that has repercussions on our mental and physical health.
According to Dr. Gia Marson, “Stressful stimuli cause a physiological and psychological response called survival mode.”
Survival mode is a defense mechanism meant to protect against imminent threats. However, modern stressors such as school, work, and family trap many of us in a viciously constant state of survival mode.
The result is a worsening mental health crisis, leading to many individuals developing anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and sleep disorders which, in the long run, also lead to physical health issues.
Understanding the signs you may be stuck in survival mode is crucial for these reasons alone. And Dr. Brooke Weinstein, an occupational therapist and parenting thought leader, created a series of videos intended to help you do just that.
Signs You’re Living In Survival Mode
1. Everything feels urgent.
According to licensed counselor Kiara Luna, “[If you are feeling] a sense of urgency to complete certain tasks no matter how small or simple they may be, you may be operating in survival mode.”
She goes on to say that urgency often stems from fear, anxiety, and anger, which signals to our brain an immediate need for action. This heightened state puts immense strain on our mental and emotional well-being. which can lead us to operate in survival mode.
2. You’re always tired.
Part of the process of preparing our bodies for survival mode includes extending more energy than usual. Our bodies do this by raising our cortisol levels.
While this is useful for a short duration of time, prolonged use tires our body, depleting our energy sources close to zero.
3. You anger easily.
You are with your partner, and everything is going great. You had an excellent day, and you think to yourself nothing can go wrong. Everything is just so perfect!
That is, until your partner does one tiny thing that instantly sets you off into a fit of rage. After all, how dare they leave dishes in the sink without washing them!
If you are experiencing fits of rage out of nowhere constantly, this may be a sign you are living in survival mode.
4. Nothing feels good enough.
Not being able to enjoy the activities you once loved is a gut-wrenching experience — but you can’t help it! Nothing ever feels good enough.
The book you just read is trash! The date your partner took you on was horrendous. That good grade you got on your paper could have been better.
If you are experiencing this every day, you may be living in survival mode.
5. No day feels like a good day.
If you find yourself constantly feeling that no day is a good day, this could be a sign of multiple underlying mental health issues.
While Weinstein identifies this as a sign of survival mode, it’s crucial to delve deeper into the root cause.
It’s important to highlight that this emotional state aigns with other mental health issues beyond survival mode, making it essential to seek professional guidance to tackle the problem more effectively.
6. You wake up stressed.
According to Accelerated Resolution Therapy, “Survival mode is another term for continuous, unresolved stress, also known as chronic stress.”
Experiencing chronic stress over time can disrupt both our digestive and reproductive systems. Issues such as anxiety, depression, and sleeping disorders, can all occur due to chronic stress.
7. You’re constantly irritable.
No matter what, you’ve been feeling irritated every single day!
Your partner makes you roasted garlic chicken instead of plain roasted chicken? Irritated.
Your children say one word to you after you get home from a long day of work? Irritated.
The server gives you BBQ chicken wings instead of buffalo chicken wings? Irritated!
Harvard Business Review says, “Survival zone is when your energy is high but negative… People in this zone are anxious, impatient, irritable, fearful, and self-critical.”
8. You feel lots of anxiety.
Have you been anxious a lot lately? For instance, your friends want to go out to a nice restaurant and you’re just so anxious because what do you even wear? Or maybe you are cooking a nice dinner for your partner but you’re so anxious because what happens if they don’t like it!
High anxiety can send you into survival mode like almost nothing else.
9. You zone out often.
You’re in a meeting and you are zoned out. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to pay attention!
Pinching yourself doesn’t work and rubbing your eyes somehow makes it worse. Then it happens, someone from that meeting calls on you and asks you a question.
Panicking, you stutter out a lame answer and hang your head in shame. You ask yourself, “Why is it that I can never seem to focus?”
10. You have difficulty concentrating.
According to UT Health Houston, cognitive dulling is “a form of mental fatigue that leads to difficulty concentrating, decreased, productivity, and a decline in emotional and mental health.”
This can occur due to our bodies constantly living in survival mode.
Cognitive dulling can cause issues with our productivity and a decline in our mental and physical health, which, in the long run, can affect both our personal and professional lives.
11. You feel overwhelmed.
It can be hard to focus on important tasks when you are constantly in survival mode and your sense of uncertainty can quickly escalate into powerful overwhelming emotions.
This may lead to forgetfulness, confusion, and withdrawal. Over time these can snowball into bigger issues such as depression and anxiety.
If that isn’t bad enough, being overwhelmed on a daily basis can be a catalyst for substance abuse and many other disorders.
12. You engage in destructive behavior.
Many of us have engaged in destructive behaviors at some point in our lives, whether it be throwing a pillow or breaking up an otherwise healthy relationship.
However, when experiencing constant stress, our coping mechanisms tend to be a bit extreme.
Overeating and substance abuse are just some of the many dangerous destructive behaviors we engage in when are put under constant stress.
13. You’re easily startled.
Are you the type of person who is easily startled when someone taps you on the shoulder and greets you? Are you the type to jump out of your skin when you hear an unexpectedly loud noise?
Startling easily is biologically programmed into us when we are in survival mode in order to keep us safe.
14. You have panic attacks.
Lately, you may be feeling on edge. You wake up in a panic, you get dressed in a panic, and you are constantly working in a panic. No matter what, your heart feels as if it’s going to fall out of your chest every single day.
This can understandably cause people to experience loads of stress, which can unintentionally put them in survival mode.
How can you help yourself out of survival mode?
- Practice self-care: Engage in activities that bring you a sense of joy and relaxation! Examples of these activities can include exercising and reading your favorite book or manga.
- Join a support group: Sharing your experiences with others can help foster a sense of community and understanding. So, don’t be afraid to join support groups in your local area! If you feel intimidated by that, joining an online community can be just as effective.
- Establish a routine: Creating structure provides a sense of control and accomplishment, which can contribute to our emotional well-being.
While all of this serves as a great start, the most impactful step toward healing involves seeking professional help.
By embracing these proactive measures, you can slowly develop healthier coping mechanisms over time, eventually liberating yourself once and for all.
Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career and family topics.