Have you ever had a moment when you impulsively took action?
Have you ever felt hijacked by your emotions because of reminder of a past trauma?
Being in Survival Mode
Being in a survival mode means that your brain has signaled to your body that you are unsafe and need to get to safety to survive. This could happen when the danger is to your physical or emotional safety. When our body is in survival mode for long periods of time it impacts the way our brain functions and how our body responds to others and our environment.
We function best when we are in our resilient zone. In this zone we are able to creative problem solve and respond instead of react. The resilient zone allows us to utilize the “long road of processing” which means that we are able to logically process with our frontal cortex what is happening in the situation (Bennet, 2017). When we are in a survival mode we do not have access to our logical processing because our body is seeking to get to safety. Our brain has something called the Amygdala that is constantly scanning for danger around us. When our brain detects that we are in danger our brain signals to our body to release stress hormones, which then puts us on the “short road” of processing (Bennet, 2017). This means that we are impulsively reacting instead of logically processing with our frontal cortex. There are three survival responses we could have when our stress hormones are released, which are fight, flight, or freeze.
The sympathetic nervous system releases cortisol in response to ongoing distress. You might remember a time when you felt stuck in a situation. You felt the ongoing distress of being around difficult people or having to work or live in a place that brought anxiety or anger. As cortisol is released it can feel like a flood of energy that sweeps you away and keeps you stuck in a sense of swirling looking for a way to find your feet again (Dana, 2020).”Deb Dana – Befriending Your Nervous System
Living in Survival Mode
There are times when people experience a constant state of stress or feelings of danger due to their environment, compromised internal safety, or oppression in society. Examples of these types of situations are living in abusive relationships, being sexually assaulted, living in a community with violence, or living in poverty. When we have experienced feelings of long-term toxic stress or feelings of danger, whether that be emotional or physical, it changes the way we process information, the way we cope, the way our body experiences stress and safety, and makes it difficult for our body to be regulated.
All of us experience life in our own way and process information and circumstances differently. I personally have felt hijacked or in survival mode several times recently by my emotions because of triggers that brought me back to a time when I was hurt or experienced something that overwhelmed me. I wanted to share when this happened and how I responded because you may relate to this. In the situations that I experienced recently I was safe. I was in circumstances that did not threaten my physical wellbeing. But there were dynamics happening that triggered me to feel that I was not heard, that I was not wanted, that I didn’t have worth, and was not valuable. Looking back at the experiences that triggered me they were average situations, but when they occurred I was flooded by these feelings and felt a desire to flee and retreat to a safe space by myself. These are the actions that I took when this happened during these separate occasions. In one circumstance I contacted a friend and shared about the feelings I was overwhelmed by and I also gave myself space to feel the have this desire to runaway and to turn off my phone and retreat for a few hours. In another circumstance I chose to distract myself by listening to a book on audible and have a moment by myself. In the third circumstance I stepped away from the situation and journaled all that I was feeling and all that was occurring around me.
Since this time of experiencing these three triggering circumstances I have been working to practice more grounding techniques in order to build my resilience to handle stress more effectively. I have also decided to go to therapy. I know there is a lot of stigma surrounding going to seek treatment for mental health concerns. But YOUR mental health is more valuable than any stigma that might be holding you back. If you feel like treatment would be helpful it could be good idea to give it a try! I used the Psychology Today website to find a therapist near me.
Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist
Fear is whispering to me and I feel the power of it’s messageDeb Dana – Befriending Your Nervous System
No one can be trusted!
No place is safe!
This is the sympathetic system at work. Where in your body do you feel this most strongly? Find the place this energy activates for you (Dana, 2020).”
Most of us have heard about the survival responses that we can be experienced. There are three main responses including fight, flight, and freeze.
In this image the black lines represent being in our resilient zone. This is where we function at our best and are able to experience stress and have a release of calm and relaxation so that we don’t go into survival modes. The red line represents when we experience a trigger or stress beyond our capacity that pushes us out of our resilient zone. When this happens we can have a fight or flight response that causes us to be emotionally reactive and to seek action through aggression or by running away. When we experience the freeze response we can feel as though we are not able to physically react to what is going on around us. Being in any of these three modes for long periods of time can be harmful for our physical and mental health.
How can we return to our resilient zone?
There is hope! Be compassionated towards yourself as you learn to listen and work towards resilience. We can grow our resilient zone by practicing sensation-based resilience tools like grounding techniques or shifting to calm places in our body or mind when we are starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed. Below is a link to a post that I previously wrote about blooming into our resilience:
Bennett, M. (2017). Connecting Paradigms A Trauma-Informed & Neurological Framework for Motivational Interviewing Implementation. Bennett Innovation Group, L3C.
Dana, D. (2020). Befriending Your Nervous System. Speech. Audible.
Threshold Globalworks, founder of Social Resilience Model. Welcome To Threshold Globalworks – Threshold GlobalWorks