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Living in Survival Mode

Rebecca Hilliard
Guest Blogger
You’re sitting on your couch at home, everything is OK around you, and yet you feel like something terrible is about to happen.

You’re lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and all you can think about is how you might not make it to the morning.

You’re hanging out with a friend, but you can’t enjoy yourself because you’re distracted by all the things going on around you, looking for the smallest hint of danger.

You’re walking through the grocery store, feeling panicked because it feels like everyone around you could be a threat.

This is what it’s like living in survival mode. This and so much more.

It’s exhausting, it’s miserable, it drains you of all your energy, it makes life so hard, and it’s rarely talked about. When we’re living in survival mode, our brains get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode, we’re exhausted, and anxious, and panicked all at the same time, and yet we’re expected to function like someone who doesn’t have to suffer like this.

The pressure to appear ‘normal’ despite our brains never letting us rest or thrive is so difficult. Sometimes it feels like we’re going to run ourselves into the ground trying to keep up with everyone around us who’s not stuck in survival mode.

While other people were growing and developing and forming their identity those of us in survival mode were trying to survive trauma or abuse or neglect. Survival mode doesn’t just happen for no reason. Those of us who are stuck here experienced something that caused our brains to get into this place. Other people were able to develop normally while we were fighting just to survive. It’s not fair and it makes sense that we would feel like we’re at a disadvantage or behind in what our peers are doing.

But the fact that your brain is constantly in survival mode means that you actually survived something really difficult and that’s amazing. Our brain wants to keep functioning this way because it got us through something awful before and it thinks that it will get us through anything else awful that could happen in the present or the future. The thing about living in survival mode, though, is that you never really get to enjoy life. It makes it so hard to see that everything is OK in the present because your brain is constantly reporting the worst case scenario. There are people in your life that you love. Your brain tells you that they’re going to die and you’re going to end up alone so that you’re prepared for it. You have enough money to pay your bills? Your brain tells you that you’re going to run out of money anyway and end up homeless so that you’re prepared for it when it happens. Over and over again it tries to ‘prepare’ you and it’s hard to not believe what your brain is saying.

If you’re living in survival mode right now, you are not alone. A lot of people are. It’s not talked about a lot, but there are a lot of us suffering this way. Healing is possible though. With a good therapist, sometimes medication, and people around you who understand you, you can teach your brain to shift out of survival mode. The brain is malleable and can literally be reformed to think differently. Sometimes it takes a while and it can be a lot of work but it’s worth it. Therapy is worth it. If you don’t have anyone around you who understands, it’s OK. There are other ways to find support. One of them is through the WhiteFlag App. Through the app, you can meet other people who are going through or have experienced the same things as you. You can meet people there who will understand. It’s a great way to find a community and to feel less alone. Because you are not alone in this.


Get support. Give support. Download the app today.


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