„Survival Mode“ refers to various strategies that a person uses to deal with stress in life in order to survive. This may sound very harsh at first, but that is exactly what these strategies are for, namely to ensure the survival of the human being. This develops especially in childhood.
As a child, one is dependent on some people (parents, grandparents, etc.). Depending on the trauma experienced (violence (physical / psychological), abuse, neglect) and/or stress in childhood, the mind equips itself with different strategies to ensure survival and to better protect itself. These strategies are then reflected in our nervous system. That is, the sympathetic nervous system is much more active than the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is therefore unable to do its job – namely to relax – at all; which means, conversely, that the body is constantly tense and preparing itself for potential danger. It is completely unimportant whether a real danger is actually imminent or not, because for our nervous system everything represents a danger.
On a physical level, „survival mode“ is a very strenuous state. This ensures that the body can no longer perform its tasks properly, such as healing processes or other functions. An indication that the parasympathetic nervous system is no longer working properly can be increased illness, great exhaustion and fatigue. Healing processes could also take longer than usual. The body needs more rest than that which it receives. Therefore, survival mode extends not only to an emotional and mental level, but especially to a physical level.
What is the „survival mode“? Meaning, definition, explanation
Survival mode is actually a completely natural reaction of the body to a perceived danger. Thus, pre-programmed reactions are available to us in stressful situations. These can be, for example: freezing, flight, anger, vigilance, and anticipated pleasure (addictive behavior). If one develops one or more of these reactions, it is an indication of the body’s survival in dangerous situations.
If we take a serious car accident or trauma as an example, we see that many people can still remember all the details. This is because the senses were heightened by the stress developed during the event. Then, after some time, a kind of „shock“ may occur and difficulties in „thinking clearly“ may arise. All of this is called a survival response.
It is not always clearly recognized that the basis of some behavioral problems may simply be survival reactions. For example, during an argument between a couple, the partner may simply run off or snap. It can also happen that during a lecture one forgets what one wanted to say or simply starts stuttering. With children, it may be that they withdraw when pressured or stressed. They may either run away from a perceived threat or start lashing out wildly when they feel cornered.
What does stress actually mean?
Simply put, living in constant stress means living in survival mode. Body and mind are out of balance. Stress is an innate mechanism and also a part of our autonomic nervous system. This has the task of always creating a balance between body and mind. In simple terms, this means that in a stressful situation, the balance between relaxation and tension must be restored in order to remain productive and healthy. In general, stress is understood to be when one experiences threatening or stressful situations. A lot of energy is expended in order to ensure survival. There are three types of stress:
- Chemical stress (toxins, various allergies, bacteria and viruses)
- Physical stress (falls, car accidents, trauma)
- Emotional stress (for example, a single mother, mortgages, finances in general, conflicts with a partner, boss, or co-workers).
What happens to the body when it is in survival mode?
It can be stated that the body is in some way stuck in the stress. It does not matter which of the previously mentioned four strategies is followed. In survival mode there is hardly any possibility to grow or expand. Nor does it present much flexibility. The only task this mode has is: survival. One could say that this corresponds to the standard of living of a Neanderthal. Here it was really only about the pure survival. Nevertheless, we are some steps further in the human development and therefore the human being should learn to live and not to survive. At the same time, survival can also hinder life itself.
In childhood, the behavior of survival mode may be especially necessary and important. But after childhood, this behavior only disturbs and it keeps one trapped in one spot. One should become aware of this.