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Are You Living in Survival Mode? The Ultimate Guide to Recognizing It and Tips for Breaking Free

Survival mode is an intricately wired response deeply ingrained in our biology as humans. In ancient times, it was crucial in keeping us alive during life-threatening situations.

But in today's modern world, where threats are more abstract and constant, the survival mode response can become chronic and overwhelming, leading to a range of physical, emotional, and psychological issues.

What is “Survival Mode”?

What Is Survival Mode

Survival mode, often referred to as the "fight-flight-freeze" response, is a primal instinct that activates when the brain perceives a threat. This response triggers a cascade of changes, including an increase in heart rate, heightened senses, and the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While this response can be life-saving in true emergency situations, it can also become problematic when activated frequently due to chronic stress.

How Do You Know When You're in Survival Mode?

Recognizing the subtle nuances of survival mode empowers you to break free from it. Here are some key signs to watch out for: Consider these markers:

  1. Ignoring Basic Needs: You find yourself neglecting essential needs like proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep because you're constantly focused on something else. Prioritizing these needs anchors you in the present moment and establishes a foundation for emotional and physical well-being.

  2. Difficulty Focusing: Your attention drifts as your mind becomes consumed by stressors. You may catch yourself overthinking, and your ability to concentrate decreases as your mind remains preoccupied. You may struggle to juggle multiple tasks efficiently. It's hard to zero in on the task at hand, leaving you feeling scattered and overwhelmed. This problem can hinder your productivity and can actually exacerbate your stress levels.

  3. Overwhelming Stress: You're overwhelmed by stress that seems to be coming from all directions. Even minor challenges seem impossible, and stress permeates every aspect of your life. This constant level of stress can lead to feelings of helplessness and despair, trapping you in a cycle of negative emotions. Recognizing this pattern is the first step toward regaining control.

  4. Sense of Urgency: Mundane tasks adopt an urgency that evokes heightened anxiety. Your perception of time distorts, and everything feels crucial. This distorted perception can strain relationships and impact decision-making.

  5. Memory Issues: Stress impairs your short-term memory, making it difficult to remember tasks and appointments. This forgetfulness stems from the strain on your cognitive resources as your brain devotes so much energy to managing stress and addressing stress can alleviate memory difficulties.

  6. Inability to Relax: Relaxation becomes an elusive concept as your mind remains in a constant state of alertness. For some of my patients, even attempts to meditate triggered more stress than relief. When we can’t relax, the body remains in a perpetual state of readiness, inhibiting the restorative processes necessary for healing.

  7. Mood Swings: You find yourself easily irritable and moody, even in situations that wouldn't typically bother you.These fluctuations often result from the constant tension within you, leading to interpersonal conflicts and emotional instability. Recognizing these mood swings enables you to manage them more effectively.

  8. Lack of Sleep: Sleep disturbances become a norm, leaving you fatigued and less equipped to cope with stress. This can lead to a vicious cycle of heightened stress and poor sleep quality, further perpetuating survival mode.

“Healthy Stress” vs. Chronic Stress: What's the Difference?

Healthy Stress vs Chronic Stress

It's important to distinguish between "healthy stress" and chronic stress. Healthy stress, also known as acute stress, is short-term and often arises in response to challenges that can be resolved. For example, if you are crossing the street and the car is coming, you need to do something, you need to run, you need to cross the street faster, you need to hide yourself, you need to have some kind of stress reaction to survive, you can't just sit down in front of the car and meditate, right? In this case, flight or run would be a healthy stress reaction.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is continuous and prolonged, with no apparent end in sight. While healthy stress can actually enhance performance, chronic stress can lead to many health problems like burnout, anxiety, headache, digestive problems and even a compromised immune system.

What Happens When You're in Survival Mode for Too Long?

Living in survival mode for an extended period can have profound and far-reaching effects on various aspects of your life. The insidious nature of chronic stress, when left unchecked, can affect your physical, emotional, and behavioral well-being, leaving a trail of detrimental consequences.


Chronic stress undeniably affects your physical health. The body's stress response, designed to mobilize resources for immediate action, becomes a double-edged sword when activated persistently.

Survival mode can exacerbate chronic pain conditions or trigger the development of new ones. The heightened stress response can contribute to inflammation and muscle tension, amplifying pain sensations.

Over time, this prolonged activation can lead to many problems like: increased blood pressure, digestive issues, weakened immune system, disrupted sleep patterns, and even cause chronic pain conditions. It is hard for the body to heal and repair when we are experiencing chronic stress.


Beyond its physical manifestations, chronic stress significantly influences your emotional and mental well-being. The mind-body connection underscores how your emotional state can impact your physical health and vice versa. Prolonged survival mode can result in heightened anxiety, depression, difficulty experiencing joy or relaxation, cognitive impairments, and many more.

The ongoing struggle to manage stressors can lead to feelings of hopelessness and a diminished sense of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed. It can be difficult to engage with moments of joy or complete relaxation. You may find it challenging to be present and savor positive experiences, further eroding your overall well-being.


Survival stress extends beyond the realms of physical and emotional health, influencing your behaviors and interactions with the world around you.

The exhaustion caused by chronic stress can lead to a decline in motivation and enthusiasm.

The cognitive fog induced by chronic stress can impair your ability to make clear and rational decisions. You may find yourself making impulsive choices or struggling to weigh the consequences of your actions.

Under the weight of chronic stress, you may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, or other forms of self-destructive behavior. These coping strategies provide temporary relief but can worsen your overall well-being in the long run.

You may find it challenging to engage in healthy behaviors, such as maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and establishing healthy relationships. It can feel harder to maintain motivation and commitment when you aren’t feeling well.

How to Break Free from Survival Mode?

how to break free from survival mode

Breaking free from survival mode requires conscious effort and a commitment to self-care. Here are some strategies to help you transition out of this mode:

Focus on Your Needs:

Prioritize self-care like a cherished ritual. Nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being through activities that rejuvenate you. Engage in activities that bring you joy, whether reading, spending time in nature, or practicing mindfulness.

Connect With Others:

Seek support from friends, family, or professionals who can provide a safe space for you to express your feelings. Sharing your challenges can lighten the burden you carry and foster a sense of belonging. Meaningful connections provide emotional nourishment.

Exercise or Gentle movement:

Exercise to break free from chronic pain

Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce stress hormones and boost mood-enhancing endorphins. Even gentle movements, like the ones we teach in the Self-Healing Mastery class, or a brisk walk, can stimulate your body's healing mechanisms. We all know that regular physical activity can significantly impact your overall well-being, right?

Set Realistic Expectations:

Embrace achievable goals that reflect your current circumstances. Unrealistic expectations can create more stress and dissatisfaction. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps can empower you to make consistent progress. Remember to be kind to yourself through the process.

Forgive Yourself:

Understand that no one is perfect, and it's okay to make mistakes. Accept that perfection is an illusion and practice self-compassion to foster growth and resilience. This will enable you to navigate challenges with greater ease and flexibility.

Create a New Plan:

Evaluate your priorities and create a plan that promotes a healthier work-life balance. Modify your strategies as needed to maintain a healthier equilibrium.

Seek Help:

If you find it challenging to break free from survival mode on your own, consider seeking professional help from coaches or therapists experienced in stress management. They provide insights and tools to facilitate your journey, offering personalized strategies based on your unique circumstances.

Everything You Need to Take Control of Your Well-being is Right Here

Be Healthy Academy

If you're struggling to escape the clutches of survival mode, know that there is support available. Be Healthy Academy shines as a beacon of hope.

Be Healthy Academy offers comprehensive resources and guidance to help individuals like you regain control of their well-being.

The academy merges scientific insights with holistic healing, equipping you with the tools to rewire your brain and harmonize your body's responses. By blending science and holistic healing, you can journey towards lasting transformation, discovering newfound vitality and reclaiming control over your health and well-being.

Are you ready to rewire your brain, reconnect with your body, and make lasting changes that lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life?

Join us!


  1. Accelerated Resolution Therapy. (n.d.). Are You in Survival Mode? Link

  2. Rosen Institute. (n.d.). 8 Signs You're in Survival Mode and Steps to Escape. Link

  3. Jefferson Center for Mental Health. (n.d.). A How-To Guide for Surviving Survival Mode. Link

  4. Happiful. (n.d.). How to Recognize When You Are in Survival Mode and How to Break Free. Link

  5. Beautiful Soul Counseling. (n.d.). Living in Survival Mode: What It Is and How to Cope. Link

  6. YouTube. (n.d.). TEDx Talks. The Impact of Chronic Stress on Your Brain. Link

Images shared under Free Creative Commons License, from Freepik, or are from Ana's private gallery.

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