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Some People Live Their Whole Lives in Survival Mode

There are people struggling all around us in this world, and many of us don't even notice because our own struggles are too great. We are living paycheck to paycheck, going from emergency to emergency. When you do this for years, it burns you out, and makes you stop seeing what is going on around you, even with those closest to you in your life.

The forms of our struggles are as different as we are. However, there are some common themes that come up when we think about life's hardships:

  • Health Concerns

  • Relationships

  • Poverty

  • Racism

  • Lack of food

  • Lack of access to healthcare

  • Discrimination

  • Lack of education

  • Lack of job opportunities

  • Homelessness

  • Chronic stress

  • Gender inequality

There are many of these problems that are systemic in the United States and our world today. Many times, people will struggle in more than one area of their lives. For example, chronic stress can be linked back to many of the other problems on this list.

The more I write about social justice issues, the more I return to the idea that many of the problems that we face in society tie back to poverty and racism. This is inequality at its most basic level, and systemic poverty and systemic racism can be found at the roots of many other problems that people face on a more personal level.

Minorities often face more hardships than their white, male counterparts. They struggle disproportionately with other problems, and may not have time to raise their heads from the daily struggle to think about long-term goals, or bettering their lives in the future.

What is survival mode?

When you are living in survival mode, you are alert and responding to a present crisis. This can prevent you from looking at the bigger picture in your life, or doing things that will benefit you in the long term.

Survival mode is another term for continuous, unresolved stress, also known as chronic stress. All human beings have experienced stress at one point or another, but in survival mode, stress has been prolonged to a degree where a person feels unable to relax. Parts of the brain associated with fear are overactive.

Living in survival mode can effect you in numerous different ways. It puts you on high alert to danger. You are so focused on the present that you aren't thinking or planning for the future. It is like you are living from disaster to disaster without a pause to stop and breathe.

Not only can living in survival mode have consequences in the form of chronic stress and lack of planning, it can have consequences to your physical and mental health as well.

According to Dr. Gia Marson, some psychological effects of survival mode include:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • substance use disorders

  • sleep disorders

  • neurocognitive decline

Any of these mental health conditions can feel debilitating to live with. You may have trouble concentrating on anything other than how you are presently feeling when you have a chronic mental health condition. It can lower your ability to cope with stress even further.

According to Happiful, some physical signs of living in survival mode can include:

Physical signs: Aches and pains, trouble sleeping, muscle tension, or jaw clenching. You may find yourself grinding your teeth in your sleep and waking up with a sore jaw. Stomach or digestive problems, bloating, high blood pressure, or headaches.

The longer that you spend living in survival mode, the more staggering the effects can be on your life. This can leave you with ongoing mental health concerns, physical problems, and difficulty coping with the problems in your life that caused you to go into survival mode in the first place.

According to Masterminds Success,

In survival mode, you spend so much time focusing on the dangers that you miss out on the opportunities; you spend so much time cursing the bad things that happen to you that you miss the important lessons they were designed to teach (and end up going through similar experiences over and over until you reflect more carefully). Survival mode shuts off the part of you that takes risks, uses your imagination, and goes with the flow, and instead directs all that precious energy to the part that plays it safe, holds on to regret and resentment, and too often demands control.

Living in survival mode for any length of time can make changes to your brain. It makes you less aware of things that don't seem like a chronic threat over time. Being constantly alert to threats can harm your nervous system, and even lead to Post-Traumatic Stress.

Well Rounded Recovery

When you are looking to recover from chronic stress and get out of survival mode, you will need to look at recovering in more than one aspect of your life.

First of all, you will need to address your physical and mental health issues, and learn to cope with chronic stress.

Then, once you are in a calmer state, you will need to work on fixing the causes of stress in your life.

Unfortunately, if you are coping with poverty, homelessness, job loss, underemployment, lack of schooling, or ongoing health concerns, these issues can be continuously causing damage in your life even while you are attempting to heal.

Once, someone told me,

Life doesn't stop for your pain.

Sometimes, that means that you can't afford to stop either. That means, you don't have time to heal and get well. You have to keep juggling all the balls that you had in the air to begin with, which can be a very daunting task. This means, it is important to find wrap-around services that can help you in all different areas of your life.

It can be helpful to find a case manager, either at your mental health center, or at a city office that can assist you with finding solutions to ongoing causes of chronic stress. Your local Human Services office may be able to help issue a case manager that can help you to access wrap-around services to help you in different aspects of your life.

Some of the programs that the Office of Human Services can assist you with are:

  • Cash Assistance and Employment Training

  • Health Care Coverage

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • Home Heating Assistance

  • Child Care

  • employment training and assistance,

  • long-term care,

  • free or reduced-price school meals for your child

  • help with prescription medications

  • care, and support for people with disabilities

  • care and education for children with special needs

Each city or county in the United States will have an office where you can go to apply for benefits, and speak with someone in person to assist you. A case worker can help you determine, based on your income, which programs that you may qualify for.

If you are disabled and unable to work, you may qualify for Social Security Disability as well.

Getting professional assistance can be a beginning point to starting to reclaim your life, or to get your life under control for the first time. It may be difficult emotionally to ask for help. You may feel like a failure or not want to reach out for other reasons. However, it can be a step in the right direction.

I understand that reaching out for help can be frightening, as I have had to do this myself when I was in a bad place in my personal life. It can be humbling to admit that you need help, but once you reach out, you will be glad that you did.


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