Are you in Survival Mode?

Your stress response can keep you from living a happy life!

There’s a long list of events and situations recently that have been difficult for a lot of people. At times it has seemed like one thing after another!

People have been triggered, reacted emotionally, and struggled with daily life.

All of these triggers can be linked to survival, the basic instinct to stay alive.

Our brain is wired for survival, to see danger and make sure we notice it and act. These responses to what our brain perceives as dangerous, are usually unconscious. Generations ago we had to know how to survive if we bumped into a sabre-toothed tiger.  Back then we either needed to run away or stand and fight. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any prehistoric, dangerous animals wandering around my neighbourhood recently.

The survival response is linked to the fight, flight, freeze or fawn response.  

This is a way to describe how we behave when challenged or are frightened)


This one is pretty obvious and easy to spot. People have become very angry and nasty, and it shows – especially on social media when there is a difference of opinion. The fight response can mean a physical fight as in fight for your life and it can also mean a verbal argument. Sometimes people fight when unable to get away, if the option for flight isn’t there, then we stand our ground and fight.



This is where we run away, leave, get away from the problem, if we can. It can present in ways such as physically leaving a situation, zoning out, getting away in any way we can. It often combines with Freeze.


Literally is to freeze on the spot, hoping the sabre tooth tiger didn’t see you. I imagine this was wishful thinking. It’s more likely to be a disassociation with reality and literally being unable to move, frozen in fright. Less obvious is when people do things like stay in bed hiding under the doona. This is likely a combination of flight from the problem and freeze because they don’t know what else to do or are incapable of taking action.


When faced with a domineering and unsafe person, some people will pander to them, be nice and try to get on their good side, believing this will keep them safe.

Which ones have you noticed lately?

I remember being at business training where we were participating in therapeutic activities.  A male participant who I had just met, wasn’t following guidelines and I felt very unsafe when I had to work 1:1 with him. I was put in a situation where he was practising being a therapist and I was the client. I didn’t trust him to keep me safe during the session.  My immediate response was to want to run out of the room and I remember making an excuse so I could leave.  As I opened the door and stepped outside, I became aware that it was a flight response.  My legs wanted to run and get me out of there.  It’s interesting how our Unconscious Mind responds when triggered.  (I made sure I voiced my concerns to the facilitator who addressed the issue.)

Where do these triggers come from?

Stored in our Unconscious are our memories from this lifetime, previous generations (generational trauma) and other lifetimes (not part of everyone’s belief system). When something happens that is similar to a previous incident, old fears are triggered. Our unconscious mind remembers that is has happened before and thinks it needs to keep us safe, so it triggers a response.

Remember when shops ran out of food and toilet paper because of panic buying in the early days of COVID. It was a survival response. People were frightened that they wouldn’t survive. They feared running out of food and not being able to provide for their family along with believing that their physical health was at risk, so their survival response was triggered. This trigger comes from generations of surviving threats. People fought for survival by buying up food and hiding away at home – supposedly away from the threat. This is an example of fight and flight combined.

Living in fight or flight long term is unhealthy and causes physical and emotional problems.

We were never meant to live this way. That response was designed to get us to safety and then the nervous system would calm down. People are designed to move out of fight or flight into rest and digest, from the Sympathetic to the Parasympathetic nervous system.

When people are in survival mode for extended periods of time, they often forget to take care of themselves physically and emotionally.

I can link the number of clients I have to fear in the media and the timing of difficult situations. When something big is happening such as a weather event, cost of living increase, or a health problem and it is splashed across the media in a sensationalised and fear-provoking way, my phone stops ringing, and bookings slow down. It’s counterintuitive I know, but true, nonetheless.

When people are in survival mode, they are looking at their immediate survival needs and not to long term problem solving or to healing their past. I know by observing behaviours when people are in fight or flight, they are surviving day to day, minute to minute, and sadly not doing very well.

If I had one wish, it would be that when faced with the big issues in life, people would reach out and ask for help.