Certain events in our lives trigger our fight, flight, or freeze response and sometimes our nervous system gets stuck in that survival response. Chronic stress, chaotic or unstable environments, death or loss, abuse, and other painful experiences can cause trauma to our nervous system. Over time, our bodies feel comfortable and safe living in our survival response, which is commonly called a dysregulated nervous system. This leads to depression, high anxiety, thoughts of suicide, addictions, hypervigilance, inability to focus, and makes it challenging to maintain healthy
relationships. Living in survival mode can lead to several long-term medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive issues, chronic pain, and more. It’s important to address our past unprocessed trauma to prevent medical and mental health conditions. It can take time to learn that your nervous system is out of balance, so use these signs below as a starting point:
You take on too much. This might look like 60-80 hour work weeks, agreeing to help others when you don’t want to, or even “keeping busy” because you can’t sit still. We often spend our time avoiding and distracting from things we’ve shoved down deep inside us.
You have a limited emotional range. You might often feel anxious and fearful, sad and depressed, or irritable and angry. These are all common emotions to feel, but if you consistently only feel one or all of these emotions, it may indicate you’re living in survival mode.
You can’t relax. If you’re living in survival mode, it’s unlikely that you can sit peacefully doing nothing and feel your body relax. A caveat to that is if you are stuck in the “freeze” response, which typically looks like depression. You might have low motivation, dissociate, and/or feel numb.
You have physical signs of being in survival mode. This commonly shows up as muscle tension throughout the body, heart racing/pounding, shallow and fast breathing, headaches, nausea, dry mouth, and digestive issues. If you’ve been living in survival mode for a long time, then you may be disconnected from your body. Therefore, you might not notice these physical sensations unless you bring awareness to your body.
Some of us experience a sudden traumatic event and begin feeling like we’re constantly on edge (aka being in survival mode). A common experience for many people is beginning to live in survival mode early on in childhood. This might seem daunting, but it is possible to teach your body to feel safe and comfortable in a balanced, or regulated, nervous system.