Survival Mode

I’d just got out of bed ready to face the day. The kids were getting ready for school and kindy and I was due to return to work after a ‘long’ weekend of training. It was a typical Tuesday morning in our house. As I stepped into the shower, I did not know that the ‘typical’ Tuesday morning was about to be turned upside down.

As I reached for the shampoo, I slipped and crashed quite suddenly onto the shower floor. For the second time in a week an ambulance was called to our house. The boys gave me a kiss as I was being taken in the ambulance and we parted ways. On arrival at the hospital I could not raise my left leg or my head off the bed. The pain was excruciating and life had suddenly stopped for me. To make a long story short: I fractured my back and it’s quite unhappy with me. Enter survival mode.

The reality for any one of us is that life is fragile and things can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds: illness, death of a loved one, bad news. Sometimes these moments throw us into ‘survival mode’ for a period. When you’re in ‘survival mode’, thoughts become focused on getting through this ‘thing’ and all ‘excess’ activity often ceases. Day to day existence can be a challenge and more than enough to consume your energy. In these times, relationships can be strained and priorities often require change, which can lead to some intense emotions.

Here are 5 things that I am learning to do in ‘survival mode’:

1. Prioritise the important things.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” As much as our brains rebel against this statement, when simply ‘surviving’ in life it’s not just a good idea, but rather imperative to prioritise the important things and let some things go. This may mean backing out of plans, saying ‘no’ to things and not doing as much as you normally would. Living in ‘survival mode’ often strips life back to the bare necessities.

It can be worthwhile asking: What do I really need to do right now? Will it hurt if this doesn’t get done? And if so, what are the consequences? E.g. Does it really matter if the vacuuming doesn’t get done this week? Will the children suffer if they have breakfast cereal for dinner tonight?

2. Live within the limits: Being honest with yourself and others, including your children.

Having spent much time in survival mode over the years due to my health, the thing I have learnt the most is that I need to be true to the moment. We need to be honest with ourselves and with others about where we are at, what the situation looks like and what we need to do to walk through it. There is little point trying to press on as normal, at least not for long, as it can lead to greater struggles.

As you discover what you can and can’t do in this season, you can communicate it to others. Though it can be hard, the boundaries that are set in this time can bring freedom as expectations can be better managed. This is particularly important with those close to us: our partners and our children. As limitations are communicated, new ways of doing life can be explored. Who knows, your new boundary might give someone else the opportunity to step up or for you to get creative! For example: I can’t take the kids to the park right now, but I can read books in bed with them!


3. Reach Out – and be prepared to receive!

Believe it or not, it’s ok to ask for help, and to receive it! You don’t have to do everything on your own! How often have you offered to help others in a similar situation? When people ask you “Is there anything I can do to help?” … be honest and ask them for help with something! What’s the worst that could happen?

Call upon your partner, your kids, your family, friends, neighbours, kindy mums… whoever you have in your network. Establish a small team around you to help with things, whether it be practical or emotional! Sometimes a coffee and a listening ear can do wonders for the soul! Don’t be afraid to receive help – it might just bring you great joy!

4. Be kind to yourself: allow yourself to grieve.

One of the hardest things about being in ‘survival mode’ is the emotional strain of the situations. These times have often proved to be some of the hardest in my life. They are a challenge and are not to be taken lightly. It can be hard to navigate through ‘survival mode’ because we want it to be over: yesterday if possible.

Be kind to yourself on the hard days. Don’t ignore the emotions for long: allow yourself the time and space to grieve: to acknowledge and feel the emotions. You don’t have to have all the answers and you don’t need to be strong all the time. If you can, find a trusted place to turn with them: a friend, family member of counsellor. Do whatever it takes to get through well: you are more than worth it!

5. Remember and be thankful.

If you find yourself in ‘survival mode’, know that there is hope. Find hope in those that have been before you. Be thankful for the small things: for the sunshine or the rain, the water in your glass and for each breath, no matter how painful it may be. Hold onto the good times and reflect on the good things in your life. Remember all the things you have got through before. You can do it again!

Finally, when the ‘survival mode’ season has passed, be thankful for the result and remember what it was like, so you can bring hope to others. The reality is that while we are in survival mode, life goes on around us. However, sometimes roles are reversed: sometimes we are the ones going on with life while others are forced to stop.

Angela Niejalke

MOPS Australia Guest Blogger.
Ange is a writer, poet, speaker and a breath-er of life and hope into other people.
You can find Ange blogging poetry, thought-provoking musings, her journey with JRA and life with Autism here .

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