Life, with its penchant for unpredictability, often feels like a teacher who loves popping surprise quizzes on us. Just when we think we’ve got the syllabus down, bam! A curveball question. These surprise tests sometimes push our brain into activating its “emergency backup generator”—what we fondly (or not-so-fondly) refer to as “survival mode.”
While this mode might serve us well in actual emergencies, like when we spot the last slice of pizza being grabbed by someone else, relying on it too often can leave us feeling drained and off-kilter. In this article I will discuss 3 healthy coping mechanisms that can help you manage survival mode.
Now, before we dive into the toolkit of healthy coping mechanisms (spoiler: devouring said pizza isn’t one of them, but wouldn’t that be nice?), let’s get cozy with this whole concept of survival mode. Think of it as understanding the quirks of an old car before embarking on a cross-country road trip.
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Understanding ‘Survival Mode’
Welcome to “Survival Mode 101″—a crash course on our brain’s old-school security system! Now, let’s clear the air: survival mode isn’t just the jolt you feel when you accidentally like someone’s 87-week-old Instagram photo (though, that’s terrifying in its own right).
No, it’s our body and mind’s response to prolonged stressors or perceived threats, activating a complex cocktail of hormones and alert systems designed to keep us safe. Picture it as your brain’s diligent but occasionally overenthusiastic watchman, ever ready to jump into action, even if the “intruder” turns out to be just a mischievous squirrel at the window.
Back in the caveman days, this system was our MVP (most valuable player)—helping our ancestors dodge real, tangible threats like, say, becoming a mammoth’s lunch. Fast forward to today, while most of us aren’t dodging mammoths on our morning commutes (though that would make for quite the story), our modern world’s challenges can still send our internal alarm bells ringing.
Missed email notifications, social pressures, and the maze of online dating can, in their own way, feel like chasing or being chased by prehistoric creatures.
Staying perpetually in this alert state, however, comes at a cost. It’s like having a smoke detector that shrieks every time you make toast. Useful? Occasionally. Draining and slightly embarrassing? Absolutely.
Recognizing when we’re running on this constant alert mode is essential. It paves the way for more sustainable responses and, quite frankly, saves us from being the jittery human equivalent of a Chihuahua on coffee.
As we journey forward, let’s arm ourselves with a modern toolkit, better suited for today’s challenges. After all, understanding is the first step toward evolving, and who doesn’t want to be the evolved, calm neighbor in the brain community?
The Need for Healthy Coping Mechanisms
In the theater of life, while our brain often plays the lead role of the dramatic hero, occasionally dipping into the role of a frenzied extra, it does sometimes need a supporting cast.
Enter: healthy coping mechanisms. These are the co-stars, ready to jump in when the plot thickens or, more aptly, when life throws a pie in our face. While some of our go-to coping strategies might seem effective in the short term (hello, binge-watching a series until your eyes rebel), they might not be winning us any long-term awards for “Best Mental Well-being.”
You see, leaning on these short-term fixes for survival mode is akin to putting a tiny band-aid on a leaky dam. It might hold for a while, but eventually, you’re going to get wet. And possibly not in the fun, dancing-in-the-rain kind of way.
That’s why it’s essential to equip ourselves with more sustainable and healthy coping mechanisms. Think of them as your mental toolkit—a Swiss Army knife of strategies to handle those days when everything feels a bit… wobbly.
So, as we prep for this adventure of self-awareness and growth, let’s agree on one thing: It’s okay to need tools. Even the best chefs have their favorite utensils. What matters is choosing the right ones, honing them, and knowing when to use them.
And as we embark on this journey, we’ll explore these instruments of resilience, so the next time life decides to go off-script (and we get into survival mode), we’re ready with our rehearsed lines and a wink at the unexpected.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms #1: Grounding Techniques
Let’s embark on an imagination vacation for a second. Picture you’re a kite, soaring high, sometimes a little too high, almost on the verge of being carried away by life’s gusty winds. What you’d give for a trusty anchor or string to pull you back to terra firma, right?
Grounding techniques are kind of like that string—a gentle tether to reel us back from the dizzying heights of anxiety or overwhelming thoughts, firmly planting our feet on the good ol’ reliable ground.
So, what’s in this magical toolbox of grounding?
First up, the classic “5-4-3-2-1” technique. No, it’s not a countdown to a rocket launch, though that’d be cool. It’s a simple method where you identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste.
By the end, not only are you more present, but you’ve also had a mini sensory adventure, minus the travel expenses.
Another favorite is the “feet on the ground” method. Whenever things feel too whirlwind-y, pause, plant your feet firmly, feel the floor beneath, and imagine roots growing from your soles, anchoring you deep into the earth. It’s a tad bit like pretending to be a tree, without the commitment to photosynthesis.
In essence, grounding techniques offer us a mental pit-stop, a brief respite in our turbo-charged days. Whenever the world seems to blur past a little too fast, these techniques are your friendly pit crew, ensuring you’re refueled, re-tethered, and ready to glide, rather than be dragged by the winds of life.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms #2: Expressive Arts
Ever felt an emotion so intense, it’s like a color you can’t quite name, splashed across the canvas of your mind? Sometimes, words alone can’t capture the kaleidoscope of our feelings. But here’s the good news: Enter the expressive arts, our soul’s very own art studio.
It’s where our emotions, too vivid or nebulous for mere words, find their voice in brush strokes, melodies, dance moves, and even dramatic monologues to an audience of houseplants. (Don’t worry, they’re very receptive.)
Doodling on a notepad, strumming a guitar, or simply molding clay can offer a profound release. It’s a bit like giving your bottled-up emotions a playground slide—allowing them to flow, twist, and turn until they land in a comfortable, understood spot.
And the best part? There’s no right or wrong here. Your creation is a reflection of your unique emotional landscape. Even if it’s just stick figures under a lopsided sun, if it feels right, it’s a masterpiece.
Additionally, these artful endeavors don’t just offer an emotional outlet; they double as a mindfulness exercise. When you’re engrossed in sketching or dancing, you’re wholly present, offering a delightful pause from the relentless pace of daily life.
Plus, there’s something genuinely satisfying about looking at something and thinking, “Hey, I made that!”—even if it’s just a quirky tune you hummed up in the shower.
If you find find yourself in survival mode (especially if it’s in a public location) and you don’t have the means or time to go and doodle your feelings, find a private place (whether it’s a bathroom or somewhere secluded) and shake your body for a few seconds.
Start by shaking your head, then your arms, your torso, and then your legs. Focus on physically releasing and getting rid of the pent-up anxiety and fear. (Note: dogs do these to literally shake of a stressful situation).
Healthy Coping Mechanisms #3 Physical Activity
Alright, before you start picturing intense gym sessions with burly trainers shouting motivational (or is it threatening?) mantras, let’s set the scene straight. Physical activity, in the grand realm of coping, isn’t necessarily about transforming into a chiseled Adonis or mastering a convoluted yoga pose that makes you look like a human pretzel.
It’s more about the simple, joyous act of moving—be it a spontaneous kitchen boogie, a breezy walk, or the ancient art of “I’m-going-to-stretch-till-I-feel-like-a-spaghetti-noodle.”
You see, when we groove, stroll, or even just flail around a bit, magical things happen inside us. Our brain releases these delightful little chemicals called endorphins. Think of them as nature’s bubbly, always ready to throw a “feel-good” party in your head.
This isn’t just a quirky dance of molecules; it’s a vital, primal connection between motion and emotion. Our ancestors didn’t just run for the sake of exercise; they ran to celebrate, to escape, to engage. Our bodies, it seems, are wired to find solace in movement.
Now, for those of us more inclined to a couch-potato lifestyle (no judgment; couches are incredibly inviting), the trick is to find activities that feel less like a chore and more like a treat. Maybe it’s dancing like no one’s watching (because, most likely, no one is). Or perhaps it’s exploring the outdoors, feeling the rhythm of nature. The point is to find your groove, your pace, your jig.
So, the next time survival mode comes knocking on your door uninvited, why not counter it with a long walk, a light yoga session, or a run? (This is something that personally reaaally helps me. I get very stuck in my head and survival mode feels like a detachment from my body. When I go for a run, not only am I getting back into my body, but I also release the anxiety and fear I was feeling.)
Building a Supportive Network
Navigating the choppy waters of life can sometimes feel like a solo voyage. But here’s a little secret: even the most seasoned sailors had a trusty crew to hoist the sails and share a sea shanty or two. This, dear reader, is the essence of a supportive network—an ensemble cast of kindred spirits, ready to offer a listening ear, share a chuckle, or simply sit in silent camaraderie while you both ponder the mysteries of the universe (or why cats are so obsessed with cardboard boxes).
Starting with the basics, regular catch-ups—even if they’re just quick chats over a coffee or a digital wave across screens—can do wonders. It’s like giving your emotional battery a mini-boost, a reminder that you’re part of a broader tapestry of interconnected stories.
And sometimes, just knowing there’s someone out there who ‘gets it’ can be the cushioning you need when the going gets tough.
Of course, building this network isn’t just about quantity; it’s the quality that counts. Seek out souls who uplift, challenge, and resonate with you. These are the folks with whom you can share your goofiest anecdotes and deepest fears, all in the same conversation.
And for those moments when you feel like you’re singing a solo in the vast concert of life, remember, every voice adds depth to the choir. Sometimes, it’s about seeking out new tunes, joining groups, attending events, or just sparking a conversation with a fellow wanderer on this journey.
In the narrative of our lives, while we may be the protagonists, our supportive network is the essential supporting cast, elevating every scene. They’re the backup dancers in our personal musical, the fellow adventurers in our epic saga
So, whether you’re building, expanding, or simply cherishing your crew, remember: together, the highs are more celebratory, the lows more navigable, and the in-betweens? Oh, they’re filled with shared laughter, wisdom, and perhaps a spontaneous group jig. Ready to assemble your ensemble?
When to Seek Professional Help
While our personal toolkit and trusty support network can help us navigate many a challenge, there are moments when our inner experienced get a little chaotic. It’s like trying to assemble a particularly tricky piece of furniture; sometimes, you just need to call in the experts instead of accidentally hammering a nail into your thumb (again).
Now, before the thought of seeking professional help conjures images of sterile offices and Freudian psychoanalysts taking notes behind massive desks, let’s paint a more accurate—and far less daunting—picture.
Think of therapists, counselors, and mental health professionals as seasoned navigators in the intricate maze of human emotions. They’re the friendly tour guides with maps, insights, and occasionally, delightful anecdotes to lighten the way.
I was in therapy for almost 3 years and it has been the best investment I’ve done for my personal growth and mental well-being. As aware as I was, and as much work as I was doing myself, there was a level of depth and progress I couldn’t have reached alone.
My therapist was a guide who helped me navigate and make sense of the complex and intense emotions and experiences I was having.
There’s no shame in reaching out. Just as you’d consult a doctor for a persistent cough or a mechanic for a car hiccup, seeking guidance for mental or emotional turbulence is both wise and proactive. It’s about ensuring you have the best tools, insights, and strategies to sail smoothly.
And sometimes, it’s just about having a safe space to unload, to share, to breathe, without judgment.
So, for those times when the weight feels a tad too heavy, or the path a smidge too foggy, remember: professional help is like calling in the reinforcements. They’re the experts, the seasoned adventurers, ready to join you on your journey, ensuring you’re equipped, prepared, and always supported.
Navigating the vast seas of life, with its undulating waves and unpredictable storms, is an art, a dance, and sometimes a bit of a comedic skit. Along the way, we gather tools, stories, and the occasional seaweed tangled in our hair (because, hey, nobody’s perfect).
As we’ve journeyed through these coping mechanisms, from grounding techniques to the power of artful expression, and even the magic of just moving our feet, one thing stands clear: every challenge offers a chance to learn, to grow, and yes, to occasionally do a goofy shimmy.
So, here’s to embracing every tool at our disposal, to building bridges with kindred spirits, and to occasionally seeking the wisdom of seasoned guides. Remember, in this grand adventure of life, while there might be solo stretches, we’re never truly alone.
If you enjoyed this article, you might find the article “Feeling Triggered? 3 Ways to Validate Your Feelings” valuable. Lastly, if you’d like to delve deeper into self-discovery, my online class “Journaling For Self-Reflection” can help you do just that!