The Science Behind Survival Mode

The science behind survival mode

What it is and How to Get Out of it

You are not lazy, unmotivated, or stuck. You’ve likely been living in survival mode for too long, and you’re exhausted. Survival mode is a primitive response to a perceived threat that is hardwired into your DNA. While it can help you survive in the face of danger, it can sometimes be counterproductive.

  • When in survival mode, we are more likely to make decisions based on fear and emotion rather than logic and reason, leading to poor decision-making, anxiety, and stress.
  • If stuck in survival mode, we start to feel committed to a specific pattern of behavior because that helped us in the past but now prevents us from moving forward.

So how can we release ourselves from survival mode and rebalance the nervous system? This article will explore the science behind survival mode and how to get out of it so we can get back to living life more fully!

What is Survival Mode?

Survival mode is a physiological response that occurs in the body, which allows us to respond to stressful situations by preparing the body to fight, flight, or freeze. Think about it as our mind and body getting ready to combat danger.

A person in survival mode is in a constant state of stress and alertness, often resulting in low emotional and physical energy.

Survival mode can also affect our cognitive abilities and our decision-making. In this state, we may become hyper-vigilant and inattentive to our own needs and safety. We may be more likely to make impulsive decisions instead of nuanced, well-calculated ones. We may also become more easily distracted and need help focusing on complex tasks.

How Does Survival Mode Work?

The science behind survival mode looks at the processes and mechanisms that occur in the brain and body when we perceive a threat. This triggers the fight or flight response which, in turn, causes our bodies to mobilize and prepare for action.

The fight or flight response is an evolutionary mechanism that helps us respond quickly and appropriately to potential dangers. It involves the release of various hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, both of which increase our heart rate and breathing rate.

It also involves the activation of the amygdala, the brain’s center of fear, anger, and aggression. This increased arousal leads to an increased focus on the perceived threat, which can cause us to misinterpret situations as threatening.

All these processes work together to keep us safe and help us survive. However, it can also lead to impairments in cognitive abilities, such as the inability to focus on complex tasks, increased impulsivity, distraction, etc. Fortunately, being aware of this potentially damaging response can help us take steps to mitigate its influence.

What are the Benefits of Getting out of Survival Mode?

Survival mode is essential for helping you get out of short-term danger. But as the threat passes, so should your body’s heightened response to the threat. If you get stuck in survival mode, it’s critical to get it back under control. 

Getting out of a “stuck” survival mode response can bring you several benefits. It can help you improve your physical and mental health, along with your overall sense of well-being. Here are some of the benefits of getting out of survival mode:

  • Improved ability to focus: Survival mode causes the brain to hyper-focus on the perceived danger. This can lead to impairments in cognitive ability. By getting out of survival mode, one can reset attention levels, allowing for improved concentration.
  • Reduced stress: Living in survival mode increases levels of stress hormones, and this can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. By intentionally getting out of survival mode, we can reduce our stress levels, leading to greater overall wellness.
  • Improved relationships: Living in survival mode can interfere with our ability to relate to others. By getting out of survival mode, we can be more present in our interactions and establish stronger relationships.
  • Greater resilience: Being constantly stuck in survival mode can lead to feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Identifying how to get out of this mode and taking intentional steps to do so can increase levels of resilience, allowing us to cope better with life’s challenging situations.

How to Get out of Survival Mode

Getting out of survival mode is easier than it may seem. Here are a few steps that can begin to break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

  1. Acknowledge the triggers: It is important to acknowledge the situations that are contributing to the feeling of being stuck in survival mode. This will help you to be better prepared when they come up and alert you to when the feeling begins to arise.
  2. Identify your stress relief methods: Stress relief can come in many forms. Finding activities that help to relieve stress and bring a sense of peace and relaxation can help break the cycle of survival mode. Examples of stress relief activities include meditation, journaling, exercise, and art.
  3. Reach out for support: It is important to know that you do not have to manage the feeling of being stuck in survival mode alone. Reaching out to a friend, family member, medical professional, or counselor can provide invaluable guidance and understanding.
  4. Practice self-care: Self-care can help to break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Engaging in activities that help restore our physical, mental, and emotional well-being is important. Examples of self-care activities may include getting enough rest, engaging in meaningful hobbies, and taking time to nurture personal relationships.
  5. Stimulate your vagus nerve: One of the essential functions of the vagus nerve is to balance your nervous system. Stimulating the vagus nerve helps regulate your “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” responses within your nervous system’s sympathetic and parasympathetic areas, getting the survival mode response under control. One convenient and quick way to stimulate your vagus nerve in two minutes is by using the Truvaga vagus nerve stimulator.

By intentionally engaging in small steps that can help break the cycle of feeling stuck in survival mode, we can find more balance and greater levels of well-being.


Survival mode can be a difficult place to be for many people, whether it is a short-term experience or a more prolonged state. It is important to acknowledge the signs and triggers of survival mode and take steps to get out of this place of feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

By finding ways to relieve stress, reaching out for support, engaging in self-care and stimulating your vagus nerve, it is possible to exit survival mode and find a better place of balance and well-being. When these strategies are combined, the journey to creating a healthier, happier life becomes a much more attainable goal.