Parenting in survival mode is just like regular parenting, only with an excessive amount of norepinephrine. A lot of parents have days when they might think, "I just need to get through the day." In survival mode, that is every day. No future plans to speak of, just the next twenty-four hours. Fridays seem like they are decades away versus days.
Being stuck in survival mode can be compared to being in a constant state of fight or flight. Like there is so much to do and no time to do it, or the parent just does not want to do it. Survival mode is often spoken of lightly, with a chuckle. It is far from a laughing matter, and it can lead to some serious outcomes.
Signs Of Parenting In Survival Mode
If someone isn't sure about what survival mode really is, or if they are in it, The Child Guidance Resource Center (CGRC) offers some examples:
- Stress is overwhelming. Sleep is disrupted, breathing feels short or hard, erratic heartbeats, and not able to think straight. It's hard to calm down.
- Plans are usually canceled, and if it's something that must be done, it is done begrudgingly.
- It seems like everything is urgent and/or overwhelming.
- It's like being on the verge of a full-on panic attack at any given moment.
- Forgetting to take care of one's basic needs.
- Feeling more tired than usual or expected.
- Emotion regulation goes out the window.
- Memory issues.
Make It Stop. Regain Peace.
Parents may not even realize that this is going on. Sometimes parents think it is just what parenting is. It's not. Of course, parenting isn't sunshine and rainbows every day, but there is typically more good than bad, generally speaking. Living in a constant state of survival mode is not sustainable. When parents go on "surviving" too long, they will feel the effects it has on them.
In fact, according to The Hormone Health Network, chronic stress and chronic exposure to stress hormones can even be harmful. At times, the body may overreact to stressors that it experiences.
Frequent stress response and overexposure to stress-response hormones can take a toll on the body, take a toll on emotional health, impact relationships, lead to a number of medical issues, and increase the risk of anxiety and depression, according to Harvard Health.
There is a saying, "Too much of a good thing..." and it holds true here. When the body tries to protect us, it's usually a good thing, but when it tries to protect us too much, it can become a bad thing.
What To Do To Get Out Of Survival Mode
- Connect with yourself/Self-compassion: Survival mode often involves disconnection, and at times disassociation. When a parent is in survival mode, they often 'forget' or don't feel like taking care of themselves. Taking time to do something for themselves is an important and necessary step in coming out of survival mode.
- Self-Regulation: According to Positive Psychology, self-regulation is our ability to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to reach a positive outcome. Parents need to feel grounded and calm. When they are in survival mode, their thoughts are not their own. It's usually a constant state of worry, what will happen next? Self-regulation can bring them back to the present moment and lessens all the fear and anxiety of the future, "What ifs." Feelings of defensiveness and self-blame will become less as well. Parents will be able to be more proactive and less reactive.
- Physical Health/Exercise: Being in survival mode 24/7 is exhausting. Parents may find themselves too tired to do simple tasks. It's ok to rest periodically when coming out of survival mode, but getting up and being active more and more is the goal. Exercise does not need to be strenuous, but it will help to reduce stress.
- Be Kind to Yourself/Self-care: Parents don't need to be so hard on themselves. Parenting is hard. The human body is strong, it learns to adapt to things, good or bad. It takes time to get out of survival mode. It may seem like it isn't going to happen, but if parents can continue to do the work, they can eventually see the results too.