Survival Mode: A Damaging Mindset

Life experiences combine over many years to form our personalities and reactions. They also contribute to how we perceive the world around us. Our bodies are meant to react when we are in danger. Humans have survived for many years due to survival instincts and responses. This is a helpful response in most scenarios. Long-term exposure to stressful situation, however, can require constant attention to basic survival. The excessive exposure to adrenaline and other stress hormones can contribute to some serious mental and physical health issues.


Adrenaline is the main contributor to the process known as “fight or flight.” This response helps us determine whether we need to flee a situation or stay and defend ourselves. People have been known to exercise super human strength and ability during times of adrenaline exposure. For a chemical that releases so quickly, it has a complex origin in your body. In a chemical sense, adrenaline is also known as epinephrine. There are several other chemicals in the same family, known as the catecholamine family. Items categorized into this group are derived from tyrosine, which is an amino acid. Your body first changes tyrosine into dopamine. The resulting dopamine is later oxidized into norepinephrine. Norepinephrine acts as a neurotransmitter and also as a hormone. The final process is the conversion of norepinephrine into epinephrine.

Your Body’s Reaction

Adrenaline is released almost immediately when you sense danger. Your adrenal glands are partly responsible for this, and are clued into impending danger by your nervous system. The adrenal medulla is responsible for this. Once it is released, there is a combination that occurs in your body with various adrenergic receptors. This forms quick metabolic changes that tell your cells to produce more energy.

Your muscles receive more oxygen, which enhances your mental reactions and physical abilities. This process buts a big strain on your body. There may be a significant episode of fatigue that follows. The results of an “adrenaline rush” can be seen in patients that must receive and epinephrine injection for allergic reactions. When you enter into a living situation that requires this response to be present regularly, you are said to be existing in “survival-mode.” Long-term exposure to these hormones can be extremely damaging.


Positive experiences help us learn to anticipate good things. Negative experiences do the opposite. Many people that have grown up in traumatic or abusive homes may have undergone the reinforcement of some damaging ideas. These are not only thoughts, but exists as physical connections in the brain. Children, especially, are vulnerable to this due the fact that they are still developing. They can easily learn to expect the worst. Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder often experience repeated episodes of perceived danger. Their brains have learned to link certain noises, sights, and smells with extreme danger. Their bodies, therefore, react accordingly. A child that experienced a violent family atmosphere may experience and adrenaline response to the sound of a slammed door, or other loud noises.


Your brain offers a degree of protection against negative stimuli. This can come in the form of detachment in many cases. When you are going through a traumatic situation you can often separate your mind from your body, in a way. This defense mechanism, however, can persist past the time of initial traumatic engagement. Long-term abuse may enforce this thought process on a daily basis, making it a habit. Growing up in any difficult situation can contribute to this. Individuals that have grown up during wars or under extreme governments may seem less reactive to emotional stimuli as adults.


The hormones emitted during the fight or flight response can cause several health issues over time. This body response is not meant for daily function. The adrenaline raises the heart rate and blood pressure. It also initiates the release of stored glucose from the liver. The muscles then receive more blood. Cortisol helps to aid in growth and digestion. These things are not necessary when you are in serious danger. For example, if you were being chased by a bear, your body would stop focusing on basic functions. Every part of your brain and muscle makeup would be geared towards survival only.

Your vision becomes more focused, your pupils dilate, and you become less aware of unnecessary things. This keeps you from being distracted by something like a pretty field of flowers while you are running from the bear. You probably would not be able to write with a pencil well, either. Recovery from this experience can be taxing on your body. Your body becomes focused on larger muscle groups, not those necessary for fine motor skills. Excessive exposure to these hormones can result in headaches, fatigue, and depression. Those living in a daily state of survival go through intense physical stress on a regular basis.


There are several things that contribute to living in survival mode. Abuse, extreme financial distress, and emotional trauma are only a few of them. It is important to recognize these complications, especially in adults that endured trauma as children. In a child, trauma can inhibit proper development. Adults that serve in the military are also at a higher risk for these problems. It can take a lot of behavior therapy to retrain the brain after living in survival mode for years.

Living in survival mode is a mental and physical health danger that is often overlooked. People who experience it are so focused on getting out of a bad situation that they rarely see what is happening to them. This is how the survival instinct works. It keeps you focused on resolving the problem. The physical and mental responses can cause long-term health problems for victims of this lifestyle.

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