Moving from survival to living

It is a known fact that the past three years have been exceptionally hard for most. People have been experiencing great difficulties and it seems as if survival has become the norm. Survival mode is a phase of life where the main goal is to get through the next few minutes or hours. Mundane tasks like deciding what to have for supper or who must do what chores seem impossible and overwhelming. Therefore, medium- and long-term goals are nowhere to be found. Being in survival mode for extended periods of time often leaves us in a catch-22. The never-ending tasks and pace of life does not really leave much room to breathe and recover. It feels as if there is and always will be a new crisis. Something that desperately needs your attention. We seem to get stuck in the pattern of crisis management and never get to the point of living.

Survival mode is never really a choice. It is a reaction where the main aim is to make it to the next day. The issue is that we get stuck in it. Especially when we have not really dealt with the event that put us in survival mode in the first place. Obviously, this is easier said than done. What about the instances where trauma and crisis get piled on top of each other like a never-ending heap of dishes? How do we recover from that? Or what if we are still in some form of crisis management? How do we break the cycle? How do we get from surviving to recovery? If you have been asking yourself similar questions, you are not alone.

Crisis and trauma cause us to become fearful, hurt and often extremely tired. Constantly bracing for the next impact or thing to go wrong. We anticipate the worst, hoping that by doing so we can somehow prepare ourselves for it. This constant anticipation and being on edge cause us to be exhausted. A type of exhaustion that makes itself at home in our bones. A tiredness that lies behind our eyes and leaves us without comfort in the deepest parts of our souls. The question is what do we do now?

Over the past few years, and for some a long time before COVID, we have experienced how fragile life really is. How things can change within a moment. What a scary thought. How do we plan if it can all be taken away? How do we not get caught up in the franticness of needing to control every possible outcome?

It is at this point that we get stuck in survival mode. We get caught up in our hopes to avoid pain that we forget to breathe. For if we were to take a breath our entire wall of protection might come crumbling down. Many of us have been soldiering through the past few years. Hoping that if we kept going, we would eventually forget. Forget the fear, the pain, the intensity of the unknown. So, we kept moving. 

It is time for us to take a breath and slow down. As the new year approached and the usual “new year’s resolution” season came around I noticed something remarkably interesting. More people were expressing a deep desire to make space for rest this year. A shift towards self-care and self-preservation is slowly taking place. This life is so fragile so we might as well take our time and take as much in as we can.  

How do we do this? One step at a time. With a lot of grace and a lot of patience. Make space to slow down. Take one morning a week when you do not set an alarm. Spend time in nature that does not have a hidden agenda. Put some music on and just listen to the music. Take 15 minutes a day where multitasking is forbidden, where you can be fully present in the moment. Create space. Often, it is not time we need but space and capacity. It is in the small, seemingly insignificant, changes that we gently move towards living again. 

Some prompts for making small changes

  1. What is something you really enjoyed doing, even if it was years ago?
  2. Write a short paragraph of why you enjoyed it.
  3. Is it something you can revisit? Even if just for 30minutes a month.
  4. Take 15 minutes a week and spend time in nature. Stare at the flowers. No multitasking. No need to capture the moment with a photo, just enjoy being in the sun.
  5. Take some time to figure out what is the most time-consuming thing in your life. Does it bring you joy? What of it steals your energy and what about it is neutral?
  6. Breathe. Practice deep breathing before you go to bed and before you enter a space that feels scary or draining.

Most of all remember that you are allowed to feel fragile. It is okay if you are struggling. Reach out and ask for support. You deserve to have space where you do not have to pretend. 


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