6 Signs You’re In Survival Mode, Not Lazy

In this modern-day society, life seems to be full of risks, from being stuck in a lift to an earthquake of the largest magnitude. When you are faced with such a life-threatening situation, how would you react? Would you flee, fight, or freeze? 

Dr. Arkadiy Stolyar, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Principal Investigator in Psychiatry at Boston Clinical Trials stated that the reptilian brain takes over during a traumatic experience, causing a shift in the body’s response. In survival mode, the brain stem shuts down all non-essential bodily and mental functions. On the other hand, the sympathetic nervous system boosts stress hormone levels and prepares the body to fight, flee, or freeze.

Have you ever wondered what are the signs that you’re in survival mode, not lazy? Let’s delve into the signs below:

  1. You experience a lack of focus. 

Do you find it hard to concentrate on your schoolwork? Have you zoned out, and do not respond to other people when they call your name? “You seem to be in a different world,” your friend said. If you can relate to this, it is a high chance that you are in a survival mode, instead of being lazy. You will find that things are foggy and it’s quite harder to finish an activity.  

  1. You forget to care for basic needs. 

Have you ever forgotten to care for your basic needs? Perhaps you have trouble brushing your teeth. Maybe you don’t even remember to take your meal. In survival mode, you are operating at a basic level. Your abilities are limited because you will be very easily overwhelmed. You are often unable to perform your daily activities well due to a lack of physical and emotional resources.

  1. You feel more tired in body and mind.

Ever feel so exhausted in body and mind, that it takes a lot of willpower to summon up the energy to do anything?  You are probably tired of struggling to maintain a constant balance of demands, especially when the tasks ahead of you seem insurmountable. If your answer is “Yes”, you might be living in a survival mode. Survival mode causes you to feel tired all the time, despite having slept and rested. The feeling is of struggling to stay afloat rather than ever really getting to swim.

  1. You are reacting more emotionally than usual.

How often do you find yourself getting angry over things that you wouldn’t normally react to? Could it be you’re snippier or grumpier? Or maybe you cry more often? If you can relate to the previous statements, there is a high chance that you have a survival brain. We operate on our prefrontal cortex or our thinking brain, to manage our executive functions such as problem-solving, organization, emotional regulation, critical thinking, and decision-making skills. This part of our brain might feel more logical than emotional. But when trauma happens, the thinking brain dims as if a light switch has been turned off and the trauma brain takes over. In those situations, the survival brain reacts impulsively in order to keep us alive; it tries to convince us that if we use executive functioning skills to process the information, safety will not be guaranteed. 

  1. You have issues with memory. 

Have you ever felt that you have no idea and don’t even remember what you are doing yesterday? Do you feel disconnected and foggy most of the time? Do you have trouble remembering every little mundane thing? If you find yourself nodding your head to any one of the questions, you are having problems with your memory. This can be one of the signs you’re in survival mode. Trauma can affect your memory and makes you don’t even remember the “who”, “what”, and “where” of your daily life. 

  1. You can only consider one task at a time. 

When you are in survival mode, most often than not, you will only consider one task at a time. Try to picture it this way. Many of us have smartphones. These devices run many different applications at once and are very useful to manage our daily lives. It is possible for them to multitask for us, ensure we receive our messages, emails, and stay on top of our schedules. We can put our smartphones into battery saver mode if their battery runs low and we can’t charge them. The phone will still work and remain able to complete essential actions like making and receiving calls, but its overall functionality has been greatly reduced. Speed has been reduced, and multitasking is no longer possible.

Final thoughts 

“You are not lazy, unmotivated, or stuck. After years of living in survival mode, you are exhausted. There’s a difference.” 

~Nakeia Homer

The signs of a person being in a survival mode can resemble our perceived characteristics of a lazy person.  The fight or flight response, or survival mode, is triggered by stress or trauma in your life, and you most likely are not lazy, you are just exhausted! It is necessary to clear the stress of the trauma held in our bodies, minds, and spirits and make small changes in our everyday lives to move out of survival mode.


Rosenthal, M. (2020, June 25). The Science Behind PTSD Symptoms: How Trauma Changes The Brain. Boston Clinical Trials. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://www.bostontrials.com/how-trauma-changes-the-brain/

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