Are You In Survival Mode?



In the Psychology Today article, “Why Survival Mode Isn’t the Best Way to Live“, survival mode involves adaptive physiological changes in our body that help us respond to the stressors that we are faced with. When we experience stress, a sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses occur in our body that allow us to respond by preparing them to fight, flight, or freeze (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018).


Survive mode is when you are so busy or burdened that you can only think of making it through the day or a particular event. Survival mode can keep your brain in a state of chaos and confusion. Survival mode keeps you in constant movement – mental or physical – with no room to rest or relax. Survival mode prevents you from thinking and planning ahead for future success and growth.


Big transitions, important projects, or inflexible deadlines can shift you into survival mode. The reaction is warranted in short, infrequent phases but constant survival mode takes its toll on your mind, body, and spirit.


When you are in survival mode you spend so much time focusing on the ‘dangers’ that you don’t have time to leverage the opportunities. Survival mode negatively impacts your critical thinking skills, imagination, and calculated risk-taking. Survival mode in your career can look like this:

  • Believing everything is urgent
  • Being too busy or stressed to apply for better jobs
  • Not experiencing any joy in the work
  • Doing work that is just good enough because there is no time to do your best
  • Reacting to situations instead of being proactive
  • Being on the defensive all the time instead of being able to collaborate


Big transitions, important projects, inflexible deadlines, or toxic workplaces can shift you into survival mode. The reaction is warranted in short, infrequent phases but constant survival mode takes its toll on your mind, body, and spirit.


To thrive is to grow vigorously or flourish; to be successful or make steady progress; to prosper. The strategies you used to survive should be evaluated so they can be elevated or eliminated if you want to thrive.


If you’re ready to shift from surviving to thriving, register for a Career Activation Strategy Session today.





Nicki Sanders, MSW, ushers high-performing women of color in mid-level social work and human services leadership through promotion to senior leadership. As Founder and CEO of Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, her mission is simple – to eliminate toxic workplaces by developing skilled, empathetic, and goal-oriented leaders who have the vision, support, and resources to create a culture where business prospers, and employees thrive individually and collectively. Nicki has an extensive background in nonprofit management leading high-functioning, multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life and career aligned with her values and purpose. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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