During stressful, demanding seasons of life, sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to set aside everything but the bare necessities and just try to get through to the other side. (Don’t miss the link below to a helpful “survival mode” planning worksheet.)
Sometimes Survival Mode Is Necessary
This episode was inspired by an email from a listener who writes, “Ever feel like you are just treading water day after day? I feel like I am already tired tomorrow.” I know I’m not alone when I say I can relate to that statement.
We all have those times in our life when we feel like we just can’t get ahead. It’s easy to beat ourselves up for not accomplishing all we want to do. Sometimes, circumstances are such that we simply need to go into “survival mode” — doing the bare minimum it takes to get through the days with some semblance of peace until this season in our lives passes.
What is Survival Mode?
As an article on activistguide.com puts it, “Sometimes just surviving – making it to the end of the month, or the week, or the day – feels like it’ s about all you can do. After working for 8 hours or 10 hours or 12 hours, to motivate yourself to go for an hour’s walk, or a swim, or jogging – can seem like a real effort – and maybe just take more energy or stamina than you feel like you’ve got right now.”
You might need to go into survival mode because:
- You’re working long hours
- You’re caring for critically ill family member
- Your military spouse is deployed and you’re parenting alone
- You’re dealing with illness — either yours or a family member’s
- You’re going through a major life event like divorce
How to go into Survival Mode
We need to learn to give ourselves a break. When you’re faced with crisis or a time of high stress, it’s time to get back to the basics. Do your job — whether it’s your day job or your job as a parent/caregiver — the best you can, and let other things wait. These are the seasons in life when you do only what’s absolutely necessary.
Priscille Livenais, who’s been a guest on The Productive Woman in the past (episode 47 and as part of the international productivity panel in episode 66) shared this tip on The Productive Woman Facebook page: “Focus on the essential and make time for rest and self care.”
Give yourself permission
Getting back to the basics and doing only what’s absolutely necessary for the time being should be your only focus during this time. Don’t try to improve or innovate — allow yourself to just tread water.
Some approaches to consider if you’re feeling pressured to do more than you can realistically cope with for now:
- Delete every project from task manager, or archive them if you’d like to save them for later. You can even delete your task manager from your smart phone and just carry an index card with the two or three things you really need to do each day. You don’t need reminders of the things you’re not doing. Remember, you’re not “slacking off” — you just aren‘t going to do these things right now.
- Keep a notebook or an Evernote file to capture any ideas you might have related to your on-hold projects, but give yourself permission to not focus on them until a later date.
- Disconnect from electronics as much as you can. Turn the alarms, notifications, and sounds off on your phone or devices. It may be impossible to fully disconnect, but you can allow yourself a few moments each day to go for a walk without your cell phone, for example.
- If you can, put an out-of-office message on your business and/or personal email.
- Example: “Due to current circumstances I will not be regularly reviewing or responding to email messages from this account. If you urgently need a response to your message and if you know me well enough to have my phone number, please feel free to call me. Otherwise, I will resume email responses in a few weeks.”
- Cancel all meetings and all appointments, except those that are absolutely necessary for your job or health.
- Plan simple meals or take-out for meals.
- Avoid living on junk food, since you should try to take care of your health.
- Try services that send pre-measured food that can be quickly prepared, such as Blue Apron or Plated.
- If you can take a little time to prepare ingredients for the week, consider meal-planning services like Prep Dish. (Check out my interview with Prep Dish creator Allison Schaaf in Episode 73.)
- Use services that will deliver necessities, to save the time you’d otherwise spend running to the store. Amazon Prime Now offers 2-hour delivery in some areas. Not only can this service be used for food, but also items like paper towels and toilet paper.
- Look into other resources that are available in your local area.
Take care of yourself
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break and give yourself permission to focus on the crisis at hand. As the writer of “12 Tips for Surviving Personal Crisis” reminds us, “We all deal with loss and crisis differently. It is rarely easy or it wouldn’t be called a crisis and getting through it wouldn’t be called survival.”
Be kind to others. It could be easy to take out our frustration, fatigue, and stress on others. But remembering to extend kindness can help us in return. The article mentioned above gives some great advice:
Speaking kindly to others softens the outer crust we often build when we want to protect ourselves, whether we have been hurt or feel slighted in any way. I have learned over the years that when I give kindness — even in the mere tone of voice — kindness comes back to me tenfold and just in time to help me get through one more day, one more hour.” — from “12 Tips for Surviving Personal Crisis”
Avoid social addiction, like Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. It’s tempting to seek a jolt of dopamine from a “Like” or “Favorite,” but in the long run, that feeling won’t last. Instead, call a friend, talk to someone face-to-face, maintain connections in real life
Do something every day to relieve stress: exercise, sleep, journal, or talk to a friend or spouse. Check out Episode 75 for more ideas.
Find a support system
Don’t let pride or the feeling you need to be completely self-sufficient get in the way of asking for or accepting help from others. Friends from The Productive Woman community on Facebook offered suggestions worth considering:
- Accept help that’s offered. “And don’t feel guilty. Just decide to pay it forward someday,” suggested Leann Guzman.
- Be specific about what you need. “When people ask you to tell them how they can help – tell them exactly what they can do!” suggested Melissa Orlando.
- Don’t procrastinate. Melissa noted that during a personal time of crisis for her, she was lucky to have taken care of Christmas shopping in November, so when her mother went through a health crisis recently that required Melissa to be away from home during the holidays, she had prepared ahead of time so her children could still have a normal Christmas.
- Ask for help. “Most people try to do it all, but there are people who want to help,” said Mary Steigleder.
- “Support groups are invaluable to help your not feel so alone AND give you potential helpful advice,” said Coryne Forest. Support groups are available for for crises related to health issues (yours or someone else’s), relationship issues, addictions, substance abuse, and more. Search online, ask around, and connect with others going through the same thing as you.
Advice from one who knows
I reached out to my friend Val, whose 10-year-old daughter currently is undergoing treatment for cancer. Her advice for other moms going through a time of crisis was:
- Cherish every moment.
- Take one day at a time.
- Find support in groups of other parents.
- Positive thinking, positive talk, and hope.
- Stop trying to run things and let God take over.
- Watching her daughter inspiring others encourages her.
- “The worst outcome still nags at us, but we push it down.”
- This brought us all closer together.
- Nothing is “business as usual.”
- It’s a desperate time, frustrating and heartbreaking, but hope gets us through.
Coming out of Survival Mode
Don’t stay in Survival Mode any longer than you have to. Life isn’t meant to be lived that way. Take life one step at a time. Make a list of every step you need to do to get back on track. Do one each day or as you can.
Prepare for the next crisis. We know these things come, so being prepared can help us in the future. This idea was inspired by an article on Inc.com with tips to survive business or publicity crises, but the ideas can easily apply to times of personal crisis, as well.
As I remind listeners at the end of every episode, extend grace to each other and to yourself. This is especially important to remember in times of stress and crisis.
Use this Survival Mode Worksheet to think through your survival mode plan.
What do you think?
Do you have tips for surviving those crisis times of life? What are your tools and systems you use for those times in life? Please feel free to ask your questions or share your thoughts by commenting below or on the Facebook page or email me.Click here to discover my favorite apps!
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I really enjoyed this. Well written and good advice. As I said before, lol, I am sorry mine was so fragmented. My brain is on overload indefinitely…
I honestly have so much going on in my life besides Dani’s fight against cancer, that it’s out of self preservation, and providing a positive and encouraging environment as possible to Dani that my “one day at a time” coping mechanism serves me so well.
That and truly, truly cherishing every moment.
I am in the hospital with her now, watching her sleep and she looks like an angel. A snapshot in a million moments burned into my memory.
Laura McClellan says
Thank you, Val. You inspire me, so I’m honored to know you took the time to visit here.
Kelly Anne Liberto says
I’ve been feeling in survival mode, yet life is going great for us right now! (Add guilt to that list of demands 🙂 After reading your post I realized that the good things in life – new job, dream contract, husband travelling, new puppy can add stress as well. Thanks for helping me step back and re-evaluate Laura. As usual, excellent advice right when I need it!
Laura McClellan says
Thank you, Kelly. I’m so glad you found it helpful! And you’re right: even good things can create stress and increased demands that have to be dealt with. We can certainly be grateful for those good things, while still making adjustments to our expectations (as far as how much we can accomplish at any given time) and being kind to ourselves.