It’s surprisingly easy to enter survival mode and completely lose sight of what’s important in life. Busy schedules, high pressure and regular routines mean that we can very easily go into autopilot and not even notice.
When in true survival mode, we are far from working at our best – compensating for a lack of efficiency with excess adrenaline and cortisol to mask the struggle. The effect of these powerful hormones is that we can feel on top of the world when in fact we’re running on empty. Being adrenalised may feel good, but isn’t sustainable.
Undeterred and often unaware, we persevere and top up our tanks with busyness, caffeine and distractions that trigger a stimulated response. However, the long-time repercussions of working like this can be serious including burnout, severe stress and depression. All of which can creep up on us.
Hopefully as you read this it’s not triggering too many alarm bells, but if you’ve recognised these survival symptoms for too long then speak to a professional and take some time to look after yourself. Peter Levine, an American psychotherapist, has a pioneering approach to the physical and psychological symptoms of stress, shock and trauma. He believes trauma is primarily biological – a physical phenomenon – not an incurable disease.
His theory is based on wildlife observations and animals that are regularly threatened with death yet rarely traumatised; their survival instinct kicks in, flooding their body with highly charged energy ready for fighting or escaping. When a threat has passed, that intense energy is discharged and the animal returns to its resting state.
For more information on Peter Levines work please go to Waking the Tiger 1997, by Dr Peter Levine – the quintessential SE® book.
Humans have the same automated response to stress which can occur repeatedly in some working environments. It’s suggested that we should only spend 10% of our time in survival mode and the remaining 90% thriving. However in my opinion and experience, this is nearly always not the case and often these two figures are flipped around.
We are social animals and in the jungle – that is our tough business lives – our survival response can be triggered by things and situations we perceive as threats. So how can we self-regulate, shift from surviving to thriving and tame these workplace tigers?
Here are 3 simple and practical feel good strategies that might just help.
- Develop your felt sense
Our felt sense is the ability to recognise our internal experience, sensations and response in the moment. Shifting focus from actions and things that are happening outside us. If we can recognise more quickly how we’re responding internally to a situation, then it’s less likely to get out of control. This improves our ability to self-regulate moment by moment.
When we focus our attention within, into our bodies, we can become our own investigator, monitor and regulator. This skill can be developed using techniques and popular meditation apps that guide you through a daily body scan, allowing you to reflect in the moment. It’s a really useful skill that can be quickly learned and developed – remember that success takes patience and regular practise.
- Slow down or better still, stop!
Being busy does not equal being productive. You’ll notice people around you running from meeting to meeting, firing off emails and talking non-stop. But how many of them are performing at their best and really succeeding at a high level?
Success doesn’t come from excess movement, activity and busyness. It comes from a clear, focused and uninterrupted approach and mindset. When we slow down a notch or two, or even stop altogether, we gain perspective and better focus on what’s really going go. But with so much to do, this can be the biggest challenge for many of us.
As a self-confessed achievement addict, the down side of this continued pace and the challenge of slowing down, was all too familiar. When one of my team told me to stop running, quite literally, I burst out crying. What stop running? “Yes. Really. Stop running” was their reply.
So ask yourself, what do you need to stop doing to give yourself some time and space? Try and give yourself just a moment to stop. Go on, smell the roses.
- Come down from high alert
When everything seems a priority, everything is urgent and you can’t see the wood from the trees, it’s time to come down from this high alert state. It’s easy to get used to this high pressure and intensity, it’s like being on a treadmill that you can’t stop. On a recent holiday, I couldn’t even relax enough to sit back and read a book. A little rum helped but that’s not the answer to truly coming back down to earth! But when we’ve been in this place for so long, it’s not easy to just switch off.
It’s time to step down from this heightened level of busyness, distraction and addiction to urgency and gently settle into a place of presence and calm. The first step is simple – just noticing when you’re on high alert. Acknowledging that coming down to earth will help you return to your former thriving self.
So be kind and be gentle with yourself.
Please share your thoughts with us – we love to hear from you – as we are only reflections of one another and we learn together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jenny Rossiter is a leading coach and human behaviour specialist and founder of Feel Good Leadership. Author of The Masks that Men Wear and The Masks that Women Wear, for more than 20 years she has delivered leadership coaching and programmes which challenge and inspire new thinking by using practical strategies and techniques to form healthy habits. Because people who feel good achieve extraordinary things.