How Trauma Affects You And How to Move From Survival Mode to Healing Mode
Due to scientific discoveries in the last two decades, we are finally able to understand what “trauma” is, what it does to our nervous system, and how it leads to chronic dis-ease that impacts millions of us physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially and more. Plus, we have the tools to heal our trauma wounds at the root cause level.
When women come to me to help them heal, they typically tell me one or more of the following things:
- “I feel stuck and uncomfortable in my own skin.”
- “I’ve tried everything. I’m doing all the right things.”
- “I can’t fall asleep at night but I feel exhausted all day.”
- “I can’t think clearly.”
- “I’m overly emotional”
- “I can’t feel anything.”
While these issues are unique in certain ways, they share a root cause: we are in a constant state of survival. The way we live, the daily choices we make, our lifestyles, which are all products of our systemic, cultural and familial norms, are making us ill, or dis-eased.
What Survival Mode Looks and Feels Like
Our bodies are designed to survive. When our body perceives a threat, it automatically and very quickly goes into survival mode. Survival mode is part of our autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Our ANS keeps us safe. It gets “activated” when we are faced with unsafe situations or life threatening experiences where it helps us to get ready to “fight” or “flee” the situation. The ANS also gets activated when we are in a situation where we can’t do anything to make it stop; when we are stuck in a situation. In this case, the ANS helps us “leave” the situation in our mind and body by “freezing.”
What happens internally when the ANS is activated? The ANS is in charge of many processes in the body that happen automatically, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and immune system processes. When we are in survival mode, blood leaves our organs and enters our muscles and other parts that help us fight, flee or freeze. When we are in the process of fighting, fleeing or freezing–aka surviving an in-the-moment situation–our body is not interested in calmly digesting our food or optimally producing hormones for reproduction.
In an ideal world, our body would go into survival mode only when we really need it, then quickly and automatically return to healing mode, in which our self-healing mechanisms activate. But in today’s world, that’s not the case.
What Healing Mode Looks and Feels Like
In healing mode, the body’s focus is optimal digestion, hormone production to reproduce, blood flow to the internal organs and immune system biochemistry and processes. In healing mode we are resting, rejuvenating and optimizing. When we are in our healing mode more often than survival mode, we thrive, not just survive.
Healing mode is best demonstrated by the work of Peter Levine, PhD, who is a psychologist, research and developer of Somatic Experiencing. Somatic Experiencing is inspired by Peter’s observation of trauma recovery behaviors in nature. Immediately after a situation in which the mammals he studied had to fight, flee or freeze temporarily to survive, they returned to their base level healing mode.
Why We (humans) Are Stuck in Survival Mode
The reason why most humans can’t easily return to healing mode is because of our modern, toxic, go, go, go world. Not only is our ANS stuck in survival mode from childhood and developmental traumas, or experiences where we were forced to fight, flee or freeze, but we are also inundated with moment-to-moment daily “stressors.” These stressors include toxins in our food and environment, and tremendous over-stimulation of our senses from sounds, screens, information, noise, smells and more.
We also live in a patriarchal society where we are pressured to learn, do, achieve, work harder, be the best, compete with others and do anything to get ahead. This type of society values suppressing and hiding emotions, leaving them “stuck” in the body, further keeping us stuck in survival mode and thus physical, mental and emotional disharmony.
How to Return to Healing Mode
Here’s the good news. We know how to heal the root cause of the dis-ease caused by our over-activated ANS. We have practices and rituals to learn and integrate that guide us to experience optimal healing.
Healing this root cause requires reprogramming the nervous system from being in survival mode most of the time to being in healing mode as a resting or default mode. Healing requires cultivating a true self feeling of safety, calm and ease in most moments of life. Then, when there is a true threat, our ANS can move easily into survival mode, allowing us to fight, flee or freeze, then return quickly to healing mode. In healing mode, our internal systems can optimize, allowing us to thrive.
Reprogramming the nervous system is simple in theory, but not easy in daily implementation, especially in the beginning of your journey. The healing process is a dance, not an exact linear process. This is where radical curiosity is enormously helpful. Finding joy and fun in the process of reprogramming our nervous system helps us integrate the practices so that we can become our true self–the person we were born to be prior to any childhood traumas or the trauma of living in our mainstream, patriarchal culture.
To heal at the root cause level, we must address our developmental traumas in addition to our daily moment-to-moment stressors. This is a paradigm shift and a lifestyle change, not a temporary fix. No pill or medication will ever heal us at the root cause level. It is a new way of living that entails learning new information; questioning and transforming your own beliefs and thoughts; and feeling our emotions. This leads to making choices that are in alignment with our true selves.
The Power to Heal the World
With this new knowledge of how to heal our activated ANS comes radical responsibility and power.
Imagine if we all learned this information, integrated the practices, regulated our nervous system to its optimal function and raised our kids modeling this. Imagine a world led by leaders with regulated nervous systems. Imagine a world that valued the masculine and feminine energies and promoted harmony between them. With this new knowledge and the intention to heal the root cause, we can not only decrease the epidemic of chronic physical, mental and emotional dis-ease, but also heal the earth and the world.
I do not believe we will heal the world within our lifetime. I do believe–and it is already happening–that as more people learn this knowledge and know that we are not alone in our desire to thrive instead of just survive, we as individuals will heal, causing a greater collective to raise their vibration and begin the transformation.
Exercise To Begin Healing
This knowledge may be a huge wake-up call about the root cause of your dis-ease. But you can begin to heal right now:
- Take a moment to tune into your breath. Don’t change anything. Just tune in and notice.
- Describe your breathing in detail (in your mind, out loud or on paper). Notice any judgements and let them float away.
- Allow a deeper inhalation way into your pelvic bowl, filling and expanding your pelvic bowl, belly, lungs and chest. Allow a long slow exhale. Do this a few times and just notice.
- Now, bring awareness to your body. Just notice at first. Describe what you sense and feel. Say it in your mind, out loud or write it down.Get curious about what you sense and feel. Is there any guidance for you? Any message from your body? Feel free to ask any parts of you that questions to which you desire an answer. This will help you on your healing and life journey.
- With each exhale, allow all that does not serve your highest good to float away. Allow the breath to flow in and on each exhale and continue to let go of all that is not serving you.
- Reread this blog and notice any changes in your breath and body. Continue to absorb this knowledge and practice.
- Remember, what you sense and feel is your truth, your inner wisdom. Follow your inner truths and wisdom as if your life depends on it!
Ready to take the next step in your awakening, healing & thriving? I have two invitations for you:
- Join my self-discovery playground, The Healing Lifestyle Design Membership, where each month you receive a topic along with prompts to help you uncover self-knowledge, gradually unleashing and unshackling your true self.
- Book a FREE call with me if you this article sparked your curiosity and you would like to tell me your story so that I can guide you in whether the Healing Lifestyle Design Membership is best for you or if you would be better suited for the Holistic Pelvic Healing Immersion where you also get access to the Healing Lifestyle Design Membership.