10 Tips on Surviving Survival Mode


I believe we all find ourselves in survival mode at some point or another. We’re often blindsided, desperately trying to keep up with everything thrown our way. When you find yourself in survival mode, things are usually coming fast and hard. Even if there are long waiting periods involved, the trouble is in the details. I once found myself managing my own seizure disorder while caring for two small boys (one on the autism spectrum), caring for a chronically ill husband, homeschooling and working part-time. This was survival mode. My family is awesome, and they still are. This has also been an incredibly difficult time. So these are the things I’ve found that make surviving day to day a bit easier.

1. Find your tribe.

Let’s start with the obvious: you cannot do this alone. So find your people, wherever they are, and hang on to these relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just let them into your life, mess and all. I’ve found most people aren’t nearly as judgy as I feared, and oftentimes they are thankful for a straightforward relationship. So just say, “Yea, dinner would be great, and when you come in please just step over the Legos and dust bunnies and six piles of laundry.”

2. Hand sanitizer.

I feel like this is another obvious one. Right now I cannot afford to be sick so please lather up like you are headed in for surgery. I have hand sanitizer in every single room. I also hoard tissues and have no problem quarantining family members.

3. Notebooks and lists.

Chances are, if you’re in survival mode, you are sleep deprived and pulled in a million directions. This most likely means you have the attention span of a fruit fly, no matter how many times you promise yourself you won’t forget. Leave a notebook in each room, one in your purse, one in your car and others wherever else you may need them. I write down everything from items needed at the store to things I need to look up to reminders to put an alarm in my phone as a reminder to do something (because, yeah, I don’t remember where I left my phone or keys or…).

4. Apps and Alarms.

Speaking of alarms — use them for everything. I set reminders for medications, work calls, personal calls, doctor appointments and on and on. I’ve even set alarms reminding myself to eat or work on a personal project. In addition to this, phone apps can be helpful as well. There are budget apps for keeping up with bills and/or medical expenses (these also sync between phones which can be helpful for families), habit tracking apps that help you keep up with personal goals, apps that allow you to order groceries from your phone, outfit planning apps, meal planning apps, fitness apps. The list goes on and on. The more you can streamline and the more you can delegate and the more you can do while in bed or on the go, the better.

5. Grace.

We’ll stop in the middle for this reminder: give yourself grace. Survival mode is exhausting. The goal is to just get through it, even if it’s not super graceful. Survival mode is about just that: surviving. So if you’re reading this, you’re alive, and that means you’re doing a great job. Maybe you started sobbing unexpectedly at a work event (just me?) or forgot to attend a work event altogether (again, just me?) or you haven’t been the best friend or parent or whatever. This time won’t last forever so just enjoy the break from having to care what the rest of the world thinks. After all, you’re busy just trying to survive.

6. A freshen up kit.

You’ll often be simply trying to make it through the day, and that often means being short on time. So I always keep dry shampoo, stain wipes, wrinkle release spray, perfume, a few makeup essentials, cleansing wipes and deodorant on hand. Bonus points for keeping a ball-cap too. Are you supporting your team or one day too many past a shower? They’ll never know.

7. Scents.

Perfume or cologne, scented laundry detergent, candles, car deodorizers, travel essential oil diffusers and so on. Sometimes you just need to hide the fact that you haven’t had time to ____. Whatever it is, and whether you want to use essential oils or synthetic scents, scents may make your life feel a little more put together and not smelling like it’s falling apart.

8. All the comfy things.

At some point you will hit a wall. You’ll crash. Exhaustion and anxiety and maybe fear and grief will set in. Survival mode is all about running and keeping things going, but at some point you have to stop, even briefly. So have all the comfy things handy, and soak up the break while you can. Fluffy comforters, fat pillows, slippers, sweats, soft rugs, fuzzy throw blankets, a heater if it’s cold or a fan if it’s hot. Make sure you have your items on hand, so even if you only have 10 minutes to spare, comfy is waiting. I keep pillows and blankets in my office for when it’s freezing, in my car so we can have impromptu picnics when driving long distances between doctor appointments, and all over the house so I can curl up on the floor while resting and playing with my kids.

9. Good food.

By good food I mean healthy food for the day and “splurge” items for the evening. Both should be pre-made, whether you take the time to prep food in advance or just buy a salad and frozen veggies from the store. The healthy food will keep you running during the day and the splurge items are there to celebrate having made it through 24 hours. I’ve always appreciated half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia at the end of a tough week.

I also want to add ready-made healthy snacks to this list. Think of things like fruit, veggie trays, wraps and other on-the-go foods. And tying back into point one, when people ask to bring a meal and want to know what you’d like to eat, feel free to ask for healthy snacks rather than a big dinner. It’s not something people often think about. One person once brought us veggie burritos we could take on the go and it was amazing.

10. A full tank of gas.

You will likely often be running late so prepare in advance. Especially if you find yourself in survival mode because of a health complication, you do not want to find yourself tapping your fingers while anxiously trying to get $5 of gas into your tank so you can finish rushing to the ER (still just me?).

Bonus: A sense of humor. Even with all the planning in the world, this will be hard. You will mess up over and over again. You’ll feel like a failure and a fool and sometimes feel like just quitting altogether. Yet, as cliche as it sounds, you just have to remember you’re human and doing the best you can, and really, as long as you’re alive you’ve got another shot at it tomorrow. So laugh at your mistakes. For example, like I did while nearly riding my brand new washing machine across the laundry room because I forgot to take the locking mechanism out. Hello Goldie Hawn in “Overboard.” This ridiculous, life ends up being a lot more fun once you learn to laugh a little more.

So with all that said, good luck — we’re all in this together, and I’m cheering you on!

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Getty image by ninelutsk


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