It's an understatement to say things are tough right now for healthcare workers. A Yale School of Public Health survey reveals worrying rates of depression and PTSD among healthcare workers. Survey results published in Psychiatry Services echo this sentiment, with two-thirds of participating HCP’s reporting some level of clinical anxiety and one-fifth exhibiting moderate to severe depression symptoms. No matter how you phrase it, healthcare workers are in major survival mode.
What is Survival Mode?
Survival mode is a popular gaming phrase to describe barely getting through a super hard level. Survival mode is also an evolutionary response designed to help protect us in stressful or dangerous situations. According to Integrated Behavioral Health in Primary Care, your stress response can actually work against you by preventing your parasympathetic nervous system from turning on your body’s relaxation response. That’s why it’s critical to find a way to move past this survival mode level.
How Do You Stop Living in Survival Mode?
As someone who battles anxiety, I know that fighting thousands of years of evolutionary response is hard. We have to tell our brain more than just “‘I’m Done.” Here are some of the things I’m doing to trick my brain out of survival mode. Hopefully, you can find things on this list that will help you, too.
See a Doctor
I’m seeing a doctor for my anxiety and depression, and I honestly think it’s one of the best things you can do. You don’t have to struggle alone; you can get help. I appreciate the privilege of seeing a doctor in a country without universal healthcare. Take advantage of your mental health benefits to talk to a professional. Even doctors need help dealing with stress, and there is no shame in seeking it out.
Ask for Help
Sometimes, we are in survival mode because we are taking on way too much. Maybe you thought you could handle working full time while watching the kids while also keeping the house clean and keeping the family fed. But the reality is that’s a lot for anyone to handle. It’s okay to ask for help, whether from a partner, friend, or family member.
If you have extra cash, think about what you can outsource. Hiring a cleaning service to come might make all the difference for you. Or a virtual assistant could monitor your kids and help them with stressful homework topics. Buying pre-cooked easy dinners, or meal kits, might free up the mental load of meal planning, shopping, and cooking. Don’t feel guilty about taking things off your plate so you can climb out of survival mode.
Give Yourself a Break
It’s okay not to be able to do everything. If you don’t have anyone to help you, it’s okay to let some things slide. The laundry doesn’t need to be folded. The floor doesn’t need to be swept; the toys don’t need to be put away. Identify the things that don’t matter as much and let them go.
It's also okay to do some things poorly. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, so even if you can't manage to clean the whole house, wiping the counter is a start. If exercising for 30 minutes is out of reach, do 10 minutes of stretching. It's worth it.
Take Time for Self-Care
Once you have a break, you should spend that time in relaxation mode. Whether you have 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or more, there is a method of self-care that can help you feel better about your day. Check out Self-care Sunday Ideas for inspiration on how you can incorporate some self-care into your daily routine.
Plan and Organize Your Time
One thing that has helped me break through survival mode and get more done than basic survival was planning my day. If I write a to-do list, I’m more likely to focus on the list and accomplish its tasks. If I write down what I’m going to accomplish in a planner or a journal, I’m more likely to stick to it. Writing my day out like this, even in 60 seconds, has helped me stay productive even when I feel like I can’t accomplish anything. It’s been a big help.
Another big thing that’s helped me is finding people who are feeling similar and talking with them. HCP’s have been so isolated from friends and family that finding a way to connect and socialize is critical. I've discussed my feelings with my best friend over our weekly zoom call and talked with folks on social media going through similar emotions. And you know? It helps.
Realizing that many people are going through exactly what you are doesn’t make the struggles go away, but it does help to know you aren’t alone. And sometimes those people we talk to have developed new methods of coping that we never considered. My best friend is the one who made me realize that I’ve been in survival mode these past few months. Twitter has been helping me cope. Commiserating with like-minded people helps you feel a sense of community and engagement, comforting in such trying times.
Get Off The Toxic Parts of Social Media
It’s funny that I’m saying to get rid of social media right after I said my Twitter friends have been helping me cope. But I don’t mean get rid of all social media. I mean, get rid of toxic social media. I have old friends, and family members who have bought into the most insane theories out there, and seeing their rhetoric increases my anxiety.
You don’t have to stay in survival mode one day longer. Reach out to your employer for support programs, call your health insurance company or your primary care physician for help. If you feel like you’re beyond survival mode and in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their Online Chat.