Are you stuck in survival mode? How can we shift from survival brain to learning brain?

When dealing with trauma it is so easy for us to fall into the place or mindset of survival mode aka safe mode. We are so overwhelmed by life and stress that we struggle to complete tasks, forget things, and basically feel as if we are just existing for the time being. This is a very unhealthy state to be in but its more common than you think. Some causes of this survival mode is chronic stress, trauma, and PTSD. Increased stress or trauma can cause psychological issues, but it can also cause physical issues to our body and how it functions. Some of the psychological issues include decision making, imbalance in brain control, anxiety, depression, mood instability, and cognitive impairment. One of the biggest is high cortisol levels. Some of the symptoms of high cortisol are blood sugar imbalance, decrease in bone density, decrease in muscle tissue, high blood pressure, increase in weight gain, low immunity and thyroid function issues.


In order to start to heal from the survival mode or survival brain, we want to start working on ways to shift into learning brain. Learning brain basically means being in a state where you can grow, develop, and perform daily activities with no issue. Ways in which you can move into learning mode or learning brain is soothing your nervous system, addressing stress and trauma, resting, finding dopamine increasing activities, self-compassion, self-regulation, and self-care.


Soothing your nervous system

In order to soothe yourself you have to find good coping skills that help you relax. These coping skills can be meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness, listening to music, and journaling.   Here are some links to therapist aid worksheets that I recommend for learning some new coping skills.


Deep Breathing (

Relaxation Techniques (

What is Mindfulness? (

Yoga for Stress Relief | 7 Minute Practice  | Yoga With Adriene

10-Minute Meditation For Stress


Addressing stress and trauma

When addressing your stress and trauma it takes a lot of insight and awareness. Looking at your current lifestyle, what do you believe are biggest sources of stress? Are the sources something you can easily cut out of your life, or do you think you would need help to do so? Are their things from your past that are keeping you stuck where you currently are? This could be getting involved with a therapist to help you navigate some of your stressors and or trauma. Taking action on your stressors and trauma are an important part of healing from survival brain. Take a look as to how you can accomplish this.


Resting or finding dopamine increasing activities

Stress and trauma can cause us to be so wiped out from life or burnt out. We spend some much time on edge or keyed up that we forget that we need to stop and relax and reset. There are ways to do that such as taking time off for yourself, doing something peaceful, read a book, watch your favorite movie, or take a nap. On the other hand, we can also benefit from things that give us a boost such as dopamine. This is the pleasure seeking chemical in your brain that can provide you joy. Some activities you could try would be exercising, a walk with your dog, arts and crafts, gardening, sex, or cooking.


Self-compassion, Self-regulation, and self-care

Self-compassion is something that we can struggle with as people who are dealing with trauma and stress. Self-compassion means to give yourself some kindness and care when it comes to human experiences such as making mistakes, caring for yourself, self-awareness, and self-talk.  Self-regulation is how we manage our emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We have to work on regulating by using coping skills and practicing emotion regulating skills. There is link below on emotion regulating skills. These are just a few skills for emotion regulation. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us to start DBT treatment. Finally, self-care, we have to engage in self-care often in order to help our whole self-heal. For self-care we look at the 5 dimensions of wellness. Spiritual wellness, physical wellness, intellectual wellness, social wellness, and emotional wellness. There is a link below from the Jefferson Center discussing each dimension in detail.


The 5 Dimensions of Wellness | Jefferson Center (


Emotion Regulation Skills (


Overall, we have learned about the different ways to help ourselves shift from survival brain to learning brain and what it means to be in survival brain. Keep checking in on our blog for more educational pieces and coping skills. Check out our website at Enlightenment ( if you are struggling with trauma and chronic stress and would like to start your path to healing today!



Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain: What's the Difference? (


Cortisol: Definition, Levels, and How to Control It (


A “How-To” Guide for Surviving Survival Mode | Jefferson Center (



Popular Posts