woman with hand over heart feeling empowered

3 Tips To Shift From Surviving to Empowering

by Kristen Carrington

Do you notice yourself getting defensive about a lot of things? When stressors arise do you hide, explode in anger or end up stuck in loops of self-sabotage? Why does it feel like each time you take a step forward you seem to fall back into old patterns? 


These are signs that you may be merely surviving life and not fully thriving. 


In my experience the deeper we know ourselves the more we discover what’s possible for creating and experiencing the good in life. Life is meant to feel good. 


This article is intended to empower you to think differently about yourself, your circumstances, and your life. Recognize you have the power to make changes even if you are not sure what those changes are yet. And the first step toward knowing where to start is getting to know yourself, bringing awareness to the patterns that do not serve you and making choices that support the magnificence of who you are at your core. 


These tips provide direction for how you can start the process of creating your empowered, joyful, meaningful, well-lived life. 


Living in ‘Survival Mode’ feels like ongoing stress and hurriedness that is always looming. It sounds like negative self-talk and judgment. It looks like procrastination, avoidance, conflict, and self-sabotage. 


Keep in mind that our natural survival instincts generate safety when we are under real threat. These instincts are important to our survival as humans. Yet, when we are continually feeling under threat, fearful, helpless, and incapable, these survival strategies also keep us stuck. 


When these unconscious survival patterns become our normal way of life they show up in our behaviour and prevent us from experiencing the joy and beauty that life really has to offer. 


Instead of exploring life, we become fearful of it. 


Survival Mode can kick in at different times throughout our life, often during times of change or transition. When basic needs are not being met, Survival Mode becomes the default filter for how we interpret the world around us; as though we are always being attacked, rejected, or waiting for the next threat around the corner. 


When this becomes our normal, we feel like victims of present or past circumstances, helpless and hopeless that we can make lasting positive changes. Are you living life but not truly enjoying it? Merely just surviving it? 


Choice is our birthright. We feel stuck or helpless when fighting for survival, yet, always seem to get through and move forward in some way or another. 


I am encouraging you to look beyond just “surviving” the next storm and open your heart to the possibilities that a thriving life can be something you create and enjoy. 


Your life does not have to be just another day to “try” and survive whatever happens. You are the driver of yourself and you get to choose how you experience your life. 


I am grateful that you have read this far as I have 3 tips to help you start your journey of self-awareness, self-appreciation, and self-discovery. 


1. Get real with your fears. 


Babies are born genetically with only two fears; the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. During difficult early childhood experiences our minds process the world through a lens of helplessness and we develop unconscious beliefs that in adulthood keep us stuck. 


As humans, we have an instinctual survival program that does serve us in times of actual danger. When we are stuck in Survival Mode—because we have underlying self-doubt—the unknown seems unsafe. We cope by telling ourselves stories and calling them reality. 


What if you could pause for a moment to recognize you are in Survival Mode and ask yourself, “what specifically am I afraid of?” The answer will often surprise you. “I am afraid of not being loved,” “I am afraid of ending up without the means to live,” “I am afraid my partner will someday leave me.” 


These fears may feel real, but if we apply an objective perspective and look at the evidence is this true? 


  • Key point: Becoming aware of your survival patterns and developing a critical view of your fears can help you look them straight in the eye and question their validity. These moments of leaning into what you are afraid of and removing them from the abstract put you back in the driver’s seat and opens the opportunity to capture empowering evidence of your strength and resourcefulness.  


2. Stop. Notice. Take slow deep breaths into your belly and open your heart. 


Your body is a predictable machine, and 95% of it operates automatically outside of your awareness. When your fear response is triggered by something outside of you, you react internally: the amygdala fires in the brain and sends stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline through the body sending you into the Fight, Flight, or Freeze zone where you can cope with the outside stress. 

In this sympathetic nervous system response your breathing shallows into your chest, your heart races, you sweat and hyper-focus on details. Do you ever notice yourself replaying the details of a story and getting more and more worked up?

Pause, and bring your awareness to this moment in time. Stop and breathe in the gift of slow deep belly breaths until you feel your body relax and settle.


Breathing calms your mind, restoring access to rational thought and re-establishing your body to a regulated, healing state. Breathe intentionally throughout your day to create a lifestyle of inner peace and calm. 


  • Key point: Deep breathing will restore your body to a state that allows clear cognitive function where you can make healthy, supportive choices. 


3. Transform disempowering beliefs. 


Survival Mode is tied to our disempowering core beliefs about ourselves. These were programmed and conditioned into our unconscious mind between ages 0–7 and have laid the foundation for how we cope and react to life as adults. 


These core beliefs look, sound, and feel something like: “I am not (X) enough; I am unlovable; I am helpless; I am powerless; I am unworthy.” 


Clients come to me to help them shift these beliefs at the unconscious level so they no longer run the show. The brain loves evidence and is continually seeking patterns of recognition to support these existing beliefs, this is called confirmation bias. 


When you start to shift the disempowering story from, “Oh man, I can’t handle this” to “Well, what if I am capable of handling this? What if I do have the power to be strong in who I am?”, you enter into a new mode of possibility and empowerment. Instead of staying stuck in the problem, this shift in thinking allows your mind to start repatterning to find new solutions. 


When this negative pattern is interrupted you are back to being resourceful and can develop the key skills needed to build your confidence. Once you make the transition from problem to possibility there are more choices. That is an empowered place to be. 


  • Key point: Notice if you are running a helpless or powerless story in your mind. This belief is not serving you. Ask an optimistic “what if” question that opens your curiosity, shifts your mindset, and alters your focus to reveal deeper layers of what you are truly capable of. 


I encourage you to question your fears, breathe deep, and decide on self-serving empowering beliefs. You are not alone. You are like me and so many others who have lived in Survival Mode and are seeking ways to start reprogramming out of survival toward thriving, growing, embracing new experiences, and showing up feeling safe in our bodies, guided by self-trust, ready to create a life well lived. 


Stop living by default, letting fear run the show. You get to choose who you want to be, what you are capable of, and how you experience life. You are magnificent and worthy. I believe in you.