Relationships can’t grow when we are stuck in survival mode

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According to Darwin, “If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care or love.”

For us humans, this means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn and pay attention other people’s needs.

Given that our modern day culture puts most of us in survival mode most of the time, this is not looking good for our health and relationships!

Have you had the experience of a really stressful day? Most of us have. How did that make you feel? I’ll bet it didn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy with your loved ones.

It likely put you in a bad mood where the best thing you could imagine would be to shut yourself in the bathroom with a bubble bath and a bottle of wine. And nice as that might sound, solitude and recovery time should not be the way we have to spend every evening, just so we can jump into our stressful lives again the next day.

It was interesting to me to listen to how different cultures feel about sex and relationships. In Japan, where workdays are long, and demands are very high, many young people are choosing not to even have an intimate relationship. One young woman described her life as too busy to have time to interact with other people on a social level.

This has led to some interesting adaptations in the culture there, which I can see in North America also. Hook-up sites are popular if someone is looking for a sexual encounter without the work of a relationship. Porn and erotic fiction provide a pseudo hit of excitement and titillation. Watching TV or surfing the internet take our minds away from our own lives and we enter the lives of other people instead.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these ways of getting our sexual and relationship needs met, but one has to ask the question, What about real intimacy, do we have space for it anymore?

Real intimacy takes time and it does require us to not be stuck in survival mode. Allowing our nervous system to recover and come out of fight or flight for at least an hour every day, enhances our health as well as our relationships. Lowering cortisol levels, which our adrenal glands pump out when we are stressed, helps us lose unwanted belly fat and to bond with others.

That sounds like a win-win to me!

So what helps our body to come out of this survival mode? Well aside from the obvious relaxation activities like meditating, nature walks or yoga, there is an important thing to do first. If our nervous system is in fight or flight mode, it helps to actually let ourselves fight or flee first before we try to relax. This might be a brisk walk outside, or baking bread and kneading the dough with our fists. Something that allows our body to offload the excess energy we have created to ‘survive’ whatever stress we have encountered. Then, the relaxation activity will have a greater effect.

Another great way to help ourselves out of constant survival mode, is to give or receive nurturing touch. A gentle, sensual massage can work wonders for your nervous system and allow you to be in a mode that fosters more intimacy and bonding.

This is an experience you can ask for from a Somatic Sex Educator. We are trained in this type of safe and nurturing touch, along with the skills to discuss boundaries and embodied consent. You could bring a partner and learn to work on each other in this way to enhance your relationship. Or you can come to experience the pleasure and benefits of touch for your own self.

If you are curious about enriching your life in this way and learning how to come out of survival mode and enjoy the experience of connection, book a free consult with me.

Warmly and with nurturing touch,