How To Manage Survival Mode

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Life is great, everything is running along smoothly, and you’re on top of the world. And then, without any warning, the floor falls out from under you.  We should all know how to switch to survival mode and get through it.  Sometimes life just decides to throw you a curve ball.

 We should all know how to switch to survival mode and get through it. When life throws you a curve ball, here is how to deal with it.

Recently EJ started a new job with ten hour shifts – 4pm to 2am – with an hour drive each way. The job is good, the pay is great, and we are so very grateful for everything we will be able to do with his earnings.

However I have realized that a night-shift schedule is rough on more than the person working.  (Everyone I say that to, if they have been on, or had a family member on, permanent night shift, nods emphatically!)

The entire household must adjust to allow more sleep later in the morning, someone sleeping when everyone else is awake, larger meals at times when there were once quick lunches, and a sense of oddness about the entire business.

Add in four young children who wake up only a couple of hours after he goes to bed, two in diapers and  two being homeschooled, a garden, goats and chickens, my own health problems (hypotension, brain problems) and no one handy to help me out regularly, and I am ready to pull my hair out.

Time to switch into survival mode and reassess in a few months.

My inspiration for this post was a short letter written to a Plain magazine to which I subscribe. This issue was from a few decades ago and briefly outlined a few ways that an Amish or Mennonite wife might deal with several months of survival mode. I mention this because so many people think that survival mode never happens with the Amish and Mennonites.

I promise you that it does.

Remember Your Spouse

If you are married, your spouse is also dealing with the stress.

Whether a family illness or hospitalization, a new and difficult work schedule, financial problems, or any of the many problems that sometimes seem to strike out of nowhere, remember that you are not in it alone.

Is your spouse picking up the slack in places where you now can’t? Is he or she taking on longer hours at work or giving up sleep in order to deal with the problem?

Even if he or she is not picking up extra work, remember that both of you are feeling the stress.

This, of course, applies to everyone in your household. Everyone is feeling the stress, and all need to be treated with grace and forbearance, even when it is difficult. In fact, I’d have to say, especially when it is difficult.

Adjust Your Expectations

This is not the time to take on a new project. In fact, it might be better to scale back on what you are already doing.

This is not the time to try to lose weight, start spring cleaning that crammed storage room or buy new animals. This is not the time to join a new committee, begin volunteering at the school or take on a new project.

Probably not the best time to start homeschooling, but at least it gives me something I can do with the children to try and keep them quiet, and it relieves the stress of driving two hours every day!

Are there outside commitments that add to the stress? If they alleviate pressure and help everyone deal, by all means continue! However if the activity brings only feelings of dread and anxiety, perhaps it can be dropped from your schedule.

Take a moment and examine your expectations. Do you have plans and a schedule more suitable for ordinary times? There is no shame in honestly assessing and saying “This cannot be accomplished.”

There truly is a time for everything, and when we are in survival mode, this is the time to pull back and reduce stress and commitments wherever possible.

Focus On What You Can Do

This is going to look different depending on the crisis.

Perhaps this is not the year to preserve six different types of pickles or experiment with jam making. Keep your preserving simple.

When I started fretting about the garden, which is not doing well in this cold, wet summer, especially since I have little time to work in it, EJ said, “You have farming friends with large greenhouses. Buy from them and stop stressing about how much you get out of the garden. If it just gives us fresh eating this summer, it’s a success.”

To be honest, I can’t even say that is a success by that standard. However, I have spoken with more experienced gardeners and others also have 6” tall tomato plants and 3’ tall broccoli that flowered without producing a head.  It’s a weird year – cold and wet with brief periods of heat.

The potato plants, at least, are behaving as potato plants should, with even the peelings in the compost pile growing tall and lush bushes. We will have potatoes, and the peas are growing beautifully. The beans may yet produce.

Getting into the garden with a baby and a toddler is difficult when everything is running smoothly. However, I can place an order, well in advance, with my farming friends and that means I’ll have bushels of tomatoes, carrots and corn ready to preserve.

What I cannot do – make that garden produce everything we need this year. What I can do – contact market gardening friends with greenhouses and buy from them, and limit my vegetable preserving to the ones we really can’t manage without.

Get Some Simple Recipes

If you don’t already, this is the time to master the casserole and the one-bowl brownies (or skip desserts altogether).

Baked or mashed potatoes or barley pilaf are easy to make.

One-pot spaghetti is quick and easy.

Soup can be a lifesaver.

Shepherd’s Pie is one of my quick and easy recipes, so long as I have ground beef and cream-style corn put up in my pantry.

When the world is crazy around you, this is not the time to make fancy meals that fill your sink with dirty pots. Keep it simple and keep the dishes to a minimum.

Ask For Help

It is very hard for many of us to humble ourselves and ask for help, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do.

Is there anything you can turn over to someone else? Balance the cost against your time.

If I lived within a Mennonite community, there would be young men and women working here with us, providing the energy and extra hands that we need. My Mennonite friends are often horrified that we do not have a maid or farmhands.

A Mennonite maid is an unmarried young woman, sixteen or older, who stays with another family and works for a token amount (less than $50/week plus room and board), learning household skills with someone other than her mother, for a different perspective, while at the same time providing Christian service and building lifetime friendships. Mothers with young children, households with illness or injury, and the feeble elderly will generally have maids. Young men do the equivalent, learning farm, carpentry and other skills.

I don’t have a maid, so I do what I can.

Right now, our laundry gets dropped off at a very nice, clean and affordable Laundromat in town every two weeks, where everything is washed and dried while I do the rest of my shopping and errands.

It is not what I had planned, and it’s not ideal, but we get clean clothes and I have one less thing to worry about.

Have An Attitude Of Gratitude

When you find yourself grumbling about the unfairness of everything, my recommendation is – break out in song.

Silly songs are best, especially if you have a toddler helping.

Today we were chanting Alligator Pie, which my elder daughter thinks is top form poetry.

If you want to be more adult about it, listen in on Dolly Parton’s song Better Get To Living.  My mother has been heard to say “Just because you HAVE a pain, doesn’t mean you have to BE one” and I’ve often thought about it when I feel exhausted or overworked. Grouching and grumbling has never lightened anyone’s workload or made a tough situation easier.

In fact, it does just the opposite.

No matter what is going on in your life, there are things for which you can honestly be grateful. Despite the difficult adjustment to this schedule, I am extremely grateful that the Mister has a well-paying job with good benefits. I am also grateful that we can pull back and lighten the workload to help me manage. I am grateful that we could afford a new, safer vehicle that can hold all the children. I am grateful that my children are healthy and happy and willing to adjust to our new crazy schedule.

Sometimes life just gets crazy. Keep the family functioning in survival mode until everything calms down.


Set Priorities

At the very basic, your family needs food, clean clothing, water and a safe shelter.  Animals need food, water and a safe shelter. Pretty much anything else can be set aside for a short time. Make a list of A, B and C priorities.

Although my garden is a complete bust this year, food must still be brought in and preserved for the winter.  This I must do, and therefore I need to find the time. The house must be cleaned. Meals must be prepared.

Focus first and foremost on the A priorities, the necessities that keep body and soul together.  They MUST be dealt with.

After this, the B priorities make life more pleasant and should be promptly attended to whenever there is time.

This is not to say that B priorities are unimportant, because they certainly are. Safe and “clean enough” shelter is an A. Clean shelter is a B.  Food in the home is an A. Home-grown and home-preserved food is a B.

See the distinction? B priorities are important, sometimes very important. A priorities are vital.

Ease Back

The day will come when you will hand in your month pass at the hospital parking lot, or the shift will change to daytime, or the crisis will finally end, freeing up time and energy.

At that point, you will look around at the postponed commitments, the simple meals and the bad habits that have developed out of necessity. It may feel overwhelming.

Returning to a normal schedule may well be difficult and it will not happen overnight.

Just as you assessed what needed to be eliminated from your life during the crisis, removing them until the pressure became bearable, this is now the time to reassess. Do not return to your full schedule at once! Slowly, slowly, increase responsibilities and commitments. At each step, assess carefully to ensure that no one is overwhelmed.

Survival mode is not a permanent state. If it is, take the time to carefully assess the problems and, if necessary, take more drastic action. No one can live permanently in survival mode.

Just Plain Living

Life requires you to be able to shift from one situation, relationship, or career to another. These shifts, or transitions, can be quite disconcerting and even challenging at times.

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