How to Stop Living in Survival Mode After Divorce

By Tiffiny J. Fambro | Divorce

Jun 15

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I remember when I got divorced. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, there was a mad dash to get everything done quickly. Sell the house, talk to lawyers, find a place to live, split any asset, and the list goes on.

I was dealing with the trauma of a scary soon-to-be ex-husband stalking me, having to tell my family and friends the truth about our relationship, figuring out the legal items, dealing with a broken heart, and still having to work and pay bills. It was an overwhelming, traumatic experience, and my brain was working every day in survival mode.

What Does It Mean to Be Living in Survival Mode After Divorce?

Survival mode is usually a response that we as humans have after a traumatic experience. For example, if you were in the woods and a bear started to chase you, your adrenaline would kick in and you would have what is called a “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Your brain and all your hormones would give you signals of fear and anxiety which would force you to either fight the bear, run from it, or freeze and do nothing, which would probably not be good.

Put simply, survival mode is when you are constantly having the experience and feelings of “fight, flight, or freeze” even when a bear is not chasing you. You may have constant feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, sadness, uncertainty, and hyperarousal, all of which can lead to depression, physical sickness, or feeling like you are always on edge.

Having a difficult marriage and going through a divorce can be triggers for going into survival mode. During that experience, working to survive may be the only thing you can do. It’s just like having to run from the bear until you can get somewhere safe.

The biggest problem that a lot of women face is that even after the divorce is over and they are no longer married or in danger, the traumatic experience is still causing them to behave as if they are in survival mode. This can lead to what is known as PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or CPTSD, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD and CPTSD usually occur when someone has experienced trauma or high stress over an extended period. Situations in which this can occur include war, abuse, or a short but extremely difficult situation such as experiencing a natural disaster or surviving a plane crash. In these situations, the person’s experience was so harsh mentally that they continue to relive the event in their mind and therefore display behaviors as if they were still going through the same situation.

Depending on what you experienced in your marriage, you may not have PTSD or CPTSD, but you may have some similar symptoms that lead you to still feel uneasy, anxious, scared, or depressed.

Signs and Symptoms of Survival Mode

Here are a few signs or symptoms that you may be living in survival mode:

  1. Extreme fatigue (can barely get out of bed and always need more sleep)
  2. Hyperarousal (always being on high alert or hypervigilant)
  3. Extreme sensitivity (crying or having a meltdown over any small incident)
  4. Not taking care of yourself (not taking care of your health, not doing things that bring you feelings of joy)
  5. Decreased financial health (living pay-check to pay-check, not getting your finances in order)
  6. Reacting to life instead of planning out your next steps
  7. Difficulty focusing or remembering
  8. Never feeling in control
  9. Constantly stressed or feelings of high anxiety
  10. Physical manifestations such as panic attacks, sudden new phobias, constant physical sickness
woman crying in therapy

Stop Living in Survival Mode After Divorce

In order to pull yourself out of survival mode after a divorce, you must take steps to heal and give yourself time to recalibrate your mind and body back to a state of feeling at peace.

Seek Therapy

Therapy is pivotal to the healing process after a divorce. If you have never experienced therapy, it can be transformational and open you up to other issues that you did not even know were present in your mind.

A professional therapist or counselor can help you talk through the issues you experienced in your marriage, lead you through the grieving process, give you skills to help you cope, and allow you to express yourself in a safe environment.

If you are looking for a therapist, Onlinetherapy.com is a company that provides therapy virtually, no matter where you are located in the world. They are affiliate partners that focus on helping anyone anywhere work through traumatic experiences to heal their life.

Create a Life Plan

Creating a life plan is about taking the time to sit and reflect on what you deeply desire. This allows you to write down what you want and how you will get there.

When I work with my one-on-one coaching clients, a big part of the experience is to create a tangible action plan toward their goals. Each week we discuss what may be holding them back and ideas around how they can navigate forward.

Being intentional about creating a life plan helps give you direction after a divorce to pull you out of survival mode.

Implement a Self-Care Routine

Going through a divorce takes a heavy toll on your life, and many times it’s easy to neglect your personal needs. Being intentional about a self-care routine encourages you to make space in your life to take care of yourself. Self-care routines can involve anything that brings you a feeling of peace, joy, or relief.

During my coaching sessions with my clients, I help them create a daily self-care routine that they can do in the morning or at night. It usually involves journaling, exercise, meditation, deep breathing, or any other regimen that they can do in a short time to connect to their mind.

Learn more self-care tips here: 5 Self-Care Tips for Busy Women (and Benefits)

This helps bring them to self-awareness, allowing them to connect to their emotions and their thoughts, and gives them the time to reflect on their needs. If you have not created a daily self-care routine start by giving yourself 10 minutes every day to journal. It does not have to be long, just enough time to get your thoughts on a page and allow yourself to reflect.

Related article: How To Let Go of Chaos and Normalize Peace After Divorce

Work on Financial Literacy

Finances are one of the pieces of your life that you need to make a priority after a divorce. Depending on your situation, you may need to seek help from a financial advisor or create a budget for yourself.

There are many online financial courses and books to help you get your finances in order depending on your situation. Two people that I follow and recommend are Tiffany Aliche and Grant Sabatier. Both have a ton of information on their websites, and books that help with understanding how to budget, get out of debt and build several streams of income.

Another tip is to look up the “FIRE movement” which stands for financial independence retire early. This concept is all about taking the money you earn to pay down debt, live below your means, invest, and put money in retirement accounts to eventually be able to retire early and live off your investments.

There are many avenues that you can take to get your finances in order, but what matters most is that you get started. Don’t let your financial health slip away after your divorce.

Learn more tips here: How to Empower Yourself as a Divorced Woman – The Ultimate Guide

Develop a Physical Health Regimen

When living in survival mode, your physical health may be the last thing on your priority list. However, when your body is not well, it’s difficult to have a joyful or peaceful life. It’s important to make sure that you are giving your body enough movement and proper nutrition to keep it functioning at an optimal level.

In my course, The Confident Women’s Healthy Lifestyle Guide, I discuss tips around exercise, nutrition, and fasting to help women build a health regimen that works with their lifestyle. Being physically healthy will make you overall feel better which will lead t better focus, better brain function, lower levels of stress, and a sense of overall wellness.


It’s easy to get caught in survival mode when trying to reclaim your life after a divorce. However, you must take control of your life and get clear on creating a plan that helps you heal, get clear on your goals, and learn how to care for your mind, body, and emotions. Divorce does not have to be the end of your life- it can be the beginning of a new chapter of loving yourself.


Ready to start the process of gaining more clarity, confidence, and courage? Start here:

  1. Download my Free 5-Day Mindset Detox Workbook: Click Here
  2. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to learn how to reinvent, redefine and thrive after divorce: Click Here

Don’t let more time pass by, reclaim your life today!

About the Author

Tiffiny has a B.A. in Psychology, and master’s degree in Public Health Education. She worked in consulting for over 16 years, as well as previously owning a fitness and health business. In her personal life, she used personal development, mindset and health strategies to go from being overworked in a demanding corporate career, emotionally drained in a toxic marriage, physically unhealthy, and depressed to becoming an award-winning figure level bodybuilding athlete and entrepreneur. As a women’s empowerment coach, she works to help women get clear on their goals, build confidence, increase self-esteem, take action on their deep desires and create a life they love

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