People have been able to survive many shifts in their environment throughout the centuries. Their ability to adapt physically and mentally to a changing world kept them alive while other species around him gradually died off. The same survival mechanisms that kept our forefathers alive can help keep us alive as well! However, these survival mechanisms that can help us can also work against us if we don’t understand and anticipate their presence.
It is not surprising that the average person will have some psychological reactions in a survival situation. We will now examine some of the major internal reactions you and anyone with you might experience with the survival stressors addressed in our previously blog. Let’s begin.
Fear is our emotional response to dangerous circumstances that we believe have the potential to cause death, injury, or illness. This harm is not just limited to physical damage; the threat to one’s emotional and mental well-being can generate fear as well.
For the person trying to survive, fear can have a positive function if it encourages them to be cautious in situations where recklessness could result in injury. Unfortunately, fear can also immobilize a person. It can cause them to become so frightened that they fail to
perform activities essential for survival. Most people will have some degree of fear when placed in unfamiliar surroundings under adverse conditions. There is no shame in this! Each person must train themselves not to be overcome by their fears. Ideally, through
realistic preparation, we can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to increase our confidence and thereby manage our fears.
Associated with fear is anxiety. Because it is natural for us to be afraid, it is also natural for us to experience anxiety. Anxiety can be an uneasy, apprehensive feeling we get when faced with dangerous situations (physical, mental, and emotional). When used in a
healthy way, anxiety urges us to act to end, or at least master, the dangers that threaten our existence. If we were never anxious, there would be little motivation to make changes in our lives. The person in a survival setting reduces their anxiety by performing those
tasks that will ensure his coming through the ordeal alive. As they reduce their anxiety, people also bring under control the source of that anxiety–their fears. In this form, anxiety is good; however, anxiety can also have a devastating impact. Anxiety can
overwhelm a person to the point where they becomes easily confused and has difficulty thinking. Once this happens, it becomes more and more difficult for him to make good judgments and sound decisions. To survive, a person must learn techniques to calm their
anxieties and keep them in the range where they help, not hurt.
Anger and Frustration
Frustration arises when a person is continually thwarted in their attempt to reach a goal. The goal of survival is to stay alive until you can reach help or until help can reach you. To achieve this goal, a person must complete some tasks with minimal resources. It is
inevitable, in trying to do these tasks, that something will go wrong; that something will happen beyond a person’s control; and that with one’s life at stake, every mistake is magnified in terms of its importance. Thus, sooner or later, people will have to cope with frustration when a few of their plans run into trouble.
One outgrowth of this frustration is anger. There are many events in a survival situation that can frustrate or anger a person. Getting lost, damaged or forgotten supplies, the weather, inhospitable terrain, criminal activity, and physical limitations are just a few sources of frustration and anger. Frustration and anger encourage impulsive reactions, irrational behavior, poorly thought-out decisions, and, in some instances, an “I quit” attitude (people sometimes avoid doing something they can’t master). If a person can harness and properly channel the emotional intensity associated with anger and frustration, they can productively act as they answer the challenges of survival. If a person does not properly focus their anger feelings, they can waste energy in activities that do little to further either their chances of survival or the chances of those around them.
It would be a rare person indeed who would not get sad, at least momentarily, when faced with the privations of survival. As this sadness deepens, we label the feeling “depression.” Depression is closely linked with frustration and anger. The frustrated person becomes more and more angry as they fail to reach their goals. If the anger does not help the person to succeed, then the frustration level goes even higher. A destructive cycle between anger and frustration continues until the person becomes worn down physically, emotionally, and mentally. When a person reaches this point, they starts to give up, and his focus shifts from “What can I do” to “There is nothing I can do.” Depression is an expression of this hopeless, helpless feeling. There is nothing wrong with being sad as you temporarily think about your loved ones and remember what life is like back in “civilization” or “the world.” Such thoughts, in fact, can give you the desire to try harder and live one more day. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to sink into a depressed state, then it can sap all your energy and, more important, your will to survive. It is imperative that each soldier resist succumbing to depression.
Loneliness and Boredom
People are social. This means we, as human beings, enjoy the company of others. Very few people want to be alone all the time! As you are aware, there is a distinct chance of isolation in a survival setting. This is not bad. Loneliness and boredom can bring to the surface qualities you thought only others had. The extent of your imagination and creativity may surprise you. When required to do so, you may discover some hidden talents and abilities. Most of all, you may tap into a reservoir of inner strength and fortitude you never knew you had. Conversely, loneliness and boredom can be another
source of depression. As a person surviving alone, or with others, you must find ways to keep your mind productively occupied. Additionally, you must develop a degree of self sufficiency.
You must have faith in your capability to “go it alone.”
The circumstances leading to you being in a survival setting are sometimes dramatic and tragic. It may be the result of an accident or disaster where there was a loss of life. Perhaps you were the only, or one of a few, survivors. While naturally relieved to be alive, you simultaneously may be mourning the deaths of others who were less fortunate. It is not uncommon for survivors to feel guilty about being spared from death while others were not. This feeling, when used in a positive way, has encouraged people to try harder to survive with the belief they were allowed to live for some greater purpose in life. Sometimes, survivors tried to stay alive so that they could carry on the work of those killed. Whatever reason you give yourself, do not let guilt feelings prevent you from living. The living who abandon their chance to survive accomplish nothing. Such an act would be the greatest tragedy.