Staying Psychologically Alive in a Survival Situation

I've got the best survival kit on the market! I've planned for all the environmental needs of me and my family! I have ensured we have all the things we need for shelter, food and water in our bug-out-bag! Oops, not there yet. When researching and preparing a list for all your survival needs to be incorporated into any disaster kit or survival kit you should also be preparing for your psychological needs as well as water, food and shelter. Any survival situation requires one vital ingredient; that is the will to survive. All the fancy stuffs in your bug-out-bag or survival kit are worthless unless you have that mental desire to live and make it through the disaster.

Staying Psychologically Alive in a Survival Situation

Let's look at an emergency and how it will affect you. If and when it happens suddenly and unexpected (be it an airplane crash, tornado, earthquake, flood, chemical spill, man-made disaster, etc) people will go through some common mental phases.

First phase: Mental confusion and an adrenaline rush will instantly occur. Adrenaline in our system will cause several physiological symptoms; loss of conscious thought of any and all other thoughts of other than the immediate life threatening issue. Most begin to sweat, especially in the hands. We seem to see our world as through a pipe, loosing all peripheral vision that is often termed "tunnel vision". We see only those things that the threat directly before us poses. Extraneous sounds are filtered out of our consciousness except for the sounds our minds deem critical to survive; this often leaves out others talking to us and our "not hearing them". Blood pressures rise and pulse quickens. Our muscles become tense in preparation for the "flight or fight" reaction.

Second Phase: As there is nothing to fight with, we will have a compelling desire to run away from the situation. The inability to think clearly will still be present for most. Hopefully you have prepared ahead of time and made notes of where to run. (Write detailed instructions to yourself with addresses, directions of how to get to where your going, alternatives places you can go or alternative routes, etc., in pocket notebooks; placing one on top of the survival gear in the kit and another in the glove compartment of your car).

Third Phase: Once out of the immediate danger zone and perhaps in your "place of safety" be it an emergency shelter or "out in the hills" you will instinctively find a place to sit or perhaps even lay down where you are at, even on the floor or in the dirt. This is a reaction to the previously filled adrenaline state. After-affects of the adrenaline will include shaking of the body. That is totally normal for all people and it is not a sign of being frightened (possibly a real emotion at the time). It is only our muscles reacting to the adrenaline. We feel quite tired even if we awoke from a long sleep by the disaster's occurrence. Some will sleep or feel a need to do so. Our body is attempting to cope with demands the adrenaline filled muscles placed on it, nothing more. It feels like you have just ran a marathon race or hiked ten miles (maybe you did).

Fourth Phase: Now that we are away from the immediate threat from the disaster, our minds will begin to return to our "normal state" wherein we can start to think rationally again. At first our minds will strive to comprehend the disaster and begin to appreciate the aftermath. Mixed emotions will uncontrollably surface with crying or at times laughter. Again, this is perfectly normal. It is our way of psychologically striving to cope in a very real and demanding survival situation.

Fifth Phase: You are safe now and its time to take stock of the situation. Consider first if your "hiding place" is safe (the instinct to survive will kindle these thoughts). Fight the instinct to run again and do not make a hasty decision to leave your shelter or move further away from the area if you are safe where you are. Use "common sense" to decide if, and then where to go if needed. In deciding if and where to go, consider your immediate needs such as emergency medical care, shelter, water, food. And do not over look a vital requirement in a survival situation; that is to have human contact. The urge to find a tiny hole or remote hill top might seem at the time a good choice, but very quickly we will need to have others around us. Let's face it, we have evolved into social creatures and we need social interaction to survive psychologically.

Sixth Phase: Ok, you are in your location (even if not of your choosing) and its time to look around and starting getting some ideas of how and where to live. Shelter from the elements is first thing to achieve. Scout out some room for you and your family "to set up house" in the shelter. If stuck out in a parking lot perhaps you need to choose the two cars you're going to drape that tarp over. If out in the hills you need a place hopefully near a water source. In a survival situation such as in an airplane crash temporarily setup shop near the site. As you start unpacking some of the gear to survive with, your mind will begin to take into account the other basics; a fire perhaps if it's cold, how and where to get water, etc.

Seventh Phase, Survival: The basics have been covered. You are in the shelter, that tarp is over the cars, the pop-up tent is under your tree or cactus or on the favorite sand dune, and the parachute is draped over the limb or whatever. You have provided for immediate needs like fire, water and food. Now what? Now it is time for you to survive by providing for your psychological needs

Now, its time to keep your mind occupied. By thinking; thinking of anything to take your mind off of your social situation. I do not mean stop thinking of how to get that next cup of water or other physical requirements to survive; rather, I mean do not make the mistake of sliding down into depression by pondering all the bad things the disaster may have caused to your life. Sitting there and doing or thinking of nothing will lead to mental depression and quickly sap you of your most important survival tool; that is the will to survive. Without the will to survive, you might not live long enough to use all those fancy gizmos in your kit and make it to a place (and time) of safety.

Keep your mind busy and body moving trying to improve your "house". Make it a point to fold up clothes in the shelter. Toss more pine needles or leaves under your bedding in the lean-to. Seek out an extra cup of water or extra arm full of wood for the fire. Do anything to keep yourself thinking and your body moving.

If you have done all the "mundane chores" you can around the place, dig around in the bug-out-bag for those entertainment items you packed. (You did take the advice of "suggested items to include" and packed a few of these didn't you?) A deck of cards works great (even if you have to play solitaire), miniature chess sets, paper back book, iPod or whatever you have to occupy your mind. Scrounge around and dig out that first-aid manual and read it. How about re-reading that survival manual in the kit? Make a snow man and toss snowballs at it. Get a soccer ball, paint a face on it and kick it; whatever it takes.

What is the rational of all this knowing what your mind will go through and being prepared mentally and psychologically? Simply, it is to keep one from dwelling on the disaster and aftermath and considering all your losses. Only to find you have lost the desire to live and survive.

-Jerry B Blaine


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