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Psychological Aspects of Survival

Your attitude and mental strength often have a higher bearing on your ability to survive than the kit that you happen to have with you or the skills that you possess. It is often said that your biggest obstacle in a survival situation is your mind.
There can be so many negatives continually chipping away at your mental state that it can become really easy to give in and let the situation beat you.
Some situations are so dire that even the most positive and optimistic are tested to their limits. As your mental state slips into decline so do your chances of survival.

In this section we will explore some of the ways that you can combat this psychological struggle and come out the winner.

Dealing With Negativity

Taking comfort in Small Blessings – Sometimes it’s the small things which help to lift your spirits and boost your morale. Take comfort in a cup of tea, hot meal, taking awe at your surroundings, making fire or a snug shelter. It’s these small pleasures that dispel thoughts of your situation getting the better of you and provide reassurance that you are not entirely at the mercy of the elements.

Belief in Rescue – understanding that in this day and age if you are missing for more than 24 hours beyond your expected return, you can be almost certain that a search and rescue operation will be launched to find you. You just need to be prepared to signal your location when they get near enough for you to be seen.

Will to Survive – Sometimes when things get so bad that you are in serious doubt that you will survive, your will to live can diminish to the point where it is easy to throw in the towel and give up. Thinking of loved ones, faith in god, good friends and/or pets are all excellent ways to rejuvenate your will to survive and help you out of a mental rut.

Physical Exercise – Will give you something routine to focus on. It will also help you to combat fatigue, boredom and cold. Spend at least 15 – 20 minutes per day doing push-ups, sit-ups, chins and/or running (on the spot if you are confined to a small space)

Planning & Goal Setting – planning is something that needs to be done right away, while you still have energy and your mind is more likely to be processing logical thought patterns. You will need to take bearing and get a lay of the land, establish a realistic plan, set some goals / milestones and get busy. You will be faced with some challenging decisions but the important thing is that you weigh up the pro’s an con’s of each scenario quickly, and be decisive in your decision making. It is often said that it is usually better to make the wrong decision than to make no decision at all. When things don’t go to plan, don’t let this get you down, this is normal, the plan will never play out as you originally intended. It is impossible to know what lays ahead of you, so you will need to continually re-plan and adapt as you discover the many challenges in your path.

Dealing with Fear

Overcoming Fear – Fear is a natural part of being human. It is a good emotion as it let’s us know to be careful. Fear can however be over dramatized and cloud our ability to think and act logically and even hamper our physical ability. Often, when you find yourself on a sticky situation you have no choice but to overcome and push through your fears or become consumed with them and face serious injury or death. In this case, you will need to take the massage that fear is giving you (i.e. Be Careful) and press on. Often when you are in this type of situation you need to look at it from all sides. Usually you will be only fearing the obvious but you also need to ask yourself, “What are the consequences if I don’t do what I need to do to get out of the situation?”. Usually the consequence is equal or far greater.
You need to assess your risks, develop a plan, have a plan-b in case things go wrong, commit to your plan and focus 100% on the task at hand; removing any room for fear to overcome you.

Risk Assessment and Minimisation – when faced with the prospect of having to take a risk, and there will be many, the idea is to take educated risk rather than just throwing caution to the wind.
Just remember, that your goal is to get out in one piece.
The first thing that you need to do is weigh up whether the risk is worth the reward. There may be many rewarding factors which come into play, such as: Saving time, Conserving Energy, Staying Visible, Avoiding Prolonged Exposure to the Elements, Avoiding a bigger danger, just to name a few. If you decide that the risk is worth the reward, then you need to assess the situation and ensure that you have a good idea of what lays ahead so that you can mitigate/minimize as much of the risk as possible. Form this assessment, think about ‘Action’ plans; ‘What action will I take if x occurs’ E.g ‘If I trigger an avalanche and the snow pack starts to slide from underneath me, I will scramble for the ridge-line which is the most likely safe zone’. Never step into the unknown without some kind of action plan if things go wrong; you won’t stand a chance of coming out in one piece if your plans are treated as an afterthought.
Once you are comfortable that you are as prepared as you can be, commit to the task at hand and give it 100% of your focus until you are back in safety.

Dealing with Fatigue

Physical fatigue can be caused by exertion, tiredness, injury, heat or lack of food or water. Both the cause and the cure are almost always obvious. Physical fatigue can often be dealt with relatively easily as it is logical.
Mental fatigue, on the other hand, is often far harder to identify as it is often caused by something unexpected. Mental fatigue is often more dangerous as it creeps up on the unsuspecting victim and quietly blurs their mental state, disarming the will to care or survive. It can be caused by the victim feeling defeat, a lack of a plan/direction or boredom, among other things. Positive thinking, early planning and faith will all help combat mental fatigue.

Dealing with Isolation and boredom

Boredom can so easily set in, especially at night so the idea is to fill your head with positive stuff so that boredom has no place to reside. Challenging yourself with mental exercises, like guessing how many bricks there are in a wall or how many ripples there are in a rock and then counting them to see if you are right, planning your rescue/escape, setting yourself complex problems, like mathematical sums and physical exercise will all keep your mind active and combat boredom.

Keeping Busy – establishing camp and rescue signals, hunting, locating/collecting water and crafting things to make your situation a little more comfortable are all great ways to help you stay active and all make a positive contribution to your prospects for survival. Just be careful that you are not using up too much energy or fluid doing these things if food or water is scarce.

Logic and Calm
When you think about it, most of us experience nearly all of these things, listed above, from time-to-time in our everyday lives and, yet they do not have any impact of our psychological state. In a survival situation, these feelings are pretty much the same but often more intense and their consequences are often greater. It is important to acknowledge the feelings that you are experiencing and take into consideration how they might impact your situation.

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