Here’s a hint: it’s all in your head.
The mind is a very powerful tool and having the right frame of mind to handle the stress of a disaster is a key component to surviving the event.
Unfortunately, mental preparation is usually pushed far back on the list of priorities. But without mental preparedness, many succumb to a traumatic event, due to distress, shock, indecision, panic or just giving up because the situation is too difficult. When it comes to survival techniques, there are many who feel confident with their knowledge and skills, but without the without a determined state of mind, panic will set in and mistakes will be made.
The Mental Game
When fear strikes, it causes stress and anxiety, which can lead to poor decision-making, paralysis, and hopelessness. Mental preparation creates resilience and keeps a person moving on. Maintaining a positive, hopeful attitude in the wake of a disaster can literally keep a person alive; giving them the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When a person begins to doubt they will see tomorrow, they need to cling to hope and optimism. On the other hand, Chris Carrington notes “there are far too many possible scenarios that can present themselves to us in the aftermath of any national or global disaster for us to assume we will be able to deal simply and easily with the choices we have to make. Maintaining our normal levels of honesty, integrity and decency will not always be possible and acknowledging this is critical if we are to make it out the other side.”
Maintaining the right frame of mind can keep you head in the game. In the book, Unbroken, author Laura Hillenbrand tells the story how willpower, tenacity and not giving up helped WWII soldier Louis Zamperini survive the most impossible of circumstances. Perhaps it was his own stubbornness that saw him through. For many, this can help them to survive a disaster. For others, they will need to use other methods.
- Maintain the will to live, no matter what
- Adapt to the situation and use ingenuity to overcome challenges
- Be proactive and find solutions
- Be willing to move on to the next solution if the first one doesn’t work
- Have a goal (seeing loved ones again, revenge)
- Find the positives – it could always be worse
- Refuse to give in to negative core beliefs (not smart enough, not good enough, unlovable, defective, powerless, not safe, etc).
If you’re caught in a situation in which you feel powerless, there are two scenarios that could play out: 1.) You can imagine yourself as a hero, figuring a way out, or 2.) You can imagine yourself as a victim, suffering and waiting for rescue. Which would you choose? (The answer is that you are going to figure a way out and survive!) Remember, it’s all in your attitude!
When playing stories out in your head, your mind does not know if the story is real or not real, it just plays the story out as it unfolds. If you imagine yourself being decisive, controlling your fears, and behaving rationally, then the mind will only know to act this way in the future. If you imagine yourself hiding, terrified and meek, then you will train your mind to act in this manner.
Fear can break a person’s resolve, causing indecision. In the popular series, Band of Brothers a young leader for the soldiers suddenly freezes up when he is confronted with enemy combatants. He cannot face the situation he is in and cannot make a rational decision, which leaves his young soldiers in a vulnerable and precarious position. Failing to anticipate the stresses that you may be under can cause panic, indecision, and possibly death.
Focus on What Can Be Controlled
Focusing on things way beyond your control allows negative core beliefs to come into the mind. Finding ways to stay busy and focused on the task at hand can help you return to the right frame of mind.
For example, if you found yourself alone in the wilderness and began to feel helpless, you might regain some confidence by physically pulling all of the items out of your 72 hour bag to inventory what’s there. During this process, you would be able to create a decisive plan with these survival items. The survival plan is the goal, and it’s the seed of hope that will get you out of danger and on the journey back to your family.
Reactions to a Crisis
People have many different reactions to the disruption caused by a disaster.
When the unexpected occurs, it can create trauma and distress. Some go into shock, and simply shut down. Others are unable to adapt to the scenario and do not know how to interact with their current environment.
While it’s important to be functional, remember that these emotions are present for a very important reason: to keep the person alive. Use these feelings to your advantage.
Using fear to our advantage
Stress, fear and anxiety are all considered to be negative and destructive emotions. However, they can be channeled to your advantage.
For example, fear could make a person more alert. It can motivate a person to perform at their very highest levels. Strong emotions will not only help a person take advantage of strengths, but will also help to overcome weaknesses.
Using these emotions as an advantage requires great concentration and control. While they can be used, they can also take over and cause extreme distress or paralyzing fear. In a crisis scenario, you must confront and manage these emotions head on in order to use the momentum they provide instead of going into panic mode.
In Les Stroud’s book, Survive! Essential Skills And Tactics To Get You Out Of Anywhere – Alive, he advises anyone in a disaster situation to stay focused on how they can improve their situation in order to find the strength to go on. Stroud goes on to say that “Finding ways to relieve fear through knowledge by assessing the situation and environment, and understanding the specifics of the emergency, a person should be able to begin formulating a decisive plan of action.”
Use emotion to motivate yourself
Focus on what is important in your life. Cling to that thought with all your might. This will help keep your spirits high and motivate you to find a way out of danger.
A disaster can be a cruel and unforgiving situation, particularly if you are facing it on your own. Depression and loneliness can set in, and hope can be lost. The focus can shift from surviving and getting out alive, to being convinced there is no way out.
There are always a multitude of solutions that can be found. There is always a way out.