Any “serious” outdoor enthusiast (myself included) spends countless hours learning and practicing survival skills that could potentially save his or her life in an emergency situation. There are several obvious benefits to this practice: it provides hours of cheap, fun, relatively safe entertainment; encourages “outside of the box” thinking and problem solving skills; and (at least in my case) is a source of friendly competition between family members and friends.
There is however, another less understood and often overlooked benefit to learning these skills and the practices needed to become proficient in each. When a skill such as fire-building, knot tying, or wilderness navigation is practiced again and again, it increases personal confidence in your ability to handle an emergency situation, which is absolutely crucial to ensure your personal survival.
The Will to Survive
Learning and practicing wilderness skills (building shelters, finding food and water, making fires, navigation etc.) is extremely valuable, and in effect, improves another key factor in any survival situation; the mental attitude of the person involved. Having the will to survive is absolutely essential.
When a person encounters a survival situation, they will face many mental stresses that impact his or her mind in addition to the physical challenges that will present themselves. These stresses can produce thoughts and emotions that if misunderstood can make any highly skilled adventure-seeker question his or her ability to survive. Because of this, you must be aware of, and be able to cope with, the stresses associated with survival, as well as your personal reactions.
As the “ins and outs” of these specific stresses cannot be fully explored and analyzed in the confines of this article, it is by no means presented as a “complete guide” to stress management in a survival situation. However, the following is aimed at helping you take the first steps in preparation for the mental challenges that can and will present themselves.
Stress in a Survival Situation
In the pursuit to prepare yourself for your reactions in a survival setting, it is helpful to know a little bit about stress in general.
Stress is not an ailment that you can discover and cure. Instead, it is a condition that we all experience at one point or another. Stress is a natural reaction to pressure. It can also (I believe more accurately) be described as the psychological experience a person has as they respond to life’s challenges.
As strange as it sounds, stress can have many positive benefits when handled correctly. Stressful situations give us a chance to learn about our strengths and weaknesses. Stressful situations can spotlight our adaptability, and can stimulate us to do more than we thought possible. More than anything else, stress is a key indicator on an instinctive level of how serious a situation is.
The objective of any survival situation is simple; stay alive. The complicated portion of a survival situation is that when you come to terms with what the consequence of failure is, you are going to experience a wide assortment of thoughts and emotions. These thoughts and emotions can serve as motivation to continue on regardless of the circumstance, or they can be the cause of your downfall.
It is important to understand that fear, anxiety, anger and frustration are all possible emotions a person can experience due to the stresses of a survival situation. Having personal confidence and survival skills will not eliminate these stresses altogether, but will help you to use these stresses as a motivational factor rather than an inhibitor. These reactions, when understood and controlled in the proper way, can exponentially increase your chances of survival. They can help you to pay closer attention to your surroundings, to take actions to ensure safety and security, and to strive against massive odds.
What Can You Do to Prepare?
Preparation for a survival situation is, at its core, an extremely personal matter. Due to the mental aspect that has to be taken into account, many techniques that work for some will not work for all. There is no “one size fits all” list of things you must do or skills you must possess to survive an emergency. This is why learning a wide range of skills, then practicing and perfecting those you feel most valid is the best way to increase preparedness. The more value you see in a skill, the more motivated you will be to practice the skill to perfection.
Where to Start
While the way you prepare must fit your specific needs and abilities, the following are a few generalized points that may help to steer you in the right direction and give you the confidence to handle any given situation.
- Try to anticipate your fears by thinking about what would scare you the most if faced with a survive situation. Make an honest assessment of your skills in relation to these fears and develop those areas you find lacking.
- Keep in mind what is at stake. This will help you to commit to improving the strengths and abilities you have, and help you to focus when learning new skills. Failure to prepare for survival properly can have dire consequences.
- Stay positive. Even when preparing for the worst, always hope for the best. There is no more valuable tool in any emergency situation than your own mind.
- Practice your skills. More importantly, practice several variations of the same skill, use different materials, different methods, and different tools in different environments. Not only will this make each skill more entertaining, it will ensure that the skill being practiced can be used even in unfavorable circumstances.
- Keep it real. The more realistic and practical the preparation is, the less overwhelming an actual emergency will be.
In addition, focus on continuous training. The best training practices are repetitious, in which a skill is learned, practiced, perfected, confidence is built, and then the process is repeated with another skill or variation of the same skill. Following this process not only means that your skills will continuously improve, but will also increase your overall confidence in your ability.
Yes, You Can
Keep in mind that survival is a primal instinct that everyone possesses. The mentality needed to overcome when being unexpectedly faced with an emergency situation is ingrained into each and every human being. These “primal instincts” can be magnified with the proper preparation, skills and practice. Don’t be afraid of your natural reactions to un-natural situations, instead, capitalize on these reactions to sharpen your focus on the key objective; survival.